In the fifteen or so years following my introduction to Tool (which probably came with the song "Sober," which either on the radio or the music video leaves a strong impression), my thoughts on the band have shifted numerous times. There were periods that I loved the unique sound and thought provoking nature of the band, and there were also times that I found those same things utterly pretentious. What had not changed for a long time was that Tool was very high on the list of bands that I wanted to see live. I had heard from a variety of sources that their concerts were excellent, and certainly worth the cost of the tickets. Because of the reclusive nature of the band (they release an album roughly every five years), as well as their usual touring schedule
revolving more around "mini-tours" than full blown tours, there were not many opportunities to see them live. I missed their 2009 show in Chicago due to it being during Lalapalooza. I have no urge to sit through a day of crappy bands to see one band (nor do I wish to pay for those 20 crappy bands). Thus, when I saw Tool's 2010 tour schedule, I was at first disappointed to see no Chicago date, but happy to see a date in Kansas City. Although Kansas City is 500 miles from Chicago, I have family down there, and is also home to my favorite food on the planet. No friends were willing to make the drive, but my dad was willing to go down to Kansas City, so it was set. I snagged a ticket the moment they went on sale and I was ready to rock. I was going to see Tool, and I was going to see Tool right up and close, as my seat was in the eighth row.
My seat in the Sprint Center was stage right, directly in front of the PA. I was going to be right in front of Adam Jones, Tool's guitarist's, rig. I had forgotten my Hearos (ear plugs that don't cut clarity as much, only decibels), so I was a little nervous about the effect on my ears, but I won't lie- I was excited that I would really be feeling the music. After killing some time drinking a beer, eating a hot dog, and telling someone that I would not buy them a beer (sorry honey, you didn't look 18, much less 21, no matter how many times you assured me you were and had just lost your ID), it was time for the opening band, Wovenhand ("Down in Yon Forest"), to take the stage. I had never heard of them, and while their songs sounded similar to each other, and the band members didn't really move around much, they were pretty good. Tool certainly isn't afraid of putting bands that are very different than them on stage as openers. They played for about a half an hour, and then it was time for Tool to hit the stage.
In the last decade or so, Tool's stage show has gotten more elaborate as they've reached further into progressive music and moved away from straight forward metal. Tool has always been about expanding one's mind (this show was one of the times I actually wished that I indulged in substance use, as it seemed many around me were, and with hindsight, my mind would have probably been blown) and thus expanding one's knowledge and understanding of the body/mind/soul. They clearly had a large budget for this tour, as there was a large LCD screen that ran behind the stage, two large video screens on the corners of the stage, two other displays, a screen that ran behind the stage, and an elaborate lighting rig that was able to move up and down between songs. At precisely 9:00, an outlined version of Timothy Leary's face appeared on the LCD screen and began with, "Think for yourself, question authority. Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are or where we're going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities: the political, the religious, the educational, who have attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing, forming in our minds their view of reality. To think for yourself, you must question authority, and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable, open mindedness, chaotic, confused, vulnerability to inform yourself. Think for yourself, question authority." What a great summary of Tool. As this was going on, the band had gotten on stage, and it was time for the first song, "Third Eye" to really kick in.
Many of the criticisms that were aimed at the band after the show are some of the same points that I felt were strong points about the show. It is true that the vocalist in the band, Maynard James Keenan, spent most of the show in the shadows right in front of the LCD screen. It is also true that the rest of the band members don't really move around much. It can also be said that the video show and lasers accompanying the songs, especially later in the set, overpowered the band members on stage. While I can understand people making those criticisms, I feel like they're missing the point of Tool. Tool has always been reluctant to show themselves in their videos, and they try to make the music the central focus of the show. I felt like the video show and the lasers added to the show, as they really immersed one in the song. The videos were synced, so they hit their key marks right when the song hit the key moments. The sound was crushingly loud (my whole body was vibrating on any part involving double kick drums), but it was mixed really well. I could clearly hear each band member clearly in the mix. Tool played for almost exactly two hours, and their set list consisted of:
-Third Eye* (Part 1 and Part 2)
-Eon Blue Apocalypse
-46 & 2
*video taken from the tour I saw
Highlights of the show:
-Being that close to the stage, the video screens dominated my vision, which was completely immersive.
-Having the music videos playing was really cool, it really brought the multiple ways to hear a song together.
-Maynard's bull horn with a microphone attached to it is pretty cool. I want one.
-Danny Carey's drumming was killer all night... that guy can play his ass off.
-Maynard's quote before "Intolerance"- 'Raise your hand if you're under 19. How about 20? This song is older than you are. For those of you 25 and younger, don't be so high and mighty, you were only five.'
-"Lateralus" with Wovenhand's drummer onstage as well was epic. The ending was amazing.
While this show did not top the Nine Inch Nails Wave Goodbye mini-tour shows of August 2009, it easily ranks in my top five concerts that I've seen. Tool was great live, and I look forward to seeing them again.
**The pictures in this post are from the show I saw, but I did not take them.
***The paintings are by Alex Grey, an artist that Tool has been associated with for a long time.