Tag Archives: tool

Fandom: Here, There, and Back Again

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.


Tool’s ‘Ænima’ at 20

Tool‘s Ænima is turning 20. It was released on vinyl on September 17, 1996 and on CD on October 1, 1996.

tool aenima

Ænima completes my personal holy trinity of top albums that were released in ~1996. It wasn’t the first hard rock/metal album I owned, but it was the one that struck deepest. With it, vocalist Maynard James Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey, and then-new bassist Justin Chancellor cemented Tool as one of the most formidable bands in rock.  Like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Crash, Ænima is a twofold touchstone for me:
1. The album itself is great, and one that I’m just as excited to listen to twenty years later.
2. It served as my entryway into a new musical world.

Because of this album and the near fanatical devotion it inspired in me, Tool was my favorite band throughout high school and much of college. (Tool is still in my Top 5, of course, but at that time the band was without peer.) It spoke to me in various ways. I read an interview with saxophonist Jeff Coffin once in which he said that the most moving music affects you in multiple ways simultaneously: your head, heart, and body. In this respect, Ænima was one of the first album to move me on all three levels. It’s musically interesting on a technical level; the music and message are equal parts profound and humorous; and everything comes together to simply rock and groove hard.

Ænima is multi-faceted, to say the least. The lyrics are wide-ranging — alternately existential, darkly comical, angst-ridden, and mystical. Such a description of the lyrical content could also be applied to the ouvre of comedian Bill Hicks, to whom the album is dedicated. Hicks, a friend of Keenan’s and one of the more biting and cynical satirists of the last few decades, died in 1994, and is described as “another dead hero” in the liner notes. To drive the point home further, beyond Hicksian attitude, the album’s crown jewel and final track “Third Eye” opens with several Hicks clips above a growing psychedelic maelstrom of sound before giving way to the song proper. (Live renditions, though rare, substitute Hicks for a recording of Dr. Timothy Leary.) Also, the album’s title track is a take on a regular Hicks trope: an earthquake causing LA (and the countless superfluous cultural ills it houses) to plunge into the ocean, leaving only “Arizona Bay.” Hence the refrain, “Learn to swim.”

The album’s humor extends beyond Hicks. This is particularly evident in “Message to Harry Manback” (a recording of a violent, expletive-laden voicemail atop soft piano), “Intermission” (a kitschy jazz organ arrangement of “Jimmy”), and “Die Eier von Satan” (aka “The Eggs (Balls) of Satan,” a recipe for hash sugar cookies aggressively recited in German over a screaming, responsorial crowd, reminiscent of Nazi rallies).

The music is heavy overall with sparse, nuanced moments throughout. Keenan’s intense vocal stylings convey urgency at all times, be it a whisper, more brassy full-throated fare, or all-out screaming. It’s a nice sonic counterpoint to the dark, relentless rhythm section. Aside from the occasional guitar solo, the drums, bass, and guitar blend seamlessly into one rhythmelodic juggernaut. And even though “rhythmelodic” is arguably a silly term I’m making up as I write this, the melodies and rhythms are so symbiotically linked that it’s hard to consider one without the other. Structurally, the music is intricately rhythmic — mixed- and odd-meters and hemiolas abound. (Carey’s percussion abilities and training have included tabla study with Aloke Dutta.) Not many rock songs maintain a deep groove when alternating between 6/8 and 5/4 and 16/8 (3+3+3+3+2+2), as in “Third Eye,” but Tool succeeds where others fail. To many, Ænima is Tool’s best album, as it’s a step further in the progressive and psychedelic rock direction from 1993’s Undertow (and 1992’s EP Opiate), but it was more radio-friendly overall than 2001’s Lateralus (the title track of which features a melody built upon the Fibonacci sequence and a chorus in revolving cycles of 9/8, 8/8, and 7/8) and 2006’s 10,000 Days. (Lateralus is this blogger’s favorite of the discography.)

