Though TOOL has been around for a while, we only really got into their music right before the release of their previous album “Lateralus” in 2001. Since then we have picked up the rest of their catalog, including their latest release “10,000 Days” (2006), and felt that this was one band we would really love to see live someday and hoped that we would get that chance. Easier said than done because the band does not tour often, primarily because they don’t crank out albums every year and they only tour when they have a new album to support.
In this case, it has been 5 years since the last album and tour (2001-2002). Needless to say, we were very excited that TOOL was finally back on tour and that they were coming near enough for us to be able to go see them. The show was in Jacksonville on Saturday, June 2, 2007. Below is our review of the concert and some information about the band if you are not too familiar with their work.
Unfortunately the opening band, Melt Banana (yes, you read that right), was quite possibly the worst thing we’ve ever had the misfortune to hear. They are a band from Japan that is categorized as “noise rock” (that’s an official term actually). Well, it was definitely noise. Rock? Not so much. They were the loudest thing we’ve ever heard, and we’re hard rock fans, but this was literally a painful level of sound. Imagine a very bad B-movie with a post-apocalyptic setting. Now imagine a run down bar in the middle of that post-apocalyptic wasteland. Melt Banana would be the “house band” in that run down bar. And to be clear, that is not a good thing. But hey, they’re somebody’s cup of tea… they’ve released 8 albums. Anyway, on to TOOL.
First it must be pointed out, for those not familiar with the band, TOOL is not a typical band either in their music or their stage show. Their music is crafted to be a total sensory experience, with the visuals that accompany the songs playing almost as important a role as the music itself. In that regard the concert is, conceptually, comparable to an opera in that one is there to not only hear music, but also to take in the visuals and experience the “story” each song tells. The band’s guitar player, Adam Jones, has a background in visual arts and special effects and worked on the special effects for films such as Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Predator 2 before joining TOOL. Also, the bass player, Justin, has music-color synesthesia, a condition in which the individual experiences colors in response to tones or other aspects of music (timbre, key). In other words, he literally sees the music they play as colors which, one would imagine, can’t help but heavily influence the bass parts he contributes.
Further, the drummer (Danny), bass player, and guitar player are each recognized by their peers as being exceptionally accomplished musicians and routinely appear high on lists of all time performers on their respective instruments. And singer Maynard James Keenan is by no stretch just along for the ride. His voice has amazing range, equally capable of singing the gentlest, soothing lullaby as it is belting out aggressive, angry screams or holding beautiful, soaring notes for seemingly impossible lengths. His voice is the 4th instrument in the band. Not surprisingly then, the songs are complex both musically and lyrically and the band utilizes uncommon/unusual meter/time signatures (not a lot of simple 4/4 beats going on), quite often going through several different meter/time progressions during the course of a single song.
The lyrics, written by Maynard, are intelligent, provocative, multi-layered, and every song has at least two (or more) meanings/interpretations. For example, the show opener, “Jambi.” At face value the lyrics are about the Indonesian province Jambi and its history; sultans, riches and indulgence, Dutch colonization, lost kingdoms. Or, tongue-in-cheek, it is about the genie character “Jambi” from the show Pee Wee’s Playhouse (the lyrics repeatedly reference “wishing” for something). Or, it is the Finnish word “jambi,” which means iamb, a metrical foot where an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one… the way the lyrics are delivered. Or, the song is about Maynard himself (the “sultan”/rock star) and the transformation of his lifestyle (indulgence) upon the birth of his son (wishing the “rock star life” away if it meant not being a good father). Or…. all of the above! So, forewarned and forearmed, here we go.
The band hit the stage shortly after 9:00 p.m. and went right into the opening number, “Jambi.” No “Good evening Jacksonville!” or “Are you ready to rock?” or other such happy chatter, they just hit the stage running. The stage itself is set up with the 4 band members pretty much lined up across the stage side by side, the singer and drummer in the middle on a raised platform, each band member with a huge video screen behind them. There is also a massive screen above the stage, and one screen on either side of the stage. Not once during the show does an image of a band member appear; the screens are for projecting visuals, collages, videos, etc. Whatever it takes to complete the atmosphere of the song. “Jambi” was awash in red and orange lighting and visuals and the band sounded amazing!
