Set: Jambi, Stinkfist, Ions > 46 & 2, Schism, Lost Keys > Rosetta Stoned, Flood, Aenema, Spectral Lights Jam > Lateralus
Encore: Prelude > Vicarious
I had the pleasure of seeing Tool live for the first time in 1997 at the youthful age of 15 at the Grady Cole Center in Charlotte. The band was on tour in support of their third studio album, Aenema. At the time, I was just beginning to understand how important music was to me, and I was gathering a sense of how music could change my life. At such a young, impressionable age, the show was one that would forever influence my appreciation of live music. To this day, I still have no idea how my parents let me get away with going to the show, but I can proudly say, “Thanks Mom and Dad!”
One of the aspects of Tool’s music that immediately captivated me was Danny Carey’s insanely technical, almost superhuman drum patterns. Many critics and musicians alike consider Carey to be among the all-time greatest drummers to ever grace a kit. The main thing, for me, with Danny Carey (and Tool in general) is the ‘HOW THE FUCK DO YOU WRITE THAT?’ factor (see 7/4, 15/8, 6/5 constantly shifting time signatures; epic, brooding guitar riffs; polyrhythmic drum lines; ethereal crescendos; dense, cryptic messages; and secretly placed overlays within the songs). What is even more astonishing is that the band can perfectly execute the songs live. For example, during the drum solo at the 5:06 mark of 46 & 2 (the band is playing in 6/4 time while Carey is soloing in 7/8 time), you can clearly hear me exclaim, “That guy is fucking amazing!!” on the recording. I happened to be standing next to the taper the entire show…
For 12 years, I patiently waited for the opportunity to witness the band live again, and I finally got the opportunity to do so in July 2009. This time, I “got it” and my Tool experience finally came full circle. The few hours leading up to the show, I was full of nervous energy and high expectations. This point of tension reached its peak as my friends I chugged our last beers in the parking lot and hurried to make our way inside. Not really knowing what to expect, I did a few stretches in the ticket line and focused my mind on throwing down once I got in the show. We waded through a sea of black shirts to our spot, and I remember thinking that the crowd seemed relatively tame for a Tool show. It occurred to me that the crowd has changed over the years, much like the nature of Tool’s music. It used to be about expressing anger, but now I began to get the feeling that the others around me appreciated the band on a different level. Tool has evolved into a more introspective band with heavy emphasis on intense emotional themes, brutal honesty, and musical maturity. This couldn’t be made any more evident than by the apt opener, Jambi – the second single off 10,000 Days (2006), the band’s most current release.
The lights went down, the crowd erupted, and as Adam Jones ripped into the opening chainsaw-esque riff of Jambi, I knew we were going to be in for a fucking awesome night. “Jambi” is an Indonesian Province in Sumatra, which was once part of a powerful kingdom with a rich sultan who lived an opulent lifestyle. The song uses this kingdom as an allegorical background to reinforce the importance of family and friends over material wealth. Maynard James Keenan makes it very clear that he has a deep affection for someone- more than likely his mother whom metaphorically, he refers to often in Tool’s music. “But you changed that all for me; lifted me up, turned me ’round, So I… I would… I would wish it all away.” The band steadily moved through several ambitious passages before ascending to a heavenly climax.
Jambi had the crowd eager for more, Maynard welcomed us, and the band eased into Stinkfist, which I thought was perfect placement for one of the band’s more popular songs. It’s definitely one of the band’s more “poppy” sounding songs clocking in at less than 6 minutes (which is short by Tool standards), and it received lots of airplay back in the late 90’s. The song contains some overtly sexual references, and I could never understand why it got so much radio play without being censored, but whatever… This song rocks. At the 5:00 mark, the band slams into a nice little improv jam fueled by a whirlwind drumbeat not heard on the studio album.
46 & 2 is a definite highlight of this show. Justin Chancellor’s serpentine bass licks steadily worked the crowd into a frenzy- you can almost feel the energy brewing on the recording. At that point, it began to take the intense form of the Tool show I expected. The light show really started to pick up with lasers flying all around, brightly colored LED spinning lights, and creepy sci-fi images flashing on the bigscreens which have become a Tool trademark over the years. The initial hit of the chorus sent the place into mangled state of mass hysteria. 46 & 2 is a complex song about human evolution, spirituality, Jungian theory, and heightened consciousness.
