Tool - Live at State Farm Arena

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First, it should be known that I hadn’t listened to Tool until the release of 2019’s Fear Innoculum, which arrived after 13 years since their previous release. There’s a whole new generation of music fans between those releases.   Take six Sinatra albums in 1962 and jump musically to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run or Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti in 1975.  Music hasn’t changed that much, but still, that’s a gap. 

So I missed Tool when they were in their hey dey.  Maybe I listened to the wrong stations or didn’t have the right friends to recommend them or maybe I heard them and didn’t like them.  Regardless, I love (most of) their latest album.  It’s been the soundtrack of my life driving to work, on business trips (I can see the Rockies when I listen to them), a holiday trip through the Carolinas and most visits to the gym.  In other words, I haven’t listened to much else (I took a day for retro Christmas songs, I know).

The cell phones come out.
 Their genre description seems to be prog metal, which can be debated by others.  Alt metal?  Whatever.   The sound production values of Tool Innoculum are off-the-charts good, especially when played loud. Some might argue that the songs are too long, but… I just listen and enjoy – figuring out they rhythm counts, enjoying the ample aural space for each of the instruments, the transitions within each song… And, as it turns out, the lyrics are pretty good as well. And, again, it sounds good loud.  It doesn’t hurt the ears.

I was working on the deck on a project and playing Fear fairly loudly and my wife walks out, listens briefly and asks, “Are you angry?”  No, but compared to much of my music, I can see why she would think that.  Later, she would say “I kind of liked it.”  I would say, now that I’ve listened to most of their releases, that this release is less angry but more elegant and captivating… if you invest yourself in listening to it.  I didn’t take an immediate liking, but it drew me in over time, which is the hallmark of a great album that will endure well beyond its season.

I missed their concert in Denver by a day back in October, when I arrived for a business trip.  I doubt I could have or would have wanted to pay a scalper’s price had I been there a day earlier, but I was “that close” to seeing them.   At the time, their tour plans were incomplete, but, some weeks later, they announced for Atlanta.   I bought a ticket, barely.  The arena sold out within an hour.

Fast forward a bit.  Merch.  $45 for a T-shirt, all black.  I just don’t have that many places to wear a black T-shirt.  Money saved.  I see other people with posters.  As it turns out, Tool prints 750(?) posters for each stop, the poster unique to the venue/date.  Those sell for $60.  They sold out before I got there.  Why?  Listings on eBay showed them selling for $300 the following morning – and selling.  Next time (and there will be one) I’m getting there early, buying at least two, keeping one, and selling the other to pay for the ticket and the remaining poster.  Maybe buy more if there isn’t a limit…

I’ll go ahead and point out that at this point, there’s a certain vibe about the venue pre-show.  It’s not like seeing Eagles or a band that everyone has heard.  There’s a certain “you have to be a member in the club” to “get” Tool’s music.  And there were many who do, from all ages and walks of life.  There was a shared positivity which is difficult to express, but it was there.

If there was a negative to the evening, it was the opener, Author and Punisher.  The name fits.  He wrote the music sounds, and he punished the audience with it.  I’ll applaud that there is an audience for about everything, and I did see a guy with the artist’s T-shirt (it’s a guy with keyboards, not a band). 

Moving on.  Tool opened with the title track of Fear Innoculum, the opening notes now as familiar as opening the door to my house and as inviting as a “Welcome Home” sign.  Am I overstating this?  No. The music doesn’t suit the vast majority of people, I’m sure, but it hits me the right way.

The band was aggravatingly fuzzy to the eyes as they remained behind a shimmering curtain, which reflected additional lighting for color tones and moods.  But, seeing the band… not a help.  As it turns out, the curtain didn’t really matter.  The band, and especially the lead singer Maynard James Keenan, pretty well kept to the shadows.  And to emphasize the point, while the lighting was at times wondrous and the background videos interesting or ponderous, there were no video close-ups of the band members.  If you want to really “see” the band, buy the VIP seats.

Audience interaction?  Minimalist at best.  After the first song, Keenan, acknowledging that there was an audience, greeted the crowd with “Supposedly Atlanta.”  The applause was polite, but probably restrained in case there was more to follow.  And then, “Atlanta.  Work on it.”   Okay, then.