For being such an iconic nineties rock album to many, Ænima has a surprising number of throwaway or secondary tracks. “Useful Idiot,” “Message to Harry Manback,” “Intermission,” “Die Eier von Satan,” “Cesaro Summability,” and “(-) Ions” are all either transitional sound pieces, jokes, or both. (And they work within the context of the album as a whole — one of the reasons it’s best listened to in its entirety.) The remaining nine songs more than make up for any lost ground. They range from four-and-a-half to nearly fourteen minutes in length, with the average being around six to eight minutes. Consequently it’s that much more impressive that the album included four radio singles: “Stinkfist,” “Forty-Six & 2,” “Ænema,” and “H.”

The songs are pretty well balanced between straight-ahead rockers and more exploratory pieces. It’s no mistake that “Stinkfist,” “Forty-Six & 2,” and “Ænema” were hit singles – they’re radio-ready stunners. “Hooker With A Penis” — a comment upon claims that the band had become too popular and sold out — is arguably the heaviest straight-ahead number on the album. Stylistically that’s no accident. How better to comment upon commercial success than pairing the caustic lyrics with a catchy hook? And when “Eulogy” — supposedly an “ode” to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard — kicks in after its two-minute percussive introduction, it’s not hard to picture thousands of fans dancing and moshing to those anthemic choruses.

Then as well as now, I tended to spend most of my time with the more exploratory numbers. These four songs — “H.,” “Jimmy,” “Pushit,” and “Third Eye” — take up most of the album’s real estate given their lengths. “H.” is technically straightforward, but this contemplative medium-tempo dirge is cut from a different cloth than the other singles. In this respect, you could easily pair it with “Jimmy.” “Pushit” and “Third Eye,” however, go farther and deeper both sonically and rhetorically, and they’re the two songs with the most extreme dynamic juxtapositions. At over thirteen-and-a-half minutes, “Third Eye” was unlike anything I’d ever heard the first time I listened to it. Aside from its length, its various peaks and valleys feature noise, instrumental soloing, moving melodies, intricate rhythms, a meaningful message, and more.

(For the record and what it’s worth, though it’s hard to pick, “Pushit,” “Third Eye,” and “H.” are probably my favorites on the album.)

Unlike with MCIS and Crash, I saw the band live around the time they were supporting this album. Even though Tool’s set lists are rather static within each tour, there’s no denying that they’re a great live band, particularly in the sense of flawlessly executing their material. (Though, to be fair, Maynard phoned in his performance at the last show I attended — Toledo, OH in 2012 — but I bet the brief tour was a cash grab for him to support his myriad other endeavors. Adam, Danny, and Justin gave it their all, however.) I first saw Tool on July 26, 1997 as part of Lollapalooza 1997 at Val-du Lakes in West Michigan. It was the first of fourteen shows for me, and I still think of it every July 26 (as well as throughout the year). It was the first real heavy mosh pit (of many) I’d been a part of, and staying near the stage was nothing short of an adventure, even when I moved away from the core melee.

In addition to seeing the band live at the time, I also became a member of the online community. That’s a ubiquitous element to most things now because of social media, but in the mid-to-late nineties it was relegated to message boards on the recently-retired toolshed.down.net. I must take a moment to state for the record just how much I’ve enjoyed toolshed over the years. Director and editor Kabir Akhtar began the site as a labor or love over two decades ago, and it was long the go-to source for band news, discussion of the lyrics’ meanings, fan reviews of shows (a few of which were written by a much younger me), and much more. Tool’s own website now includes actual news when appropriate, something it never did way back when. Though it did feature endlessly engaging tomes on all sorts of goodies… Even though I haven’t posted on toolshed in years, I’ve continued to regularly visit. It’s both a great repository of Tool info and a fascinating pre-Social Media time capsule. I may have mixed feelings about another fan site (to put it mildly) but I have nothing but fondness for toolshed. Thank you, Kabir.

Ænima‘s release and aftermath was game-changing for the band, and likewise for me as a fan of Tool and music — and a participant in fandom — generally. It’s wild to think it’s been twenty years. Hopefully it won’t be that long until the band’s next album

MTH-V: Kids Cover TOOL’s “Forty Six & 2”

This is entirely too good to not share…

A buddy of mine alerted me to this video a couple months ago, knowing my deep love of TOOL. (Previous MTH-V on the band here.) While I was deeply skeptical upon seeing the performers, I was quickly impressed and the video has since stuck with me.

