Tool, Failure Toyota Center March 25, 2014
Among perhaps the shyest Grammy winners in history, Tool has a history of avoiding the spotlight for as long as possible, even onstage. It's been eight years since the band released its last heavy, psychedelic opus, 10,000 Days, and a solid Olympiad since they last darkened the doors of Toyota Center.
As the band strolled leisurely back into town on Tuesday night -- lasers and video screens in tow -- fans packed the arena to the rafters, eager to take part in the rare and transformative rite of rock and roll passage that is the Tool concert.
The Toy Box was still slowly filling during the early opening set by L.A.'s newly reunited Failure. I managed to hear just enough to be convinced that the heavy-alt trio has still got the slick, groovy sound that spawned a cult back in the '90s. Interesting as it was to see them under the big arena spotlights, it was tough not to hope they'd be back through town soon on their own, smaller stage.
When the house lights died away and a booming heartbeat started up, the crowd began to roar, and the noise only intensified when the band casually wandered over to their instruments. Led by the jagged riffing of guitarist Adam Jones, Tool burst out its packaging with the punchy "Hooker With a Penis" from 1996's Ænima.
A pointed song aimed at the very '90s notion of "selling out," the opening salvo of "Hooker" was delivered with a dry affect from singer Maynard James Keenan, who remained comfortably ensconced in the shadows throughout the show. Keenan can be a prickly character onstage and off, but on Tuesday night he seemed pleasantly engaged and happy to be performing for a packed, adoring house.
Clad in a Mohawk hairpiece and shades and toting a bullhorn, the singer offered the city what passes for high praise from his lips.
"Houston, Texas: Almost as cool as Arizona...but we'll get to that," Keenan said, cryptically.
As Tool ripped through "Sober," their rock-radio breakthrough, the band members were characteristically low-key up there, preferring to leave the visual interest to their undulating LED screens. It was easy to imagine some high school kid taking his first trip somewhere in the upper bowl losing his mind as entire rainbows' worth of lasers filled the arena during "Lateralus."
Review continues on the next page.
The one band member in constant motion all night was drummer Danny Carey. Sweating away in a Tracy McGrady Rockets uniform, the Neil Peart-class skinsman put on a polyrhythmic clinic behind the kit highlighted by a drum solo that drew the crowd right back in after a lengthy intermission.
A treat for longtime fans, the night's setlist was chock-full of the band's best '90s material. Difficult to top was "Ænema," Tool's heavy, roiling tribute to comedy icon and native Houstonian Bill Hicks.
"Houston, Texas, almost as cool as Arizona -- and here's why," Keenan explained before he led the crowd in a huge singalong of his angriest musical rants. It wasn't quite a Bill Hicks statue (what's going on with that, anyway?), but it was a sonic tribute worthy of one of our coolest local heroes lost, nonetheless.
The night was capped off with "Stinkfist," one of Tool's heaviest and most upbeat explorations. Just in case the lasers and LED visuals weren't enough to overstimulate the audience, a massive explosion of gold confetti pushed the show into multisensory overload as the huge crowd stood and roared their approval.
Keenan waved to his fans and offered up a wan smile and Mr. Spock's Vulcan salute before disappearing. The three instrumentalists soaked in the applause a bit longer, tossing guitar picks and drumsticks into the dark. Unlike his bandmates, Adam Jones did not appear to have broken a sweat, only furthering speculation that he may not be 100 percent human.
Tool doesn't do encores, but the crowd went home happy anyway, having been treated to the best set from the band that Houston has seen in quite a number of years. With rumors of new music from Tool swirling around the Web, here's hoping we won't have to wait another Presidential term to hear them try to top it.
Personal Bias: OGT.
The Crowd: Large, white and stoned.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I just hope they play 'Sober,' dude."
Random Notebook Dump: Enterprising hustlers were selling bootleg t-shirts on the Polk Street exit ramp. That's probably a first.
Hooker With a Penis Sober Schism Pushit Intension Lateralus B'Boom Drum Solo Jambi Forty-Six & 2 Ænema Stinkfist
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
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