EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—I feel kind of bad supporting Tool. Sure, as a prog dude I love their music, but they’re going on six years since their last album, 10,000 Days, and we haven’t heard more than a few rumors—cryptic at best—about any new music. That’s all well and good when you’re on hiatus, or Iron Maiden, but Tool has hit the road in brief spurts several times over the past few years and it’s about time for something new. Still, I had never seen them prior to their latest performance at Izod Center and I’ve long felt it my obligation to experience their live show at least once.
Ultimately, the determining factor in my sojourn was YOB’s inclusion on the bill. With riffs of tectonic heaviness and their vast, cosmic atmospheres, YOB is easily the greatest modern doom metal band in our galaxy. Because I would probably never get the opportunity to see YOB in an arena again, I was on my way to the swamp.
I arrived about halfway through YOB’s 30-minute set. The band was into their second song, “Adrift In The Ocean,” from their latest album, 2011’s Atma. Their oppressively heavy set could only have been marred by the out-of-control volume of Aaron Reiseberg’s bass. Though it was a little on the painful side, I couldn’t help but marvel at how Reiseberg’s instrument shook the 20,000-seat venue. That’s got to be a satisfying feeling.
Guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt’s voice sounded great, from his eerie falsetto to his guttural death roars, and I was fascinated by drummer Travis Foster’s ability to play tasteful fills and keep perfect time at such inhumanly slow tempos. Their third and final song was a pulverizing rendition of “Prepare The Ground.” The first track from Atma, the song’s title alone adequately conveys its disfiguring heaviness and YOB gave it its due.
At the set’s conclusion, Scheidt thanked the crowd with a humble “Namaste,” and exited the stage to surprisingly sincere reaction. I imagine the flood of plodding, ethereal sludge from YOB’s first song, “Ball Of Molten Lead” [The Illusion Of Motion, 2004], cleared the room of the uninitiated rather quickly, leaving only the open-minded, the grim and those too weak (or drunk) to get out of the way.
Tool’s road crew worked quickly and the band’s intro hit almost exactly at 9 p.m., a half-hour after YOB finished. Their opener was “Hooker With A Penis,” from 1998’s Ænima. Drummer Danny Carey’s fill across his front rack toms to join guitarist Adam Jones’ groove was so dizzyingly crisp I nearly fell out of my chair. Not only are the members of Tool great players, the live mix was incredibly clear, allowing the audience to hear each and every nuance from the drums, bass and guitar. I’ve seen shows at Izod before and never remember the sound being so good.
Singer Maynard James Keenan crooned and posed while bathed in shadows at the back of the stage for the entire set, addressing the crowd sparingly, as is his custom. For as much as he comes across to fans as a prick, he didn’t miss a note for the entire 90-minute set.
“Jambi” followed, then “Stinkfist.” A drawn-out version of “Sober” came after, for which the group was joined by a hooded gentleman who yelled various apocalyptic axioms into the mic, all while manipulating his vocal signal with reverb, delay and such, using what looked like a turntable. This was as excruciating as it was boring, and the perfect time in the night to get a $7 beer or take a shit.
Known for being unconventional, Tool may have done this just to make the crowd appreciate them more because there was definitely a perceptible jump in excitement when Maynard came back onstage (he took a break, along with much of the crowd) to sing the last verses of “Sober.” After “Pushit” was “Schism,” the intro of which gave me extra time to marvel at bassist Justin Chancellor’s incredible tone.
Seeing Tool live really shows you how much Chancellor does for the band’s sound, manipulating his signal with all manner of effects and creating the sonic atmospheres on which Carey does the percussive landscaping. For all intents and purposes, Chancellor fills both the roles of bass player and lead guitarist, leaving most of the riffing (and proper solos) to Jones.
Tool’s legendary light and video show seemed to be amped up with each track, but it was the last four songs on which the lights really began to blow my mind. “Intensions” featured an arsenal of blue and white lasers, as the band allowed the track to outstay its welcome, in the minds of many in attendance. I, however, was mesmerized.
“Forty Six & 2” garnered the greatest reaction from the crowd and “Lateralus” followed suit, rapidly building in intensity for a breakdown with a dueling drum solo between Danny Carey and guest Frank Ferrer (Guns N’ Roses). The song’s huge final chorus had the crowd on their feet. Maynard said goodnight and the band made the audience wait a good 10 minutes for “Ænima,” the encore.
I’m definitely glad I finally got to experience Tool live. The strong presence of the Ænima album in their setlist, the perfect sound and the light and video extravaganza made it well worth the trip. Though the set was on the short side, considering what they were charging for tickets, everything else added up to a worthy show. Still, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to see them for a second time until they put out some new music. Hopefully, the rumors of a May 2012 album release are true, but I’m not holding my breath.