I attended the second night of Tool’s two-night run at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena last Tuesday, and it proved to be far more consequential than expected.
The last time I saw the band was nearly eight years ago in January 2012. That Toledo, OH show was a bit underwhelming. Danny, Adam, and Justin were at the top of their game, collectively and individually, but Maynard seemed disinterested at best. To say nothing of his blasé vocals throughout, he was the last one on the stage and the first one off. Sure, people have off nights (myself included, not that I’m in the same league), and the show wasn’t bad overall. But what a bummer, especially after a long drive, the cost of the ticket and merchandise, and having not seen the band for several years before that. It was disheartening. I mean, I’ve seen less-than-great shows before by many bands—some downright bad (yes, Iron Maiden, thinking of you)—but not by an artist or group I hold in such high regard. More than that, as lame as I know it seems, as a fan I took it personally. And it festered.
Following that, I continued to listen to and love the band’s music, but a part of me did it at a distance. Some months after I moved from East Lansing to Buffalo, I passed up trying to see the band in either Rochester, Hamilton, or Detroit during the brief 2017 run. Even though I had a lot going on in my life at the time and didn’t need another event on my plate, I know that had that 2012 show gone differently then I wouldn’t have thought twice about whether to attend in 2017. (I would’ve been there without question.) But I had a chip on my shoulder and considered my passivity an act of defiance, particularly for a band that tours so infrequently. (My ~15 shows in 22 years is notable only because of that infrequency.) I thought that, if nothing else, I had a lot of good shows under my belt and didn’t need to go out on a limb at that time. Plus, it’s not like my emotional investment in the band was a waste. After all, that May 2001 show at Detroit’s State Theater is arguably my favorite concert I’ve attended. It’s in my top 3 or 5 (of everything) at least.
Even in 2019 I was hesitant, more so than in previous years. When Fear Inoculum, the band’s first album in thirteen years, was officially announced, I was skeptical. Would it be worth the wait? Should I even bother with the expensive deluxe packaging of the studio album or just buy it digitally? Will the live show be worth not only the wait but also the expense? I knew I’d go to a show if the opportunity presented itself, but there was a part of me that felt obliged to do so. Partially out of principle, but also out of procrastination, I avoided really listening to the album’s title track before the album’s release. (It was made available to stream weeks in advance.) I considered it best to just hear the entire album with fresh ears once available. Coincidentally, Fear Inoculum was released the same day as Bon Iver’s i,i. (Also coincidentally, I saw Bon Iver at the same venue as Tool ~6 weeks ago.) When I made a trip to the store that day, I knew immediately upon seeing Fear Inoculum and its oversized packaging that I had to go big or go home. If nothing else, I had well over two decades of emotional investment to honor, which outweighed my weird little grudge. (Yes, I wore it like a crown…)
Skittish, I listened to i,i first that day. But eventually…
I listened to Fear Inoculum. Then I listened again. And again.
My boys were back, I thought. I really liked it the first time through. By the second listen I loved it. And more with each full listen. Hot damn. A lot of hype surrounded the album. Not only was it the first album in over a decade—many of us fans thought it’d never happen—but there was also seemingly endless discussion about how it was a big album (the shortest song being over ten minutes long) that covered new ground for the band. Plus, given the amount of time that had passed since 2006’s 10,000 Days and Fear Inoculum, there was a lot of concern that the band just wasn’t as invested as before, not to mention the music industry itself being a whole different beast than it was in 2006. But I wasn’t the only one who got sucked in. Enough people did for Tool to dethrone Taylor Swift on the Billboard charts.
But the hesitancy remained. The tour was announced and I didn’t try to get a close seat. Furthermore, I figured I’d play it safe and only go to one of the Toronto shows instead of both. I considered writing a full album review, going so far as to start multiple drafts but abandoning them.
Without making this a full album review, suffice it to say that it’s a great next step in the band’s evolution. There’s been some back-and-forth among the fans as to whether it’s heavy enough, but I think that misses the mark some. Maynard’s vocal stylings aren’t as aggressive as in previous albums, but instrumentals certainly contend with the rest of the catalogue. The blending of those two aspects is part of the band’s secret sauce. Tool was never going to release a direct-to-video sequel to Undertow, so it’s lame to hear when people expect it. (Just as Miles wasn’t going to treat his audiences to an acoustic rendition of “My Funny Valentine” after 1970.) As far as a review is concerned, right now I’ll note that if you like Lateralus‘s “The Patient” (as I do—one of my favorites from the band’s output), then Fear Inoculum is right up your alley. For me, “Pneuma” and “7empest” are the album’s MVPs.
Then Tuesday came. And the band DELIVERED. The boys are indeed back, and I still float on a cloud when I think of it. Some thoughts on the show, in no particular order:
• The band was TIGHT. Everyone, including Maynard, was locked in and the ensemble worked as one unit.
• Maynard seemed as into the performance as his bandmates. I dare say he even seemed jovial at times in his own way, interacting with the others on stage as well as the audience.
• The sound mix was excellent. That particular Tool concert may have been the best the band has sounded live. Even with it being so very loud (always wear your earplugs), everything was crystal clear. Considering Tool’s wide dynamic range and sudden juxtapositions, this really put things in welcome relief.
• Justin’s bass really cut through the texture in a tasteful way. Sometimes bass guitar can be muddled in such an environment, but thanks to the live mix it was clear as a bell.
• The phone ban was a dream come true. (Kudos to the arena’s staff for strict enforcement.) It’d been years since I’d watched an arena show with an audience that was free of phone screens due to photos and video. Of course, I do admit to taking one photo for posterity when the ban was lifted during the final song, but it was otherwise lovely to just take in the show without such distractions.
• The set list was an interesting mix, and only one song from 1992’s Opiate and 1993’s Undertow combined was included. “Part of Me” was such a surprise and a real treat. It was only the second time I’d heard that live, I think. Given the band’s penchant for mostly static set lists for a single tour, I’m glad I completely avoided looking up the shows prior to mine. Each song was an unexpected turn. (Consequently I won’t post the set list here.)
• “The Pot” hit me like a ton of bricks. For whatever reason, that had long been for me the weak link on 10,000 Days. Chalk it up to the euphoria from that night’s rekindling of the flame if nothing else, but I’ve been making up for lost time with that song over the last week.
• It never ceases to impress me that a band can rock such a large crowd so hard for two hours and yet only one six-minute song is in a continuous, steady 4/4 time.
• Some tweaking of the older material was a nice touch. For example, the extended jam during “Jambi” and the extended double-time during the bridge in “Schism.” (I thought Danny’s drumset would explode.) I did miss the “Suspicious Minds” interpolation in “Stinkfist,” but you can’t have it all.
All this is to say that my Tool fandom has gained a second wind of sorts. Not that it ever went away. Certainly not. But since the show I’ve been caught off guard at just how much it affected my spirits and how I see my relationship to the band’s music. It’s refreshing to know that after so many years I can still get that giddy, deeply connected feeling to it. And, without question, I now can’t wait for the next show.
Though the band didn’t perform it at last week’s show, it’s only fitting I include a live video of “The Grudge,” this from ’02. The lyrics are here.