“Hey Boston, I heard you had some nice weather lately. We brought the snow and cold back because that’s what you deserve.” Maynard James Keenan can always be counted on for a friendly bit of heartfelt discourse and tonight would be no exception. Last time the quartet came to town was just a couple of years ago but it feels like a decade passed; tonight they’d be still touring in support of Fear Inoculum. It’s not like Tool has a ton of records out and as their songs are all pretty much mini-epics, it was thoughtful of the band to really change it up from last time.
Visually, however, it remained pretty true to the 2019 show. The stage setup was the same, a scrim of small threads hanging from the stage lighting and down over the stage in a half-circle design, with images projected against it. As always, nominal front man Maynard hung in the back in relative darkness, occasionally darting to either large cube that flanked Danny Carey’s drum set. He also had the same look as last time, only changing the color of the emblem on his leather jacket from red to blue and adding some more obvious colors to his pyramidal mohawk.
Tool songs pretty much follow the template they’ve mapped out since the beginning. There’s some riffing from Adam Jones and dense chording via Justin Chancellor, Carey taps out a polyrhythm to get the engine stoked, and then Keenan starts singing after a suitable period of time. He didn’t even get on stage until near three minutes into the first song, slinking from the darkness at the back of the stage to make a stark silhouette at the mic.
The scrim is a good metaphor to Tool’s worldview; they like to show a bit but not their full hand, obscuring and obfuscating their true intent. The visuals are also arresting. Vaguely human, but mutated. Eyes within skulls, eyes within eyes, skulls within skulls. The video for “Sober” was an early indicator of how they wanted to describe what they meant and how they saw it, and weirdly shaped humanoid forms displayed on the massive screen behind the band are still front and center in their visual oeuvre.
Back to the set list, ostensibly still touring on Fear Inoculum they actually played two more songs from it than last time (“Culling Voices” and “Descending” which featured some savage guitar work from Jones) but the real payoff for hardcore headz was a complete non-overlap of everything else played, and at least two mega-fans I know were beyond psyched for “Right In Two” to make an appearance, a deep cut that aside from this tour has barely made an appearance in any set since 2007.
The three song encore started with “Chocolate Chip Trip” and featured a solo Carey joint, an analog synth and drum solo that featured a very trippy kaleidoscopic video view of multiple Careys with fused arms, banging away. The stage lights went down but not low enough so that one could see stage hands assemble four chairs at the front of the stage. What’s this? Maynard is going to be in front of the drums for a song? “Culling Voices” was a weird set up for the band, four across the stage and an acoustic number with Carey playing guitar. Ending with “Invincible,” the band’s notoriously stringent no photos/videos policy was banished by Keenan, who basically invited everyone to finally take their phones out and take some shitty photos or video. The enforcement by security wasn’t nearly as draconian as in the past, and I only saw people being told to put phones away rather than being escorted off the premises. Truth be told, it’s kind of refreshing to see a band without a mass of glowing rectangles/attention-sapping devices in the air, like a throwback to the 9os.
Tool’s known for their selection of oddball openers, and past history has had some really amazing acts (Yob, Tomahawk, Melt-Banana, Big Business, Killing Joke, etc) so I was a bit excited to see what The Acid Helps would bring. Uh, hard pass. Maybe drugs would have helped, but having ears was a definite hindrance.
Primarily based in Boston, Massachusetts, Tim Bugbee is no stranger to traveling throughout the country or overseas to capture the best live music photos.