It was a long march.
Like pilgrims, we spectators took slow steps down the street to our destination: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in SF. The line circled the block for Tool. Inside, metal heads of every color starkly contrasted the ambience of the elegant theatre venue. New arrivals melted into a globular “line” for T-shirts and other merchandise.
Meanwhile, Failure was opening for its own cult fan base. They played quite a few hits off their last and most successful album, including “Sgt. Politeness” and “Dirty Blue Balloons.” Although Failure’s band name is self-fulfilling (they lasted seven years and three albums before disbanding in 1997), it says nothing of their (now reunited) talent. Their space grunge invention was a perfect lead-in for the equally progressive Tool.
After a short, impatient wait, Tool appeared rather unceremoniously, starting raw and dirty into “Hooker with a Penis.” Maynard Keenan’s voice did not growl like the studio version; it elicited more of a dark chant. Danny Carey smiled throughout; he was a drumming beast, liberated.
By the time they launched into their latest single “Vicarious,” the crowd was revving up fast. We unanimously screamed, “I need to watch things die” so that Maynard didn’t have to. The artful music video played, unabridged, in the background.
It was powerful.
The band smoothly transitioned into “Schism,” bassist Justin Chancellor opening with its unique and familiar bass line. Tool traversed the song’s eight different time signatures.
Two mosh pits of admittedly not-sober audience members began celebrating the darker parts of emotion in “Sober,” a song from their earliest album. As “Sober” approached its quiet interlude, the bodies slowed but voices were loud as Maynard again offered us the mic. Everyone was anticipating the climactic metal drop; it was no secret that “Sober” would be dangerous.
Tool cooled down with “Intension,” one of the mellower songs on 10,000 Days. They exaggerated an already long intro into a complex conglomeration of poetry, electric drum play, and trippy samples. It was a time of healing and meditation.
“Intension” can come across as abstract artsy dabbling without the prog-rock power characteristic of Tool. However, Tool playing it convincingly into “Lateralus” (from Laterus), as if they were children separated at birth. Most prog-rock outfits have their baby, the song they embellish lavishly for a good 15 minutes at each live show. Led Zeppelin has “No Quarter,” Rush has “YYZ,” Tool has “Lateralus.”
Arranged almost entirely according to the Fibonacci sequence, Carey embarked on some crazy drum meters to start off the rhythmic spiral to the end. The audience mimicked these spiral movements.
The intermission was pretty sudden. Cue twelve minutes of dragging people out of the crowd, administering water, and more impatient waiting. Carey started the second half with a riveting percussion cover of “B’Boom” by King Crimson, one of Tool’s biggest influences.
The rest of the night was filled with 10,000 Days and Aenima. Maynard strutted out, having undergone classy suit-and-tie wardrobe change, donning the mic in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. Guitarist Adam Jones’s artwork was splayed across the backdrop — strange images of eyeballs, hands, and human centipedes. Jones garnered much praise from the audience for his talk box guitar solo on “Jambi,” which set all of our synapses on fire with an eerie sound.
The performance ended with that familiar sound of strange pipes, part of an electric drum set Carey used to unwrap “Stinkfist,” a classic for diehard Tool fans. They ended as unspectacularly as they had begun, with a little puff of glitter, a goodbye, and a thank you. No, thank you.
Article by Jade Theriault and photos by Erika Castillo