One could easily guess the biggest event in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday night from the number of visible Tool shirts outside, albeit partially-hidden beneath winter coats. As thousands of fans swarmed Prudential Center, like moths to its bright lights and flashing marquees, pleas for extra Tool tickets rang out in the cold night air from time to time. In the warmth of the sold-out arena, a sizable crowd had arrived early to shout along with Killing Joke, the English industrial rock band (formed in ‘78) who are opening on Tool’s North American tour. They’re a fine choice given that Tool drummer Danny Carey is a noted fan of Killing Joke and even played some shows with them back in 2014. The seasoned band – comprised of singer Jaz Coleman, guitarist Kevin “Geordie” Walker, bassist Martin “Youth” Glover, and drummer Paul Ferguson – laid their heavy sound down on the big stage. All four seemed aware of how many fans were singing along loudly, particularly on bangers like “Eighties,” “Seeing Red,” and “The Wait.” Their ten-song set was dripping with dark energy, powered by their grinding riffs and Coleman’s spine-chilling delivery.
With good reason, Tool’s zero-tolerance policy for photos, videos, recordings, or electronic devices remained, under threat of ejection – and the vast majority obeyed the rule, making for a divinely distraction-free experience. Touring on Fear Inoculum, their first record in thirteen years, Tool’s sound was impossibly complex and enveloping. Four songs from their fourteen-song set were enhanced by juicy extended sections, including “Schism,” “Vicarious,” the gong-filled “Chocolate Chip Trip” (following a twelve-minute intermission) and closing hit “Stinkfist.” Most of the setlist leaned into the new album, but they also played songs from Ænima, Lateralus, and 10,000 Days that elicited wild responses in the pitch-black arena. After opener “Fear Inoculum,” the Newark crowd was already building a fireball of booming chants and red-blooded screams – a cacophony that prompted Maynard James Keenan’s big comment of the night. “Sounds like Jersey,” he sneered, prompting laughter before their hard-hitting sound dwarfed every voice in the venue once more.
Pacing around with a combative expression, he alternated between two high platforms on either side of the stage, one of them behind guitarist Adam Jones on the left, the other behind bassist Justin Chancellor on the right. Keenan’s body looked like part of the psychedelic animation unfolding behind them, his silhouette now heightened by a sharply-spiked mohawk. Rocking very different attire from the riot gear of past tours, Keenan’s look was embellished with sinister face paint: black eye sockets and a clownish, upturned smile. His mood was different too; the man who bitterly explained why our enemy is ignorance when Tool headlined Governors Ball just two years ago let the lyrics do the talking this time around. When he wasn’t crouching like a gargoyle or climbing up to change his vantage point, he was pouring resonant words into his two microphones, one of which distorted his angelic vocals in otherworldly ways.
One can’t really headbang cleanly to Danny Carey’s irregular time-signatures – ones that defy all expectations, mathematics, and human instincts – but that didn’t stop everyone in sight from trying. The packed arena was a pitch-black sea of heads rocking backward and forward at an inconsistent pace; a gridlocked storm of stumbling bodies and expressive limbs, embracing Tool’s unique presence in thousands of different ways. The seated venue negated the possibility of a proper pit, but most people loyally remained standing and thrashed in place from start to finish. Tracing the patterns of Tool’s pulse is even more challenging than trying to glimpse Carey’s legs or feet behind the fortress that is his massive set. It must be a tightrope walk to manage such mind-blowing percussion; if one infinitesimal fraction of a beat lagged even slightly, everything would go off the rails, but Carey’s work is perpetually tight. It locks firmly into place with the gooey bass lines concocted by Justin Chancellor, whose intricate playing seemed to reflect his gratitude for Newark’s ravenous interest. Occasionally traversing the stage to get closer to Chancellor’s work, guitarist Adam Jones constructed their serpentine melodies with his crucial rich layers, delving into satisfyingly-long solos that stunned the crowd.
On the left side of the arena, an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter was spotlit for the entirety of Tool’s performance, translating their deep lyrics expressively. There was no shortage of eye-catching highlights to take in; the visual experience makes a Tool show unlike any other in terms of depth and artistry. The endlessly-evolving 3D animation was not only projected from floor to ceiling behind the band, but onto the curtain-like ring of gauzy strings that often encircled the full stage. Moving artwork by Alex Grey (who created the cover for new album Fear Inoculum, as well as 10,000 Days and Lateralus), Meats Meier (whose work has been part of their shows since 2008), and others morphed in beautiful ways, crisply synced to the group’s multifaceted ebbs and flows.
Punctuated by fast-moving lasers, lights, and their signature floating heptagram (seven-point star), the hyperrealistic sights multiplied exponentially. Slimy mutants watched as insects slithered on their skin, opening fresh eyeballs with each bite. Human-but-not-human creatures tugged at their own exposed organs with sullen expressions, the claymation-like style as bewitching as it was eerie. Even live footage – like a bird’s-eye view of Carey drumming in real-time – was spliced up as part of the kaleidoscopic spectacle, the whole artistic freak-out projected on both the screen and the strings. Even so, no matter how radical the visual effects became, the impact of Tool’s viciously interlocking layers possessed our thoughts; through every subtle twist of the show, and well after it was over.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley