Tag Archives: tool

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)

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



I stumbled upon this NPR article a few weeks ago and it’s since stuck in my craw. While I agree with one of the overall messages – it’s important to protect yourself in high-volume environments – I’m puzzled by the Bob Boilen’s seemingly surprised POV. I try not to get preachy about much, but earplugs and volume regularly lead me to filibuster. I know that I already have slight hearing loss in one ear, and I’ve waged an all-out preventative assault for the better part of the last decade.

Like the author, I regularly attend (and participate in) performances of varying kinds: clubs, large arenas, theaters, ampitheaters, museums, bars, etc. Some are quiet and cozy, others are deafening. When I’m preparing to leave the house to rehearse, perform, or attend a show, I always take a moment to assess the sonic environment I’m heading to, and almost never leave home without my earplugs (my own personal American Express). About 8 years ago I decided to spring for a pair of Etymotic custom-molded earplugs. It seemed a little much at first, but it turned out to be arguably the best $160ish I’ve spent.

Performing in loud ensembles was ~65% of my reason for the purchase, with the remaining ~35% stemming from my regular attendance of loud (mostly rock) concerts. Now, I do love many loud styles of music, but I tend to be extra cautious with the volume at which I listen to them. (My wife regularly snipes at me in the car or at home for having the music too low when listening.) I always enjoy listening to music (of course), but it should also be a comfortable experience. After all, if musicians and other audiophiles insist on investing in a great pair of headphones for private listening (I do love my Bose headphones), why not apply the same logic to earplugs and “public listening”? Similarly, consider bowling, an activity many Americans participate in occasionally. For most people, renting shoes and/or balls doesn’t really affect their enjoyment – they’re often there for reasons more social than sport. But for those with a love of the game who play frequently and with purpose, investing money in gear (ball, shoes, upkeep, etc.) is a no-brainer because it enhances the experience.

The big complaint about earplugs in general is that they distort the sound. True, $3 foam thimbles – like renting a bowling shoes for your ears – work slightly better than taping a pillow around one’s head. In that case, you get what you pay for. However that’s not at all the case when using earplugs that are actually meant for listening (as opposed to those meant to block out sound). I always tell people that wearing custom earplugs is the equivalent of simply turning down a volume knob on your ears. Everything comes through cleanly and as projected, only at a softer level. (Also, custom plugs come with adjustable filters for varying volumes.) In fact, I can often hear better with them in, as the natural distortion and fatigue is a non-issue.

I’ve seen many loud performances. (Korn & Staind touring with the Guinness-certified world’s loudest sound system, which was painfully loud even with foam earplugs, and Phil Anselmo‘s Down immediately come to mind.) The episode that most sticks out to me is my 8th TOOL concert (10.18.02). I eventually forced my way to the front row, but was located directly in front of one of the speaker stacks for a majority of the performance. I had a deeper-than-normal ear fatigue afterwards and was to see them again two nights later. In between, I attended a wedding and, seated near the DJ, I suffered a slight auditory meltdown at the reception. As a result, the 10.20 TOOL show was a turning point for me, as I’ve worn earlugs since and haven’t looked back. (Side note: My ears, mind, and body were much better off after that concert than the previous two nights.)

Granted, the Korn show I mentioned was a bit much, but for the most part some types of music just demand loud performance. Much of rock music is quite visceral and therefore physically engaging the audience is a factor – even when wearing earplugs, feeling the music’s vibrations run through your entire body at a live show is a truly wonderful feeling. But yes, there are many instances in which a band or venue is obnoxious (again see Korn), bordering on dangerous. (I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of this.) It’s a situation in which everyone – performer, engineer, listener – should and does have skin in the game.

While I’ve written most of this article from the audience’s perspective, I should also note that my earplugs have done wonders for gigging this whole time – standing amidst drums and amplifiers takes its toll quickly and aggressively. But since the original NPR article stressed the audience perspective, I opted for that arena.

I could go on and on. Truly. But since I want people to return to this blog from time to time, suffice it to say that the listener ultimately shares responsibility in auditory comfort. 🙂 And, if done correctly, it doesn’t have to compromise the overall experience.


A few weeks ago I finally picked up Radiohead’s quickly-(in)famous King of Limbs. I’d been wanting to give it a listen since its initial (surprise) digital release. (However, being a stickler for always wanting a hard copy, I opted to patiently wait until the physical release.) My primary interest stemmed from my being a longtime fan. Another part of me, though, wanted to see what all the hubbub was about – Facebook and the Twitterverse were blowing up with very mixed reviews. Most critics lauded the effort, with fans going in many directions. Friends and colleagues were in quite the tizzy. Six weeks later I finally got my chance – I love it! I gave it two careful listens that first day, and a number of others since, and my fondness has only increased.

But this isn’t a “New Listen” review…

I’m continually amazed by fans’ feeling betrayed by an artist’s (in this case, band’s) natural evolution. (Yes, I’m certainly aware that everyone can’t be a total fan of everything, but this concerns active fans.) Of course, an artist can unexpectedly change course – for reasons personal, commercial, or otherwise – and cause an uproar, the response to which could be perfectly understandable. However, often times, when discussing those heavies with long careers and extended catalogues, change is almost always inevitable. In fact, my personal Top 5 – TOOL, Dave Matthews Band, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Smashing Pumpkins – is united by their collective tendency to evolve over time. Some had smoother transitions than others – TOOL and Trane are/were smoother overall than Miles – but each one’s arc can be heard as one sonic narrative, with each new phase or “sound” including both an element of the “core” sound and an aspect of picking up where they last left off (even if it’s somewhat of a reaction to a previous approach).

Like the aforementioned Top 5, Radiohead also continually evolves. Succinctly describing their most recent release, I would say: King of Limbs is Radiohead’s next logical step after In Rainbows. Now, that doesn’t really mean anything to the passive fan, but those familiar with the whole Radiohead catalogue should understand that this denotes: more effects and electronics, less traditional instrumentation and form, more experimentation. Radiohead started with a definitive early-90s anthem (“Creep”), pivoted with a slightly more progressive but wildly commercially successful album (OK Computer), then forcefully proceeded down the avenue of electronic experimentation (Kid A through present). I could understand someone enjoying OK Computer in somewhat of a vacuum and being dumbfounded by King or even Amnesiac (these two are probably my favorites, FYI). But, if you were to listen to all of their albums in succession, you would most likely hear a single band slowly transforming.

A primary grievance is that the new album is too down-tempo. Did anyone really expect an anthemic rocker after the last few albums? Seriously? Many await another OK Computer. I can understand that to a certain extent, however that was their third album. King of Limbs is their EIGHTH studio album. They’re far beyond that stage, for good or ill. For those who felt betrayed, the “betrayal” occurred not in 2011, but rather gradually over the last decade. Similarly, Miles and Trane continually evolved. Those who expected Coltrane to play “Locomotion” in ’66 or ’67 were gravely mistaken, and likely walked out of performances and stopped buying his albums. He had moved beyond the blues – moved beyond swing – by that point. And was it that he no longer liked “that old stuff”? No. He simply transcended all earlier endeavors and was progressing beyond jazz to something greater. Returning to “Syeeda’s Song Flute” would have been a stifling distraction. The same is happening here.

Art, and the artists who create it, evolve. Just like everything else. You don’t have to like everything an artist does, not by a long shot. However, at the same token, don’t be surprised if, after 5 or 10 or 20 years, they have moved on to a different place.