Review: Tool at Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, February 18, 2020.
Tool had been unwittingly teasing the follow-up to the quartet’s 2006 album, 10,000 Days for over a decade before the release of Fear Inoculum. And judging by the fervent fans who packed out two arenas in Sydney this week, it may take the patience of a monk to be a Tool fan, but it’s worth it.
Fear Inoculum, produced by Joe Barresi (who the band worked with on 10,000 Days), is arguably their most impressive to date. 13 years in the making, the record was so well received globally it dethroned Taylor Swift’s Lover at #1 in the US, despite not utilising the industry cheat sheet of ticket bundles or direct-to-consumer as part of their sales.
So what happens when you combine 13 years of hype, Tool’s most ambitious album to date, and an Australian arena show? A welcome time warp of low rise jeans, baggy mosh shorts, braided goatee beards and over two hours of metal spirituality, of course.
The fact Tool performed the opening tracks as silhouettes from behind a thin black curtain should come as no surprise. A Tool concert has nothing to do with machismo, outward showmanship, or even between-song-banter. It’s a wall of sound meticulously produced by just four people created to encase you and move you.
Vocalist Maynard James Keenan, sporting an erect bright red Mohican, doesn’t step foot on the front of the stage. Instead he performs from platforms at the back, sometimes crouched like a praying mantis, sometimes sat down with his legs crossed.
At one point, during an impressive instrumental epic between guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey, Maynard placed himself out of sight completely, behind the drum kit.
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The LED screens don’t show a live stream of the band onstage. Tool’s music is at the forefront alongside kaleidoscope visuals of the psychedelic, pulsating creatures and colours that frequent Tool’s music videos, care of Adam Jones.
Longtime fans of Tool know that during the band’s formative years Maynard’s stage fright meant he performed facing away from the audience entirely. Now he even dances, tribal-like and low to the ground.
A newcomer might even strain to find him onstage at first, crouched down in the dark. It’s no accident. Tool’s songs can build like an orgasm erupting into an extended climax and the last you need is the distraction of a show pony.
Maynard speaks more too; after the intermission – because if you’re Tool and your new songs average 12 minutes long then you need one – he said:
“It’s raining really fucking hard outside. I think we might have summoned that. Us, all together.”
In one telling moment after performing new song ‘7empest’ (which runs at almost 16 minutes) Maynard joked: “Can we… Can we try that one more time?”
A lot has changed since Tool formed in LA in 1990, Maynard spends half his time travelling the world with Tool and A Perfect Circle, just two of several bands he fronts, and the other half running Caduceus Cellars, his winery in Arizona.
Tool fans understand the labour which would have gone in to choosing this setlist. If it took them 13 years to give us Fear Innoculum, choosing a select few songs to portray the current era of Tool would have been a heavy task.
But through tracks like ‘Parabola’, ‘Schism’, ‘Vicarious’ and ‘Forty Six & 2’ Tool showed off their universally acclaimed repertoire. Their songs are masterpieces and, when played at a deafening volume, turn your ribcage into undulating mush.
Following a glorious, lengthy solo from percussionist Danny Carey, Tool tore into ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ and ‘Invincible’, before Maynard did something starkly out of character: He let us use our phones.
“Thank you Sydney, it’s been great,” he said as the band readied ‘Stinkfist’, the first track from 1996’s Ænima.
“You can pull out your fucking cell phones and film this last song if you want to. Security stand down and let them play with their shit phones. And goodnight.”