A long strange trip
Last Saturday night, Augusta Civic Center was host to the most unusual concert I've ever seen. As hordes of disciples looked on, Tool took the stage in the darkness to play their peculiar and cerebral brand of metal. The band, which is among the strangest and most musically talented in rock's mainstream (where they are only located because of the size of their cult), put on a hell of a performance, supplemented by a visual show that will not be easily forgotten.
Guitarist Adam Jones puts his art background to good use in the band's spooky claymation videos for songs like "Sober," "Stinkfist," and "Prison Sex." Live, all of Tool's songs are accompanied by original videos put together by Jones, displayed on giant screens at either side of the stage.
"H." featured serpents eating themselves in circles, while the visual accompaniment for "Lateralus" let the audience "ride the spiral" as the song's lyrics say. Though the actual videos for "Stinkfist" and "Parabola" were incorporated into their presentations, the groundbreaking "Sober" video was abandoned in favor of new and equally disturbing imagery, some involving an eyeball.
Tool's stage presence was particularly unique. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan simply didn't face the audience, but stayed in the background, silhouetted against the backdrop, dancing around in an almost Bono-esque fashion but singing with his back or side to the crowd, not engaging the audience directly, instead letting the music do that for him. The spotlight was more on drummer Danny Carey than anyone else, and deservingly so, as Carey pulled off a Herculean task in anchoring the band during ultra-percussive epic songs for nearly two hours. Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor also put enormous amounts of energy into the show, forming the songs that Keenan, one of rock's most gifted singers, wrapped his voice around to create something dark and beautiful.
I missed the opening act, Swedish metal group Meshuggah, due to horrendous traffic, but they must have played a fairly short set, because I didn't realize it until a ring of flaming eyes, artwork from Tool's latest album Lateralus, appeared on the screens and the noise began. A short instrumental off that album, "Eon Blue Apocalypse," could be distinguished among the noise before the band broke into "Sober," their first hit, off 1993's Undertow. This was the oldest song presented that evening, nothing from the debut EP Opiate was played, while Lateralus was played nearly in its entirety.
Tool followed "Sober" with "The Grudge," the epic first track on Lateralus, complete with Maynard's scream near the end which lasts an impossible 25 seconds (it wasn't quite that long live, but pretty close and pretty incredible). "Stinkfist," "H.," "Schism," "Parabol" and "Parabola" wowed the crowd before the set-ending "Ænema," a jarring prayer for a watery apocalypse and a highlight of the evening.
Tool's encore break was as unique as anything about them - the crowd was blasting with a wave of bass for about ten minutes as the set was changed. When the band returned, they played "Disposition," "Reflection," and "Triad," which together form a suite of about 22 minutes long which ends Lateralus; an excellent performance. Meshuggah's drummer came out to help on the instrumental "Triad;" still, the song, lacking the "machines" that contribute to the album track, was the least fleshed-out of the night.
Maynard addressed the crowd politely before the last song, thanking them for sharing the evening. "We hope we've left you inspired as well as extremely horny. Go home, sit by a nice fire, write some poetry, and masturbate 'till you pass out. Film it and send it to us."
Tool closed with the title track from their latest album, perhaps the best song in their catalogue, and perhaps the finest performance of the night, sending us home satisfied. I've seen many of the biggest rock acts of the last decade, and I'd say that Tool puts on the second best show I've ever seen, second only to U2.