The performers in this video are students of musician, teacher, and entrepreneur Aaron O’Keefe. If only I had been able to participate in something like this when I was young. Although, if that were the case, I’d probably have stuck with the guitar and never touched a saxophone. An interesting thought experiment…

“Forty Six & 2” comes from TOOL’s second full-length album Ænima. That album launched the band into the mainstream and got the undivided attention of yours truly in the late summer of 1996, right before its release. While there are some metrical intricacies here, this is one of the band’s more metrically straightforward songs.

Not only have these kids put in the time and have the talent to pull this off so well, but they rock hard. Very impressive, especially considering the material and their ages. I’m not sure whose idea it was to have a female singer, but kudos to him/her. (Female vocals are a good substitute for singer Maynard James Keenan, given his style and range.) Finally, a special shoutout to the drummer, as attempting to fill Danny’s Carey‘s mammoth shoes is a great undertaking.

Enjoy…

And, for reference, a live version by TOOL from 1996:

MTH-V: Rage Against the Machine

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE! Twenty years later, the band is still just as rocking and relevant.

I know I have my Top 5 that I reference quite regularly. But if I were to limit that to rock alone, RATM would definitely make that list. (Note: RATM and TOOL both emerged from the same LA scene and knew each other quite well – in fact, the two bands’ guitarists were high school classmates in Chicago.) RATM’s second album Evil Empire came out in 1996, a year I all but obsess over and praise at length without prompting, and I listened to it non-stop. (Some of my still-favorite albums were released that year, and a number of the releases from late 1995 to early 1997 made a big impact on me.) The band’s inventive and assaulting mix of rap and heavy metal are absolutely infectious, and Tom Morello‘s virtuosity gives the only-guitar-bass-drums-vocals combo near-endless sonic possibilities.

Controversy regularly followed the band – and continues to through today – because of 1) their uncompromising socio-political focus and 2) misunderstanding and overreaction by the mainstream media. For example, their music was banned from the airwaves by Clear Channel during the months following 9/11. Much of their profits have gone to support charitable and political causes over the last two decades, and they are regularly participating in demonstrations and rallies, especially Morello and singer Zack de la Rocha. And when I say socio-political focus, I mean exclusively so. Without getting deep (and lost) in the weeds here, every song – save some of the covers included on 2000’s Renegades deals with social, political, economic and/or environmental commentary of some kind. Considering the group’s singular purpose, their longstanding commercial success and popularity is quite amazing.

I was fortunate enough to see Rage Against the Machine once in late 1999. (They abruptly disbanded a year later and reformed in 2007, performing sporadically since.) It remains one of the most INTENSE shows I’ve ever attended, and it was by far the most aggressive mosh pit I’ve ever been a part of. (Even though I was only feet from the stage, I had to leave the pit before Rage even took the stage and find an open seat from one of the many people who rushed the floor.) The band didn’t need a light show, lasers, or any other special effects. All they had was a backdrop that read “The Battle of Detroit” and their instruments. And it was one of the best, most energetic performances I’ve witnessed. Hopefully the below videos convey that.

“Know Your Enemy”
One of my favorite RATM tracks. (TOOL’s Maynard James Keenan sings the bridge on their debut album. A clip of both bands together on stage at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival is here.) This 2011 performance at Brazil’s SWU festival is ELECTRIC. It was part of RATM’s first string of South American dates ever, and it’s obvious that much of the audience had waited two decades for this.) Watch Morello work his magic throughout!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbYVDjDpR8U

“Freedom”
From Germany’s Rock im Park 2000
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSNeonapnT8

*I had tickets to see them again in 2000 as part of the Rhyme & Reason tour featuring Beastie Boys, RATM, Busta Rhymes, and No Doubt, but the tour was cancelled to due an injury sustained by Mike D. That’s one tour I’d love to alter history to have seen…

 

