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Concert Review: Tool

Concert Review: Tool

Thousands of concertgoers were unwittingly taking part in the last arena performance any of them would see in their city for at least a month.

Moda Center, Portland, OR
03/11/2020

Later that same night, in Oregon’s capital, Governor Kate Brown came down with a series of decisions to help stem increasingly serious concerns over the spread of coronavirus—the most crucial of which, for concertgoers anyway, was an immediate ban on all large gatherings of 250+ people for four weeks, an unprecedented move that throws into chaos the lives and livelihoods of those who perform and work at many of Portland’s concert venues. Fifty miles away at Portland’s Moda Center, thousands of concertgoers were unwittingly taking part in the last arena performance any of them would see in their city for at least a month—specifically the beloved four-piece art metal outfit, Tool.

Anyone familiar with the band’s strained relationship with touring knows that concertgoers dodged a bullet. Performances by the Maynard James Keenan’s metal behemoth in Portland have been somewhat rare, largely because of the 13-year gap between 2006’s 10,000 Days and last year’s Fear Inoculum, with only an album-less performance in Portland six years ago to punctuate the silence. It’s easy to imagine, though, the revelry that would have taken place had the crowd known the gravity of what they were seeing. The good news, though, is that even without the knowledge that this would be the last big show in Portland for a while, Tool put on one hell of a spectacle.

Keenan and his crew are theatrical, but only to a certain degree. There were no flying drum kits or pyrotechnics, but each song featured a dazzling array of lights, lasers, hallucinogenic imagery on massive LED screens and equally trippy visuals projected on Moda Center’s ceiling and the fringe curtain that surrounded the stage. The visuals were classically Tool: half psychedelic color-melting, half grotesque animation, all of which played into the band’s Freudian relationship with anuses and feces (see: “Stinkfist,” “Chocolate Chip Drip”). The band themselves kept things largely standard, with Keenan performing from raised platforms on either side of the drum kit connected by a walkway at the back of the stage. Keenan left it just once, to bring a Marshall amp onstage to sit on when he wasn’t in a crouch position. He addressed the crowd twice: once for a joke at the expense of Eugene, where they were to play the following night (spoiler: they did not), and another about COVID-19. Classic Maynard.

Between the lights and the projections and the nefariously bad sound mix in the arena, the whole performance ended up feeling like a total sensory overload. For as incredible as Tool’s records sound and despite Keenan’s known perfectionism, everything from the quiet intensity of his singing voice to the dynamic frameworks of the band’s songs got lost in the arena, replaced by Tool-flavored soup. The crowd didn’t care, though—they got to see the Tool, live and in person, and everything from Lateralus’ “Schism” to the six-pack of Fear Inoculum tracks they played through (excluding only the 10-minute “Culling Voices”) received the same thunderous applause. Who cares if the mix was terrible? They played “Forty Six & 2”!

After a robust set, the band departed the stage and left behind a countdown clock, signaling that the encore break would be 12-minutes long. Credit to Tool: of all the ways I’ve seen bands subvert the illusion of spontaneity the encore break provides, telling the crowd in no uncertain terms exactly how long that break would last is one of my favorites, giving people just enough time to scamper off to pee or get another $12 beer. At first, just drummer Danny Carey returned, ready to show off by blasting through the hypnotic drum solo of “Chocolate Chip Drip.” The remainder returned for Fear’s “Invincible” and the band’s beloved Ænima cut “Stinkfist,” with Keenan giving his blessing for the crowd to take photos and videos, which had been pointedly banned during the rest of the show. The arena lit up with the cell phone light of thousands of fanatics snapping photos and posting clips to their Instagram stories. It would be easy to feel cynical about how ready everyone was to take blurry, distant cell phone pictures of the band, but that desire should be suppressed—this crowd was unwittingly documenting their last big outing for a while.

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