Tool. Pepsi Center. 10.26.16
Sometimes it is nearly impossible to remove yourself from your surroundings when attending a concert in a giant corporate arena. While others times, suspension of disbelief is achieved effortlessly. When it comes to a Tool show, the venue itself literally ceases to exist. That was the case at the Pepsi Center last night. Hypnotized by Can Buyukberber’s alien/reptilian visuals and Maynard James Keenan’s deviant psychology, the sold-out crowd took flight on a journey into the furthest reaches of the human mind.
Transitory life was put on hold as we were forced to look inward instead of forward. The words and ideas of controverisial visionaries such as Bill Hicks, Carl Jung, and Karl Marx joined with the industrial heartbeat provided by Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, and Adam Jones; all while MJK preached the gospel of poisoned religion, astrological phenomenon, unified consciousness, and Armageddon.
The first time I saw Tool was at a tiny, all-age club in San Diego. In was December 1995. Maynard was bald and had an ash-like substance caked on his exposed torso. He didn’t seem entirely human as he popped and twitched his way across the stage like the stop-motion creature from the “Sober” video. A couple years later I saw them perform a mid-sized arena. That time he was painted blue and wore nothing but boxers. Every song was introduced as “this one is about anal sex.”
It wasn’t until eight years later that I saw them on the big stage at the Mile High Music Festival. The level of popularity they had achieved astounded me. Tool is not an accessible band by any stretch of the imagination, yet they were able to draw a massive crowd to the field on the outskirts of the city. Maynard was nothing more than a black silhouette against the multi-level LED-lit stage that time around. Red Rocks was up next. Seeing Tool at the iconic venue was incredible, but it was almost the exact same show as Mile High, which left me feeling a little disappointed.
Fast-forward six years and the Pepsi Center show is announced. Tickets sell out instantly despite the fact 10,000 Days came out a decade ago. Recent setlists don’t reveal much in terms of new material and I’m left with the feeling that I’ve seen it all before. I decide not to go, but then a friend offers me a free ticket. So there I am as Tool opens the set (in front of a simple red curtain) with “Third Eye” and I realize that while I’ve seen it all before, it’s all new again.
Tool shows have shown very little variety since the last album, but that doesn’t mean each one isn’t a unique experience. Like a mushroom or LSD trip, the vehicle and destination are same, but the journey is something completely different each time.
“We dedicate this set to the local martial artists; you kick ass. Your elevation sucks, but you don’t.”
The “Third Eye” cycle was complete and it was time for a slab of Lateralus. Carey’s kit was setup center stage, with Chancellor and Jones flanking him. Maynard was still nothing but a voice throughout “The Grudge”, but as the curtain slowly revealed the trio of split-screens, his profile became more prominent. As “Parabol” morphed into “Parabola”, the curtain disappeared completely. Prehistoric images became tribal; tribal became alien; and alien became horrific and unexplainable.
More screens and images seemed to appear out of thin air during “Opiate”, while the pleas for Jesus Christ were answered when the entire back of the arena became a transparent church nave with all hell fire burning outside. Still dodging the spotlight and laughing in face of damnation, Maynard took the opportunity to rant about ‘free tacos,’ because of course he would. I’m pretty sure he was wearing some type of combat gear when doing so too, because, again, of course he was.
“Did you guys recently have an earthquake here? Must have been a dream I had last night.”
If the show was a hallucinogenic trip, “Ænima” would have been the peak. The stage became a living, breathing, visual nightmare, while green lasers flooded the entire venue. Once again, I was blown away by the massive audience. 20,000+ people, fists in the air, screaming along with a song about Carl Jung, high colonics, and the end of the world. The rows of seats along the floor seem cruel and unusual for a metal show, but they seem downright evil as they literally kept the crowd in line. The single new song, “Descending”, followed. And then the main set wrapped up with “Jambi” and “Forty-Six & 2”.
Instead of leaving the stage and giving the crowd the illusion of power over their return, an intermission timer was set for thirteen minutes. That timer ran very slow, and when it ended with a drum solo (with snippets of “Merkaba”), fatigue started to set in quickly. The band was back by 11:00pm though. Terrance McKenna’s words snapped me out of my slumber. The DMT elves were described as “jeweled self-transforming basketballs” and then we were taken back to the beginning with “Sweat” — complete with holograms doubling the size of the band.
Maynard thanked the crowd, spoke a little more about tacos, then asked us to look out for each other on the way home. He did so in his best human voice. The set ended with “Stinkfist”, then everyone took a bow, and then it was over. Some three-dimensional H.R. Giger-like artwork hung from the rafters like Prometheus tentacles, reminding us of where we’d just been, before the lights came up and reminded us of where we were; in a corporate arena in Denver, Colorado, living a transitory life that led to nothingness.
Parabol > Parabola
Forty-Six & 2