MTH-V: TOOL’s “Third Eye” Live

Although I’d like for my Einstein reflection to remain from and center on the main site (as it is in my mind), Tuesday is here and therefore another video post is due. The timing definitely works out, however, as it’s quite complementary to the concert-going about face I’m engaging in. Although I have yet to successfully pick my jaw up from the floor after Sunday’s EOTB experience, tonight I’ll be seeing TOOL in Toledo, OH. (Yes, I’ll be wearing my earplugs…)

Ah, TOOL. (While it’s not completely necessary that I capitalize all letters, I’ve done so for 15 years and see no reason to quit now.) 1/5 of my mythic Top 5. Tonight’s show will be #14, my first having been almost 15 years ago (07.26.97). It’s been five years since I last saw them, and my overall attendance numbers would be far greater for them if they actually toured regularly. However, that’s part of their charm. They tour when they want and can, and do things on their terms, and release new studio albums at a snail’s pace. But considering each album somehow evolves past the last, it’s always worth the wait.

In case this is news to you, a quick rundown: Since its inception, the band has been categorized as progressive rock/metal, and has only amped up those characteristics – lengthy tunes, compound meters, unconventional form, strong technical facility – over time. Although many progressive rock bands fall prey to the math more than the music, TOOL can organically rock in 11/8 without giving the impression that they perform solely to showcase their rhythmic acuity. Furthermore, they exhibit restraint and taste, employing such devices only when the music (or Maynard’s idiosyncratic vocal melodies) demands it. As far as subject matter, the lyrics are overall intentionally vague while also referencing, aside from the usual “life and death,”  individual expression, philosophy, social commentary, humor (often sarcastic or ironic), and the occult. (The band members and their associates have a deep knowledge of the latter, as opposed to superficial references.)

For this week’s video, I’ve selected a recent and decent (despite the final few seconds being clipped) HQ audience recording of one of their best songs, “Third Eye.” Without giving too much away in the title, it’s about opening one’s fabled third eye. 🙂 The spoken dialogue played at the beginning is a recording of Dr. Timothy Leary they use during live (rare) performances of this particular song. (The studio album features complementary bits by Bill Hicks.) I’ve only seen this song live a few times – it’s rarely performed. If you have the time to get through all 15 minutes you’ll see that it’s not just “jamming,” but rather a well-structured composition. Also note the great use of tension and release via volume, texture, meter, and tone. It’s something they do better than most. The other thing TOOL does better than most is perform. They are SOLID live – crisp, well-rehearsed, and intense. TOOL is:
Danny Carey – Drums/Percussion
Justin Chancellor – Bass (1995-present)
Adam Jones – Guitar
Maynard James Keenan – Vocals
(Paul D’Amour – Bass, 1990-95)

“Third Eye” (from 1996’s Ænima)

Lyrics:
Dreaming of that face again.
It’s bright and blue and shimmering.
Grinning wide
And comforting me with it’s three warm and wild eyes.

On my back and tumbling
Down that hole and back again
Rising up
And wiping the webs and the dew from my withered eye.

In… Out… In… Out… In… Out…

A child’s rhyme stuck in my head.
It said that life is but a dream.
I’ve spent so many years in question
to find I’ve known this all along.

“So good to see you.
I’ve missed you so much.
So glad it’s over.
I’ve missed you so much
Came out to watch you play.
Why are you running?”

Shrouding all the ground around me
Is this holy crow above me.
Black as holes within a memory
And blue as our new second sun.
I stick my hand into his shadow
To pull the pieces from the sand.
Which I attempt to reassemble
To see just who I might have been.
I do not recognize the vessel,
But the eyes seem so familiar.
Like phosphorescent desert buttons
Singing one familiar song…

“So good to see you.
I’ve missed you so much.
So glad it’s over.
I’ve missed you so much.
Came out to watch you play.
Why are you running away?”

Prying open my third eye.
So good to see you once again.
I thought that you were hiding.
And you thought that I had run away.
Chasing the tail of dogma.
I opened my eye and there we were.

So good to see you once again
I thought that you were hiding from me.
And you thought that I had run away.
Chasing a trail of smoke and reason.

Prying open my third eye