Tool is one of the few anomalies in the popular rock world where the band's music really matters above all else.
Fans waited 13 years for the band to release just its fifth full-length album in their nearly 30 years of existence in Waiting for Godot fashion. When "Fear Inoculum" finally dropped, fanboys couldn't wait for the announcement of the corresponding tour.
It arrived at Jim Whelan's Boardwalk Hall in grand fashion Friday. selling out the 12,000-seat venue in hours, just like it did for the Philadelphia show on Monday.
Any Tool fan knows the Los-Angeles based group thrives in mystery. Hell, they might be the most popular mysterious band of all time. At their concerts, lead singer Maynard James Keenan famously likes to sing in the shadows - or sometimes with his other band A Perfect Circle, with his back to the audience - while bassist Justin Chancellor and guitarist Adam Jones plant themselves in one spot all night, barely looking at the audience. Hell, the only true constant movement is drummer Danny Carey, who is so good that his complicated, wicked fills seem effortless.
If you can get past the shoe gazing and barely seeing the frontman while letting the large projection screens do all of the visual talking, then you will undoubtedly enjoy Tool.
How uncompromising is Tool? Well, their latest album features just seven songs but clocks in at 79 minutes. I am no mathematician, but I think that averages to more than 10 minutes per song.
That uncompromising nature means that Tool is perfectly fine with not playing all of their hits, including "Sober," "Prison Sex," and "Lateralus," but Friday’s set – a nice balance between fan favorites, hits and new tracks – pleased on every level.
Tool doesn’t write songs, it writes epics, and it opened with a new one - the title track to their new album - the longest song ever to chart on the Hot 100. It's an instant Tool classic: sprawling and presented like a composition with movements reminiscent of Radiohead with a lot more guts.
They went on to play four other new songs, and fans ate up every one of them. Unlike other rock tours, where fans run for the bathrooms during new tunes, no one left for "Pneuma," a song that could have easily been on their last album, 2006's "10,000 Days"; "Descending," perhaps the best new tune of the night full of tricky time signatures, polyrhythms and psychedelic riffs by Jones that could melt your mind; the instrumental, short "Chocolate Chip Trip"; and "Invincible," an ethereal, dreamy, 13-plus minute trip seemingly about death.
The newbies were scattered throughout the set with the classics that made Tool the legends they are today: "Aenima," one of the most rocking moments of the night featured the band's signature, creepy stop-motion animation videos for an extra wow factor; "Parabol" led right into "Parabola," just like it does on 2001's "Lateralus," with "Parabola" bringing back some fond memories for "Guitar Hero" fans; the fan-favorite "Schism" offered a prime example of Tool's complex timing and changing meters; "Jambi," with buzzsaw guitar work felt like a bad trip; "Descending," which was proof why Rolling Stone named it one of the Top 100 guitar songs of all time; and the first-set closer "Forty Six & 2," an odd rocker that deals with evolution and fear with creepy musical vibe and echoing bass line.
The encore started with a memorable gong-driven percussion solo from Carey - one of the few drummers today who you want to hear a drum solo from - before eventually closing with one of their biggest hits, "Stinkfist," which isn't just one of Tool's best songs but one of the best metal songs of the 1990s.
Some critics have said this is Keenan’s finest hour as a vocalist, and that was very clear Friday night as the elusive performer was on top of his game. Not too many people can deliver like Keenan - especially at 55 years old – but he somehow seems to be getting better, even if he doesn't like to be seen and lets his jagged mohawk and rock crouch in the shadows project the image he wants out there.
The production was top notch, with a sheer curtain that formed a half circle around the outer edge of the stage that also served as a secondary projection surface for images ranging from Tool's creepy stop-motion videos to Freudian ink blotters to go with an inspired light and laser design.
Some call Tool alt-metal, others call them nu-metal, but what does that really mean? Tool is an unapologetic, uncompromising, artistic rock band that performs the music they want to perform. And if you happen to like it, they are happy you are along for the ride.
The only downside - if there was one Friday, was that there were no surprises Friday like there was on Monday in Philly, where Tool played "Swamp Song" for the first time since 2007.
The multiple Grammy Award winners stuck to the core set of this tour, which was disappointing, but Keenan told fans they were lucky to get what they got because the show almost didn't happen: Chancellor was battling food poisoning for the past 24 hours, and Keenan pulled a calf muscle two hours before the show.
Considering that, it was a very good night for Tool fans.
1. Fear Inoculum
(with extended intro)
10. Forty Six & 2
12. Chocolate Chip Trip
(with extended intro)