“I wanna feel the change consume me
Feel the outside turning in
I wanna feel the metamorphosis and
Cleansing I’ve endured within…
I choose to live and to
Lie, kill and give and to
Die, learn and love and to
Do what it takes to step through
See my shadow changing
Stretching up and over me
Soften this old armor
Hoping I can clear the way
By stepping through my shadow
Coming out the other side
Step into the shadow
Forty six and two are just ahead of me.”
This song absolutely destroyed Bojangles Coliseum! Continuing my previous reference to Danny Carey’s drum solo, you really start to believe that this band operates on a higher plane. Who knows- maybe these guys have reached a level of consciousness beyond what we can comprehend?? It doesn’t really matter how you choose to explain or describe it, Tool certainly stands out in the world of music… My jaw was on the floor.
However- It didn’t take long for me to pick it up when I heard the guy in front of us (who looked like a fucking monkey having a seizure during the entire show) yell out, “Maynard, I wanna suck your dick!” A definite WTF??? moment that illicted a few laughs from the folks around us… Yes, these fans actually are as crazy as I originally thought.
Rosetta Stoned is quite possibly my favorite Tool song, but the live version just didn’t live up to the studio version for me. There is a certain quality about Maynard’s vocal delivery on the studio version that just cannot be captured in a live setting. It was still awesome though, and I’m glad I had the chance to see it live. Check out the youtube below to find out what I mean…
Another highlight comes in one of the band’s most underrated songs, Flood, from their second album, Undertow. The song begins with a plodding, bass-driven riff accented by heavy drum fills that relentlessly pound against your skull. Crushing. Brutal. Vicious. The theme segues into a twisting, distorted bass riff followed by a rolling drum beat that you can easily nod your head to. Another punishing chorus follows as Maynard croons, “I’ll take what is mine, hold what is mine, suffocate what is mine, and bury what is mine!!” The song also has one of my favorite crescendos in the ending theme.
<Aenema is another dark song that touches on some theories behind Armageddon and what would happen to Los Angeles if an earthquake split California and flushed it all away. You get the impression that Maynard doesn’t think too highly about the materialistic nature of the city when he exclaims:
“It’s a bullshit three ring circus sideshow of freaks
Here in this hopeless fucking hole we call LA
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away
Any fucking time, Any fucking day
Learn to swim, I’ll see you down in Arizona bay
Some say a comet will fall from the sky
Followed by meteor showers and tidal waves
Followed by faultlines that cannot sit still
Followed by millions of dumbfounded dipshits
Some say the end is near
Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon
I certainly hope we will
I sure could use a vacation from this
Stupid shit, silly shit, stupid shit…”
Lateralus is a complex song written around the Fibonacci sequence that creates an infinite pattern written around a specific mathematical ratio widely used in Renaissance Art. In the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, each number is the sum of the previous two numbers, starting with 0 and 1. Thus the sequence begins 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610 etc. The higher up in the sequence, the closer two consecutive “Fibonacci numbers” of the sequence divided by each other will approach the golden ratio (approximately 1 : 1.618 or 0.618 : 1). In Lateralus, the time signatures revolve around this ratio and Maynard’s vocal patterns mimic the sequence- check out the youtube for a more detailed explanation. It will blow your mind.
The band ended the show with a couple of jams which were really nothing more than feedback, odd, dissonant noises, deep bass loops, and delicate, atmospheric drum beats that served as extended intros into Lateralus and the encore, Vicarious. My only complaint here is that the band could have used this filler to play another song or two. However, the light show during both of these segments was mesmerizing. I got the feeling we had entered outer space at a couple of points during the jams.
Vicarious was an appropriate encore that left me extremely satisfied to have witnessed the musical genius of Tool. To me, these guys are certainly one of the most important bands to spawn from our generation, and I only hope they will continue to produce ground-breaking music. In typical Tool fashion, we have no idea when to expect a new album… Let’s just hope its within the next year or two.