Led by one-time Grand Rapidian Maynard James Keenan, Tool’s Tuesday spectacle at Van Andel Arena was a wildly creative mix of rock & multimedia magic. Review by John Serba; photos by Anthony Norkus.
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Led by lead drummer Danny Carey, Tool’s first Grand Rapids show in 15 years was an ode to percussive calculus.
Carey’s massive kit sat on a riser, dead-center stage, spotlights on him as he pattered and pummeled, sweating buckets in a basketball jersey, his polyrhythmic constructs firing all the key synapses in the musical brain of a band that has evolved far beyond its post-grunge roots to become the world’s foremost psychedelic prog band.
The world’s foremost psychedelic-prog band — a band that can open with a 12-minute dirge of drum wanks topped with noodles, and end the night with a 12-minute dirge of drum wanks topped with noodles, and still pretty much fill Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena to the rafters.
In half-shadow to Carey’s right was Adam Jones, in half-shadow to his left was bassist Justin Chancellor, and one one of two raised stages behind him in near-full shadow was singer Maynard James Keenan, gyrating weirdo in panda-eye makeup, double-mohawk glued to his bald head.
To reiterate: Drummer in your face. Workmen up front. Clown in back. Slow-burn, hookless prog-rock opening and closing numbers (and a few in the middle, too). So much for accessibility.
Such is Tool’s M.O. now – packing the house in blatant spite of the usual crowd-pleasing dog-and-pony bull roar.
To be fair, Tool’s M.O. also includes a multimedia psychoactive presentation that’s wildly creative and fills the building with light, color, bizarre imagery and even gently fluttering confetti, you know, the kind of stuff that’s hypnotic and transporting, and surely even better if you’re stoned way off your nards.
So perhaps Tool isn’t wholly inaccessible – maybe just fascinatingly impenetrable, projecting eye-candy smokescreens behind, in front of and all around themselves as they concentrate on their many slow builds, meandering interludes and percussive climaxes spread over a dozen numbers in 135 minutes, spiced with, well, not quite enough of Keenan and his voice, by turns vulnerable and tremendous, which makes his de-emphasis in a live setting understandable.
Not that the singer, a one-time Grand Rapidian (and West Michigander who grew up in Scottville), was invisible. After the band noodled through opener “Fear Inoculum” and followed up with angsty-’90s breakthrough hit “Sober,” Keenan admonished the crowd for not cheering loud enough: “Sounds like Ohio,” he quipped. Was he being mean or playful? Most likely both.
CLASSIC RANTING TRACKS AND HOWLING FROM ‘A BAND IN MOTION’
He was even more pointed near the end of the show, when he officially lifted the building-wide ban on photos and videos for the final number, allowing the “crackheads” to whip out their cell phones. But he asked not at all kindly to keep the light off: “That’s amateur hour. Don’t make me come down there and s–t right in your mouth,” he snapped, like the snarky S.O.B. he can be.
His sarcasm was prevalent while outing a pair of Tool’s classic Ranting Maynard tracks: “The Pot,” a hissing admonishment of hypocrisy, was the evening’s most uptempo and traditionally rocking number. And the band dusted off raucous oldie “Hooker With a Penis,” Keenan singing through a distorted megaphone effect and making lewd gestures towards his own hindquarters, the band precision-trainwrecking with squalls of feedback at its conclusion.
But the evening’s highlight was “Pushit,” a sludgy, dark-energy brooder that rendered Keenan a small man whispering, murmuring and howling into a very deep sonic abyss.
It was the fourth and final number in an opening mini-set performed behind a translucent curtain that slowly parted as the song reached its emotional climax, revealing the band in full, majestic flight, Keenan slashing the air with a clawed hand.
All the while, through the big swells of “Pneuma” and a blistering run through “The Grudge,” through moody conclusive numbers “Culling Voices” and “Invincible,” the psychedelic mindmelt churned and spun: Volcanic plumes became cough syrup, clouds became smoke became human forms, “2001” star children became nebulae, eyeballs became amoebas, all while a seven-pointed star hovered above the band, signifying some profound numerological ritual occurring on stage, the odd number of points surely reflecting the odd time signatures being performed, time signatures that are impossible to dance to but remarkably easy to get high to.
So consider Tool in 2022 to be a band in motion, not stagnating in nostalgia.
They’re not the same angry band they were in the ’90s; all that prog, all the slow builds building, building, building to rumbling Carey thunder pummel shows a mellowing of the Tool sturm-und-drang.
All that slow building, to something greater and more expansive than the smothering unease of old Nowadays, Tool does enough slow building to reconstruct the whole of civilization. Good thing, because we may need it soon.
Check out Local Spins’ Ultimate Tool Playlist.
PHOTO GALLERY: Tool, The Acid Helps at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
TOOL SET LIST: Van Andel Arena (3/8/22)
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