You don’t attend a Tool show to see the band. Certainly not singer Maynard James Keenan, who is well known for staying in the shadows of the stage, often hidden on the side of or behind the drum risers. Even the professional photographers had one song to shoot the band through a closed transparent curtain.
But what you get—and what fans now in their 40s have been waiting more than a decade for with the recent release of “Fear Inoculum” — is the show. The visuals displayed on a giant screen alternate from looking like a lava lamp to a horror flick. Guitarist Adam Jones has worked as a sculptor and Hollywood special effects designer. His first project for Tool was the music video for “Sober” in the early ‘90s.
A quiet meditation existed during Tuesday’s show at State Farm Arena. Keenan barely spoke, introducing himself only to say, “Supposedly Atlanta” after the opening song, “Fear Inoculum,” which was nominated for best rock song at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.
The crowd cheered, but calmly.
“Atlanta,” Keenan said to muffled applause. “Work on it.”
He then shut up for most of the show, pushing against possible monitor or mix issues that made his vocal tone sound a bit off — possibly distorted or overdriven. Maybe the 55-year-old doesn’t have the range he used to, but it could have been technical problems.
Tool plowed through a nearly identical setlist to what the band’s played on the tour so far, whipping out “Aenema,” “Parabol” and “Parabola” before returning to new material. They skipped playing songs off the “Opiate” EP and “Undertow” album, which were released before bassist Justin Chancellor joined the foursome. Though “Part Of Me” had been played at shows earlier this year.
“Fear Inoculum” has three standout tracks that Tool played Tuesday. But the song “7empest,” which earned the band a Grammy Sunday night was left off the setlist (I’m pretty sure Tool hasn’t performed the track that won best metal performance).
Fans came out on a school night because Tool, after a 13-year wait, finally delivered with its fifth studio album. They knocked pop star Taylor Swift off the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 with “Fear Inoculum” and reminded people what progressive rock sounds like.
Hearing that music live, sharing the space and feeding off the energy is what resonated with hundreds of Gen Xers. The sound and vision of Tool was well worth the wait.
During the encore, when L.A.-based drummer Danny Carey came out from behind his set, fans caught a glimpse of his white jersey with a prominent No. 24 (the number worn by retired L.A. Lakers player Kobe Bryant, who died tragically Sunday).
At the end of the experience, Keenan said fans could take their phones out of their pockets and record “the rest of the show.” He’s well known in all his acts to prevent any unauthorized photography or video, and the staff at venues kick out fans who break the rules.
But Keenan bent shortly before singing “Stinkfist.”
“**** it,” he said. “They’ve been fiddling with them all night. Security stand down.”
A sea of cellphones brightened the audience.
Tool has since added four dates to the current “Fear Inoculum” tour.
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