Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie
Sunday, January 17, 2016
It’s weird to think of Tool as a band that just wants to get out on stage and rock, but how else do you explain the current round of touring that brought them to Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Sunday night? They’re out on the road with a tough setlist that is about as straight-forward rock as you’re going to get from a bunch of guys who write music in funny time signatures and have a song about DNA.
It’s fun to see the other side of the band’s duality. Sure, their lyrical and artistic content has created a fanbase that devours every bit of what they do, looking for the deeper meaning in it all, but you can’t ignore their other, more casual group of fans, the ones whose existence really propels them into larger performance venues.
For the folks who want to pound a few beers, high five their friends and make out with their girl, this was Tool at their best. Most of the big hits were there — “Stinkfist,” “Aenima,” “Schism,” et cetera, et cetera — and the B-sides were not the epics of the past few tours; there’s no room for a “Third Eye” or a “Pushit” on this tour.
The deep cuts in the set went a long way to explain where the band is at the moment. “Parabola” is one of the few Tool songs that really screams “arena-rocker,” which is why it's also one of the few Tool songs to ever show up in a Guitar Hero game. “Sweat” had disappeared from set lists for something like 18 years before it reappeared on this tour, and it is something fierce; it seems almost ridiculous that a group of guys mostly over the age of 50 could play a song so savage, but Sunday night they played it flawlessly.
While the show was straight-forward musically and artistically — their stage graphics could best be described as “those videos you used to see on MTV” — if you looked close you could see some of the deeper meaning the band is known for seeping out. Lateralus as a record is really as close as the band has ever gotten to being uplifting, and it left an impression to see so much of Alex Grey’s art from that era. It was a small moment, but when a variation on the Spiritual Energy System popped up at the end of “Aenima,” I wondered how many people were thinking about the song being “that one where he says ‘Fuck L. Ron Hubbard,’” instead of the one where Maynard James Keenan asks the listener to read between the lines.
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On a pure performance level, the band was sharp all night. I’m never sure what impresses me more: that Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor can play their complex guitar and bass parts so effortlessly, or the fact that they play it with so very little emotion on their faces. Any other guitar-and-bass section would be rushing to make faces and close their eyes and do all the other associated rock star B.S. that signifies just how much they're “feeling it.” That’s just not Tool’s style, and it makes me like other bands less. Seriously, there’s never any reason to look at your guitar like you’re surprised by the noises it’s making.
Danny Carry got a drum solo, because that’s a thing that happens at Tool shows now, and while it was suitably powerful, it was also tasteful. It never felt like he was showing off how fast he could play or how big his kit is. Of course, right after he finished they kicked into “Sweat,” so maybe he was just saving his energy. It’s worth mentioning that he may have the best sounding drums in live music, in particular his snare drum, which sounds so perfect that I've tried five different hyperbolic ways of describing it and none of them are good enough.
There’s not much to say about Keenan, which is the point. He was there; he was dressed up like a SWAT team member; he was occasionally brilliant; he hung out at the back of the stage.
There’s no use in speculating about what Tool’s next album will sound like. They may want to rock out on the road, but the one bit of new material they played was among the softest of the set. And really, all the heaviness made me only appreciate the softer moments more. The middle section of “Opiate,” built around a very simple guitar line, worries me, because I’m afraid I won’t hear anything that good again live the rest of the year. It was the perfect, beautiful moment to just close your eyes and let the music hit you.
That you didn't have to look at the bored couples making out while you were doing so was just an added bonus.