Tool Verizon Theatre Friday, January 20
Hitting a Tool show is a little like stepping back into the mid- to late-'90s, in all the best ways. As we threaded a packed Verizon Theatre lobby before the sold-out Friday night show in an herbally-induced state of euphoric nostalgia, draining plastic cups of double Crown and Coke, we spied every archetype you'd expect to find in the Toolshed: The black-clad late thirty-something with long, lank hair and a threadbare concert T dating back to 1996's Aenima; the socially phobic goth-dork; the beefy meathead who still listens to Slipknot; and, of course, there are those who defy categorization.
In this case, it was the hard-bitten dude with a hawk feather woven into his long ponytail, a wiry goatee, a black leather jacket, and a cigarette behind each ear. We couldn't help but notice he was absently fingering the head of a disposable razor.
Why? Who knows? It's a Tool show.
Yet any attempt to generalize about this crowd would fall flat. In this motley gathering were Millenials and Gen-Xers who came to Tool as early as Opiate or as late as 10,000 Days. Far from the 10:1 bro/lady ratio I was ready to lay odds on, the breakdown was more like 3:1 -- misanthropes with black nails and even blacker eyeliner and party girls in rump-cupping tube dresses.
But as the first unmistakable, screeching notes of "Hooker with a Penis" penetrated the amphitheater doors, the last of them collected their drinks and filed inside. Frontman Maynard James Keenan stood on a platform behind his band, silhouette against a screen, police baton dangling from his hip. What followed was two hours of operatic, polyrhythmic angst concentrate, leavened with Pink Floyd-style lasers, creepy stop-motion figurines, phantasmagoric images of exposed muscular and vascular systems and Day Glo spectrums splashed across the screen.
If there was any concern that Keenan's turn as a vintner had softened his grinding edge, let it be banished. Aside from an abortive attempt at vocal-chord shredding on "Ticks and Leeches" (you need an algebraic formula to map that opening drum solo), Tool is as tight as ever. They tore through favorites "Sober," "Stinkfist," "Forty-Six & Two" and "Schism," Keenan's voice nailing every acrobatic high, pure and almost instrumental as the complement to Adam Jones' layered, intricate guitar work.
They ended with the signature exhalations of "Aenema" and one of the baddest riffs in rock. We lost our shit. The song reaches back into those angst-ridden years when we wanted stronger medicine than Weezer could deliver. It's the band's most accessible track, but it also signifies all that's best about Tool: a voice prettier than it has to be, an anti-song with movements, not snappy hooks.
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And that was the end. No encore. There wasn't even the sense there should be, and no one lingered and chanted for more. There's no telling whether they'll ever come together for another album but we're thrilled, every now and again, to be shaken from the indie doldrums, grabbed by the nuts and reminded of the days when we had to bang our heads.
Critical bias: I've been a superfan for more than a decade, so this is in no way objective. Some might call Tool a guilty pleasure, but is it guilty if they fucking rock?
Random observation: Maynard wore a shirt that said, "POSTAL." Hot Topic? He is 46, after all.
Overheard: Maynard: "Alzheimer's is a helluva drug."