Photos and Review by Brady Cooling
Last year, Tool did what fans have been waiting 13 years for, finally releasing their long speculated album – Fear Inoculum – to instant success with it going straight to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Tool is one of music’s most important bands over their now 30 years as a group and have continued to amaze audiences around the globe with their unique blend of progressive rock, metal, psychedelic rock, and darker sounds.
Their last show in San Diego took place in 2016 and was overtaken by the death of musician David Bowie right afterwards. This weekend run of shows to kick off their 2020 tour dates also had the tragic death of RUSH drummer Neil Peart to brain cancer just hours before their Friday show. Two musicians who have transcended in their own right, and who both greatly influenced the band. Fridays show paid tribute to Neil, while Sundays show in San Diego at the Viejas Arena stuck to their masterful set they constructed over the last year.
A point that the band has kept with their shows is a no cell phone policy. Cells phones are not placed in a pouch like many comedy shows, but simply required not be used during the show. I am personally a huge fan of this policy, and hope other bands will utilize it in the future. Being a photographer, I hope to be able to capture the memories and moments so that others do not have hold their phone up the entire show, so audience members can fully focus on the concert and enjoy every note. It is a great way to give all your energy out to the band, and get it right back.
The band started the night off with their album title song, “Fear Inoculum,” a 10 minute album selection that was a dazzling way to kick things off. This gave a lot of time to get the crowd fully engaged in the show early on, and as well to get more photos of the band who notoriously has preferred privacy and darker stage setups during the first few songs for photographers; but not the case this time. Their incredible stage production featured huge LED boards with visuals from Alex and Allyson Grey (longtime artists that have worked with the band for decades), a curtain that lit up and moved around the stage, and of course tons of lights, lasers, and smoke.
Frontman Maynard James Keenan has often been a recluse in the media and onstage as well; wearing different outfits to conceal his identity and staying towards the back of the stage near the drum riser with his own hidden area. Decked with face paint, a mohawk, and a plaid black and red uniform, he addressed the Southern California crowd by stating that he was not going to do “A Whale’s Vagina” jokes or anything like that, and how close to L.A. it was. Instead they were just going to play, and play they did!
Their arena rock show transforms into a world of its own with the mesmerizing sounds of Maynard’s long singing style, dynamic vocal range, and the way he presents himself onstage. Guitarist Adam Jones effortlessly follows suit, building a guitar sounds on top of the vocals to form the band’s signature sound. His guitar stretches all genres that the band uses in their show, and rhythm to it. Bassist Justin Chancellor gives the powerful bass lines that resonate throughout the crow and provides a defiant and precise rock throughout. Danny Carey is one of music’s greatest living drummers (with one of the largest drum setups you will ever see) and he is sunk behind all of the hardware and drums, but provides the flow between singing and music. Rocking his signature Kansas Jayhawks jersey he is truly such a special artist to listen and watch onstage.
Their setlist had a great mix of songs from each of the band’s storied history (surprisingly only five albums in their historic career) to give something for every fan in the audience. Highlights included “AEnema,” “The Pot,” “Parabola,” “Forty Six & 2,’’ and my personal pick of “Schism” and the famous opening bass line (a song that is one of their most popular, but a personal favorite.) It never gets old hearing Tool play these classic songs, while still bringing out new material that fits and adds such a new feeling to their overall show. A concert experience with no shortage of stage production, sound, and fans of all ages and backgrounds coming together to enjoy the music to start off 2020.
Danny Carey also performed a brilliant drum solo after a 12 minute intermission period off of Fear Inoculum, “Chocolate Chip Trip.” It had everything from a huge gong jam that spellbound the crowd and resonated the sonic sounds deep into your soul. Carey added elements of electronic music to it as well and dazzled in the way that only he can, and a great homage to his idol Neil Peart.
Maynard joked before they performed “Stinkfist” to close out the show that the audience was so good that they could take their phones out and record or take photos. And how we love to “play with them in public” and to “whip them out” with his usual sarcastic undertone and witty snark. The crowd took to his words and did just this; almost as if they could not take it any longer, and finally were able to do something we are so programmed and conditioned to do.
Tool has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember, and a show over a decade in the making. They have transformed so many areas of music into their own sound and draw so many outside influences to their performance and beliefs. One of mysticism, geometry, science, math, art, privacy, spiritualism, and so much more. Tool is more than music, they are an experience that takes all aural senses and feelings and brings them to one single instance of time. There’s a reason they are the best at what they do for 30 years running now, and hopefully this new album and rediscovered creativity will only continue this path.