The band resumed with “Ænima,” one of two shout-along songs for the evening (the other being “Forty-Six by two.”   I can’t say I love the song as much as others musically, but the lyrics…

Some say the end is near
Some say we'll see Armageddon soon
I certainly hope we will
I sure could use a vacation from this
Bullshit three ring circus sideshow of
Here in this hopeless f***king hole we call LA
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away
Any f**king time, any f**king day
Learn to swim, see you down in Arizona Bay
And on it goes, the hilarity almost lost in the heavy posturing of the music.  Upon further consideration, Keenan could have said worse things about Atlanta…

The band remained obscured through the next three songs (which I would have captured, but photos were prohibited until the final song of the encore), and then they finally unleashed “Pneuma,” one of my favorite songs from their new album.  Also, it’s fair to say the light show was unleashed as well, moving from shifting tones and crude animations to an animated fiery backdrop and the introduction of an ample number of 70’s era lasers.  “Pneuma” delivered a transitional punch into the sweet spot of the set list, literally everything until the main set was done. 

“Pneuma” isn’t a word that I’ve used outside of air powered tools, and I was surprised to find that there is a standalone definition:
Pneuma: (in Stoic thought) the vital spirit, soul, or creative force of a person.
Gotcha.  So, the metaphysical then.  Let’s check out a snippet of the lyrics:
We are spirit bound to this flesh
We go round one foot nailed down
But bound to reach out and beyond this flesh
Become Pneuma
We are will and wonder
Bound to recall, remember
We are born of one breath, one word
We are all one spark, sun becoming
It’s the kind of lyric that serves as a reminder to figure out what the lyrics are.

Meanwhile… “Descending.”  This is another song from their latest album, and one that they haven’t been playing at every stop.  It’s about 11 minutes long, and after the seven minute mark, it  demonstrated the power of the electric guitar in a cavernous space.  Clear, ringing, engulfing.  Speaking of the audio, for a stadium show, it was pretty good.  The music was heard cleanly, and at times, was excellent.  The vocals… not so much unless you knew all the words.  I don’t.

From a staging standpoint, the guitarist and bassist are out front on the wings, with the drummer on an elevated stage between and behind them.  Keenan switches between two elevated stages located on each side of the drummer, in the shadows.   When singing, you might catch sight of him against the backdrop, or, more casually when he sat on the edge of a platform, swinging his legs as he sang “Forty-six by Two.”  Otherwise, he’s in full Gollum mode, bent at the knees and lurking behind the action.

The Tool song, but a different rendition by some talented kids.

If there was a disappointment, it was the encore.  “Chocolate Chip Trip” began the set.  While visually entertaining watching drummer Danny Carey work a large gong, the “song” is mostly electronic gibberish with a bit of drumming included.  The “song” is also an unsightly appendage on Fear Innoculum, in no way supporting the tone of the album.  It’s not like Carey needs a solo spot anyway.  He demonstrates his prowess on every song, and he and his drum set are the only consistently spotlighted action on the stage, the rest in shadows and fairly stoic.  Still, if you’re going to do a drum solo, especially on the heels of RUSH drummer Neal Peart’s passing, make it a legitimate drum solo.  “Invincible” followed and was solid, “(-) Ions” was filler, and “Stinkfist” was an adequate closer at best.

As a last laugh, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” served as the exit music when the house lights were raised.  Which was funny, actually.  In any case, I look forward to seeing the band again, especially as I learn more of their back catalog.

  • Fear Innoculum – Fear Innoculum
  • Ænima – Ænima
  • Parabol / Parabola – Lateralus
  • Pneuma – Fear Innoculum
  • Schism – Lateralus
  • Jambi – 10,000 Days
  • Merkaba – shortened ( ) – Salival
  • Vicarious – 10,000 Days
  • Descending – Fear Innoculum
  • Forty Six & 2 – Ænima
  • Chocolate Chip Trip – Fear Innoculum
  • Invincible – Fear Innoculum
  • (-) Ions – Ænima
  • Stinkfist – Ænima

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