The crowd, which was a sell-out, was very vocal and had tremendous energy, which the band seemed to really tap into. The second song, “Stinkfist,” is one of the band’s better known/more popular songs and the crowd sang along so loud at points that they almost drowned out Maynard. The next song, “Forty-Six & 2,” may have made the most extensive use of the screens as far as telling the “story” of the song, which incorporates evolution/genetics (the “46+2” being the chromosome count of the – supposed – next step in human evolution), mortality (the average American male lives 76 years; Maynard was just shy of 30 when wrote the song and, therefore, had roughly 46 years and 2 months “left”), and Jungian psychology (“the shadow”).
However, the unquestionable centerpiece/highlight of the show for us was the band’s performance of “Wings for Marie/10,000 Days,” an epic 18 minute piece. Prior to starting the song the band gathered and sat down on the drum riser for a few minutes, still no spotlights or pictures of them on the video screens. Justin took out a lighter, lit it, and held it up in the air. In response, seemingly the entire crowd also “flicked their bic” and held it aloft. Now, we’ve been to many concerts where the lighters aloft thing happened, but we agreed this was by far the most we had ever seen. It seemed like 80% of the crowd was holding a lighter overhead, which made for an awesome sea of flames throughout the arena.
The song, intensely personal for Maynard, is about his mother (Marie), her faith/belief in him, her faith in God, the stroke she suffered, and her ultimate death after “10,000 days” of suffering. Though Maynard himself doesn’t profess to be an overly religious person, the song expresses his hope that his mother will get what she deserves for her years of unwavering faith, her “wings.” Heavy stuff, made all the more powerful by the AMAZING visuals which accompanied it on the screens and with lasers and lights. The depth and complexity of the laser show that was presented during this song was jaw dropping. Far from being quick and flashy, the lasers were deep and lush and seemed to envelop first the band/stage then, eventually, the entire arena. A show stopper for sure!
Yet, the show did go on, as the band charged into the second to last number, “Lateralus.” Cited by a great number of TOOL fans as their favorite song, “Lateralus” speaks to trying to bridge the gap that has grown between mind, spirit and body. It reflects a belief that people have lost some of their (good) primitive human instincts and need to not be so sterile in “over thinking and over analyzing” every little thing; allow yourself to just feel and experience! Of course, this being Maynard and Tool, if one does a little “over analyzing” it can’t possibly be a coincidence that the number of syllables in the words during the verses are the beginning of the Fibonacci number sequence, first ascending then descending. After all, Maynard concentrated heavily in mathematics at West Point Prep and the Fibonacci sequence shares a relationship with spirals, which are mentioned throughout the lyrics.
Finally, the band wrapped up with the first single from their current album, “Vicarious,” a scathing indictment of the public’s morbid fascination with misfortune, tragedy and death. The “catch phrase” of the song? “I need to watch things die… from a good safe distance.” And, as Maynard sings, before you say he’s a “monster” for saying that, ask yourself why there is so much negativity in the news. Why do bombings and tsunamis and earthquakes and school shootings and hurricanes get so much coverage? Because that’s what the public wants to see… “from a good safe distance.” Sad but true. A powerful message delivered via powerful music and visuals, and a phenomenal end to an incredible performance!
For those who are interested, the complete set list:
Forty-Six & 2
Lost Keys/Rosetta Stoned
Intension/Right in Two
Wings for Marie/10,000 Days
All in all it was an absolutely incredible experience, both musically and visually. The best concert we’ve ever seen by far. Now if TOOL would only put out a DVD of their live show so we can see it again without another 5 year wait and 4 hour round trip!