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Tool sucks live -- if you're a casual concert-goer expecting all the trappings of a classic rock show that is -- because a Tool performance has no pyro, no special effects, no stunning light show or outrageous antics.
Last Wednesday night, I was one of more than 2,000 lucky bastards with tickets to Tool's sold-out-in-roughly-six-seconds show at the Buell Theater. Although the band delivered its songs with surgical precision throughout a ninety-plus minute set, its stage presence was virtually non-existent. In fact, you could have stuck four cardboard cutouts of Tool's members on stage and plugged an iPod Shuffle into the soundboard and created roughly the same effect. Granted, Danny Carey's thunderous timekeeping and Justin Chancellor's rumbling bass lines wouldn't rattle your ribcage in quite the same manner, but you get the picture.
Fortunately, there were no casual fans at the Tool show. To be honest, I'm not sure such a thing exists. The band's enthusiasts are zealots who spend countless hours discussing the group's genius and dissecting every nuance of Tool's performances on message boards. These fans go to extremes to express their passion and dedication, even painting themselves blue from head to toe, like the poor sap I spied on the way to the concert who failed to win tickets from KBPI. And then there was the guy I met in line who'd trailed the band to Coachella a few weeks ago and then paid nearly $200 over face value to see basically the same show at the Buell.
Needless to say, for this audience, watching Tool was a religious experience not unlike looking into the eyes of God. It made everything the fans had to endure -- waiting in endless lines, first to get tickets and then to be ushered into the venue; being subjected to a DIA-level security screenings complete with the confiscation of lighters and smokes -- seem like nothing more than a speed bump on the road to catching Maynard James Keenan and company in the flesh.
Much like the band they worship, Tool fans are cerebral and concerned only with one thing -- the music. So no one expected an elaborate stage show or minded that the musicians remained almost motionless -- and, in the case of guitarist Adam Jones, expressionless. (Dude looked like he was plotting out his fantasy-baseball roster or something.) Because what the members of Tool lacked in theatrics, they more than made up for with mind-blowing musicianship, bringing their instrumental interludes and meticulous arrangements to life. And what better place for them to do it than inside the Buell -- one of the most gorgeous spaces in town, even if it was an odd place to smell the hippie lettuce. (Obviously, someone got his lighter in.)
The show kicked off just before 8 p.m. with Jones picking a stark arpeggio over piercing waves of feedback on "Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)," a track from 10,000 Days, Tool's latest effort that debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 a few weeks ago. As that song seamlessly segued into "Rosetta Stoned," Keenan -- shirtless and looking like Travis Bickle, with a Mohawk and mirrored aviators -- made his way to his unlit perch (which would remain dark through the show) just to the left of Carey's drum riser and spoke into a CB/megaphone contraption slung over his left shoulder. When he finally let loose as the song progressed, his vocals were as entertaining as his subsequent banter between numbers.
Before diving headlong into "Stinkfist," Keenan cheekily apologized for keeping everyone up past their bedtime. Later in the set, after running through "The Pot" and "Forty Six & 2," he mentioned 10,000 Days' chart position and urged fans to keep it there indefinitely. "The best way for it to stay that way," he said, "is for every one of you to buy another copy every week. That's the only thing I can think of. Thanks for your help."
The rest of the set was peppered with older material such as "Sober," "Schism" and "Lateralus," the title track from Tool's last album, as well as "Vicarious," the current single from 10,000 Days, and some other new cuts.
The highlight of the evening was Carey's drumming: That guy is a monster. Not that the other bandmembers are slouches, by any means, but they stayed so still that I split my time between studying Carey (who reminded me of Neil Peart with soul) and watching the animations on the four giant JumboTrons that served as the stage backdrop. The juxtaposition of Tool's trademark claymations and psychedelic swirls created something resembling a twisted alien snuff film.
This show wasn't anything like the larger-than-life Kid Rock spectacle I caught a few weeks ago. It was just a hundred times better. When you're as good as Tool, you don't need gimmicks.
Upbeats and beatdowns:Speaking of that Kid Rock show at the Colorado Convention Center (Beatdown, May 4), turns out that the Kid handled his own sound that night, so if anyone's to blame for the shitty sound, it's him.
"I think the biggest point is that truly good, bad or indifferent, major acts travel with their own sound," Ann Williams, director of communications for the Denver Division of Theatres & Arenas, said in an e-mail last week. "I don't want folks to think that the Lecture Hall provides sub-standard service to the public or to the promoters by having poor sound quality. We go with what the artists want -- it's their building for the show. Plus, sound quality is somewhat subjective. I bet that most of the audience members thought that the sound was what it should have been, or what they expected it to be, for that show. And we didn't get any complaints."
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