Led by former Grand Rapidien Maynard James Keenan, Tool’s Tuesday show at the Van Andel Arena was a hugely creative blend of rock and multimedia magic. Review by John Serba; photos by Anthony Norkus.
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Led by lead drummer Danny Carey, Tools Grand Rapids’ first show in 15 years was an ode to percussive calculation.
Carey’s massive kit sat on a riser, center stage, spotlight on him as he crackled and punched, sweating buckets in a basketball jersey, his polyrhythmic builds firing all the key synapses in the musical brains of a band that has evolved far beyond its post-grunge roots to become the world’s premier psychedelic prog band.
The world’s greatest psychedelic prog band – a band that can kick off with a 12-minute dirge of noodle-topped drum jerks, and end the night with a 12-minute dirge of noodle-topped drum jerks, while just about filling Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena at the rafters.
In partial shadow to Carey’s right was Adam Jones, in partial shadow to his left was bassist Justin Chancellor, and one of two elevated stages behind him in near complete shadow was vocalist Maynard James. Keenan, a whirling weirdo in panda-eyed makeup. , double-mohawk glued to his bald head.
To reiterate: Drummer in your face. Workers in front. Clown in the back. Slow-burning, hookless prog-rock opening and closing numbers (and a few in the middle too). So much for accessibility.
Such is Tool’s MO now – packing house in blatant spite of the usual roar of crowd-pleasing dogs and ponies.
To be fair, Tool’s MO also includes a psychoactive multimedia presentation which is extremely creative and fills the building with light, colors, bizarre images and even slightly floating confetti, you know, the kind of hypnotic and transporting things, and surely even better if you’re stoned away from your nards.
So maybe Tool isn’t entirely unreachable – maybe just fascinating and inscrutable, throwing up smokescreens behind, in front of, and all around themselves as they focus on their many slow builds, their winding interludes and their percussive climaxes spread over a dozen numbers in 135 minutes, spiced with, well, not enough Keenan and his voice, by turns vulnerable and formidable, which makes his de-emphasis in a live setting understandable.
Not that the singer, a former Grand Rapidian (and West Michigander who grew up in Scottville), was invisible. After the band launched into opener “Fear Inoculum” and followed it up with the agonizing 90s hit “Sober,” Keenan chastised the crowd for not clapping hard enough: “It sounds like the ‘Ohio,” he joked. Was he naughty or mischievous? Most likely both.
CLASSIC RANTING TRACKS AND SCREAMS OF ‘A BAND IN MOTION’
He was even more pointed towards the end of the show, when he officially lifted the ban on building-wide photos and videos for the final number, allowing “crackheads” to whip out their cellphones. But he didn’t kindly ask to keep the lights off: “It’s amateur time. Don’t make me come over there and shit right in your mouth,” he snapped, like the sarcastic SOB he can be.
His sarcasm was rife when releasing a pair of classic Ranting Maynard tracks from Tool: “The Pot,” a hissing warning of hypocrisy, was the most rhythmic and traditionally rocking number of the evening. And the band dusted off the raucous old ‘Hooker With a Penis’, with Keenan singing through a distorted megaphone effect and obscenely gesturing to his own rear end, the band wrecking precision with bursts of feedback at its conclusion. .
But the highlight of the night was “Pushit,” a muddy brood of black energy that made Keenan a whispering, muttering, screaming little man into a very deep abyss of sound.
It was the fourth and final number in an opening mini-set played behind a slowly parting translucent curtain as the song reached its emotional climax, revealing the band in majestic flight, Keenan slapping the air with a clawed hand.
All the while, through the big swells of “Pneuma” and a searing run through “The Grudge,” through moody conclusive numbers “Culling Voices” and “Invincible,” the psychedelic mind-meld was spinning and spinning: volcanic plumes became cough syrup, clouds became smoke became human shapes, “2001” star children became nebulae, eyeballs became amoebas, while ‘a seven-pointed star hovered above the band, signifying a deep numerological ritual occurring on stage, the odd number of points surely reflecting the strange time signatures being performed, time signatures that are impossible to dance to but remarkably easy to hover.
So think of Tool in 2022 as a band on the move, not stagnant in nostalgia.
It’s not the same angry band as it was in the 90s; all that prog, all the slow builds that build, build, build until Carey’s rumble of thunder shows Tool sturm-und-drang softening.
All that slow building, to something bigger and more expansive than the suffocating malaise of old Tool is doing enough slow building today to rebuild the whole of civilization. It’s a good thing, because we might need it soon.
Check out the Ultimate Tool playlist from Local Spins.
PHOTO GALLERY: Tool, The Acid Helps at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus