Required Listening For Humans: Tool, Live @ the KROQ Centre

12 Aug

On the 18th of May, 2001 three things happened. Firstly, I turned 18 years old. Secondly, Pope Jean-Paul II,  with whom I happened to share  my birthdate, turned 81 years old. And thirdly, I bought a copy of Tool’s 3-day-old  magnum opus, LateralusThere have been very  few albums in my life which have challenged my pre-conceptions and engaged my imagination to the point that they fundamentally changed my understanding of what music could be and do and accomplish.

Lateralus was the first of them.

I was lucky enough to attend two shows on the Lateralus tour, and those performances, with their monolithic video screens, mesmerizing light rigs, incredible musicianship, monstrous set pieces, screaming walls of sound, contortionists, acrobats, and laser shows have become, in my mind, the definitive ’10’on the scale against which I judge every other musical performance I attend. So you can imagine my elation when I found out that Tool were coming through Kingston.

I had tickets the same hour I heard the news.

Tool Live 1

Kellie and I arrived an hour after doors and missed nearly all of the opening act, Weak Bird. However, I have it on good authority we didn’t miss much. We then sat through a set change during which we were subjected to everything from Peter Gabriel to Nine Inch Nails to strange, fuzzy noise.  Roadies dressed as lab technicians in long, white coats milled about the stage fixing and adjusting things. One fellow even walked up to the stage with a rubber chicken and mimed slitting it’s throat. For some reason, all of this took an entire hour. Exasperated at the wait, I quipped to Kellie, “I’m sure glad we got tickets to Tool’s iPod”.

A concept image of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors

A concept image of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors

While we waited, a video was played advertising the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM), a 40-acre interfaith centre being built by Tool’s friend and often-times album cover artist, and self-proclaimed mystic, Alex Grey. CoSm is a not-for-profit charity which is building a retreat full of visionary art to “inspire every piligrim’s creative path and embody the values of love and perennial wisdom”. While I certainly applaud any endevour which encourages human creativity and spiritual growth, the whole thing felt a little ‘L. Ron Hubbard’ to me. Perhaps my brief time working in marketing has jaded me, but as the video announced that Tool have donated all sorts of “memorabelia and relics” I couldn’t help but wonder whether the band may have taken a leaf from the KISS book of brand-building.

At last the band took the stage dressed as psych-ward patients in loose, white clothes (with the exception of Maynard, who wore sunglasses and a cowboy hat through the entire show). The crowd reacted well to their first few songs, but I kept waiting for the show to really start. The light rig moved around and by the fifth song they were using lasers, but where was the Tool I remembered ? Where were the lights arced over their heads, flashing like giant Tesla coils? Where were the psychedelic banners unfurled in time to the music? This isn’t to say that the band needs any of these things to be good live (and I would certainly label any band which comes to rely on said props as complacent) but the band just didn’t seem to be trying; I’ve seen the best these guys are capable of, and this wasn’t it.

They would take turns for solos and anyone not playing left the stage; at first I thought this was to draw attention to those who were still playing but eventually it just got distracting watching them walk on and off. The sound in the KROQ centre was so muddy and indistinct that at times it was hard to follow along. Perhaps the fact that Kellie and I both wore earplugs to fend off the frankly irresponsible amount of decibels had something to do with the poor sound, but what we heard of the opening band had been clear enough…

Tool Live 2This is not to say that the show wasn’t worthwhile; from time to time the crowd really came alive and I found myself wishing I were on the floor in the thick of it. The extended solo Tool injected into the title track from Lateralus was incredible, even if he drummer from Weak Bird, who was brought out to duel with Danny Carey, barely tried to keep up; I would have thought that if you were given the chance to share the stage with one of rock’s preeminient drummers you’d bring your A-game, or at least snap your limbs off tryingto keep up. However, after a few weak attempts at off-time beats with big fills, the kid just kept time and looked bored. Eventually Carey just stopped taking turns, took over, and went wild.

Aenima and Vicarious both brought roars from the crowd, fresh bursts of violence from the mosh-pit, and grins to my face. “Oh yeah, I remember this song. What a great song.” I would think to myself. But the grins were more for all the high school years I spent playing their albums over and over than for anything they were doing on stage. They just never quite drew us in.

In the end, the disappointment was that the show was simply average. I realize Kingston is a small, out of the way date on their tour, and that the venue had failed to completely sell out, and that the guys were probably tired, but when playing to an arena-sized crowd becomes just another day at the office, then you really should be asking yourselves why you’re going on stage at all. Tool have always sold themselves as relentlessly and tirelessly creative, but during the slowest moments of the show I couldn’t help recalling all the reasons why I look down on rock ‘staples’ like Aerosmith or Bon Jovi who rest on their laurels, continuously releasing music even when they’ve got nothing real to say.

The crowd were there, ready and willing to lose it, but the Tool just weren’t. Perhaps the hour long wait for the band to come on stage should have been an indication that they’re starting to take their fans for granted. Maynard even left the stage once the vocal parts of the last song were done, but before the others had even finished playing. I feel that’s a rather poor attitude to not be giving back all the energy the crowd is giving to you; acting like a dick does not a rock star make, Maynard, It makes you a dick. At least the other three stayed for a bow.

Sadly, this time around the band that taught me what a solid ’10’ looks like, did not measure up to their own high standards..


To see  the video about the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors which was played before Tool took the stage, follow the link below, and then click ’10, 000 Fans’ in the left sidebar.

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Posted by on August 12, 2009 in Music


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