There’s an endless list of bands I wish to see in my life, but a few are so special, and have had such an impact on my life, that they are on my bucket list. Last year, I was able to cross Peter Gabriel off the list, and he didn’t disappoint either. But this past Tuesday, I was able to make another check mark, and was finally able to catch the ever elusive Tool at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.
Tool holds a special place in the music world, existing pretty much outside any defined genre. They are metal, they are hard rock, spiritual, gritty, psychedelic, and a whole slew of other adjectives. They also managed to sneak into the big scene right before Mtv started really sucking bad, and managed to capture a widely varied fanbase that in this day might not have been possible. The end result of this was a class A rogues gallery of an audience, all bonded by one thing, Tool. From the very young and rugged, to the classic metal heads, to the older and more subdued. At least that’s the way it was in line, but once any hint of unity around Tool was mentioned, we all immediately became one. There was one moment where a double decker tour bus drove by, and the crowd of a few hundred early settlers immediately reared up, threw the horns, and roared. Nothing but metal can unite the masses in such a fashion.
Now I found my way into the arena. I was flying solo for this show (I really need more metalhead friends out here) so I did have the luxury of picking and choosing a seat. Knowing that a visual spectacle was coming, and that the floor might be a bit rough for my aged self, I set up in the front of the risen seated section, and settled in for a night of insanity.
The opening band was Failure, a trio out of L.A. and self professed good friends of Tool. They were certainly solid, with intense skill on all parts. A band that saw their main time during the mid to late 90’s, only to recently start up again, they delivered a clean and tight set of rock songs that had a slight grunge edge, but nicely restrained. Their few instrumental outburst were nicely developed and delivered fully. Knowing what was in store, it was understandable that the crowd wasn’t into any opening band, but nonetheless, Failure delivered a solid set. I’d love to catch them in a small club, that surely is their more desired venue than the 7000 seat Bill Graham Civic.
Then the tension slowly built, as did the crowd, in the twenty or so minutes until Tool finally took the stage, and boy did they announce their presence with authority, blasting out the epic Third Eye for an opener. Any doubts that I had of this not being one of the best shows of my life were quickly erased, as Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar), Danny Carey (drums) and Justin Chancellor (bass) quickly reaffirmed their collective statuses as the tops in their individual talents. As to showmanship, that for the most part was left to the stage show. The members did some mild rocking out, but were mostly focused on getting every ounce of sweat and blood out of their respective instruments. Third Eye was an attention getter, and an effective one at that. Within the twelve plus minutes, I was transformed from my mild and gruff blue collar self to a person totally lost, musically shellshocked. Then they went for the kill, busting out with their classic Forty-Six & 2. There are maybe five moments in my long and illustrious concert going career where I saw a band just completely blow an audience away as Tool did with this track. I personally was a maniacal idiot, fist pumping, screaming every lyric, and even failing miserably at mimicking Carey’s drum insanity at the highlight of the song. But it’s ok, so did the other 7000 in attendance. Concerts are the one safe place, along with the shower, where we can let that part of us just fly the fuck loose. Below on the floor this was brutally apparent, as a good 1000 people were engaging in mosh insanity, a boiling pot of humanity embroiled in a barely controlled mass violence, a truly mesmerising spectacle. (Note to the readers, mosh pits have never been my thing, but I totally respect and admire those who do don their battle jackets and brave them. I tip my hat to you good folks!!!)
The show only built in intensity from there, which was a bad thing for me, since after the ass whooping that the one-two punch of the opening songs delivered, I was pretty much the band’s bitch. They seemed to know this to, and made sure I paid for it. Schism, Pushit, and Intension all delivered fully, and slowly they let more and more of the visual aspects of the show out before the full unleashing, of EVERYTHING, in Lateralus. For the next fourteen minutes, Tool expertly submersed every one of my senses to a point where I could only nod on with the music, completely and totally owned by the brilliant spectacle of lights, lasers, psychedelic imagery, and music, oh the music. Notes were not meant to sound like this, four men were not meant to make this much noise, but somehow, someway, they did. From there, thankfully, they went into an intermission, but the bastards put a countdown timer on, letting me know I only had twelve minutes to collect myself before the onslaught would begin anew.
The second half opened with Carey doing a drum solo and some hypnotic synth work into a reworking of B’Boom by King Crimson. From there followed four tracks to close out the two hour set. First was Jambi, which delivered a solid and aggressive punch. Opiate led the way into one of my favorite Tool songs, Aenima, which through the use of every blue light and laser in existence managed to give the songs effect of the turmoil of the tidal wave it talks about. Then closing out the set was a full frontal assault with Stinkfist, the finishing blow to a show leagues beyond brilliant.
As most music fans are prone to do, I also tend to make Best Of list, and my top five for live shows has been set for years now. IQ (The IQ Comes to America, Plays One Gig, Gets Drunk and Goes Home Tour), Dream Theater (Six Degrees Tour), Yes (Masterworks), Pete Townsend (solo), and Roger Waters (The Wall). The struggle to figure out who to bump to make room for Tool will plague me for months to come, a heady and huge nod of total admiration and awe to their immense talent and showmanship. Brilliant job guys, just brilliant.
Editors Note- Due to the wishes of the band, no photos or video of this show are available.