Tool @ Boston’s TD Garden (01/28)

Photo: Rynne Stump

Apparently tickets to Tool’s Saturday night concert at Boston’s TD Garden sold out in eight minutes. I get why. Trippy lights, music videos, three massive projection screens, a stage that lights up, visuals, a thoroughly devoted crowd, one heck of a laser-light show, a very convincing UFO landing, Asteroids (yes, the video game), what else… oh, they’re also a kickass, Grammy Award-winning, progressive metal band who clearly demonstrate the chops needed to play their own songs. If you’re looking to see a band that makes the concert experience just that, go see Tool.

Tool have one of the most unique stage presences I’ve seen in a band, due largely in part to the persona of lead singer Maynard James Keenan. Keenan stayed in the shadows throughout the entire concert, only his silhouette visible against the backdrop as videos streamed along to the music. Guitarist Adam Jones was completely docile, occasionally wandering toward the back or center of the stage, but mostly remaining at his vigil at the right side of the stage. Bassist Justin Chancellor was almost completely stationary, but if anyone at that show was really feeling the music, it was him — he didn’t just headbang, he whipped his whole body back and forth and stomped along with the beat (which, with a “math rock” band like Tool, can be difficult to do). Drummer Danny Carey was perched up on a second level of the stage, and cranked the whole show, though from my seat (I was kind of far away) he seemed to be doing so effortlessly.

“Some of these songs… we haven’t played in a while,” Keenan announced, like he was trying to prepare us for the worst, before Tool launched into the track “Ticks and Leeches,” from 2001’s ‘Lateralus.’ While a nice sign of humility, the warning was unfounded — the performances weren’t lacking at all. Tool have written a challenging catalogue of material, but they possess complete ownership of it.

Tool are essentially a power trio plus a vocalist and, with only three instruments going most of the time, they manage to put out a lot of sound. One thing I was looking for in particular was how the bass fit in the mix — Chancellor’s bass tone is very distinct, and plays a huge role in Tool’s studio recordings. Some of the defined color of that tone was missing, and it sounded a bit tinny during some of the bass breaks. But the bass completely filled the arena whenever the guitar was absent, providing an exceptionally strong foundation. During the talkbox guitar solo in “Jambi,” I realized just how tight and heavy the bass and drums felt together. The drums as a whole sounded suitably epic, considering the pedigree of the drummer sitting behind the kit. Jones’ guitar covered a huge frequency range, with heavily distorted tones sounding monstrous, and gentle clean tones sounding subtle — almost graceful. While I could hear Keenan’s singing well, I felt that I wasn’t quite able to distinguish some of the words — though the crowd eagerly provided them for me.

If you like your metal to be of the constantly-in-your-face variety, then you might have found the concert to be a bit slow or even dull in some parts. Tool have no problem taking the time to build up the intensity of a song, so one should be prepared to just experience the music for a while sometimes, before it ratchets back into high gear. “Intension,” a gentler piece, was accompanied by cool blue lasers and a serene display. I sat back in my chair and quite enjoyed the atmosphere, but again, this is a matter of preference. As a bridge of sorts between the main set and the encore, Tool flexed their audiovisual muscle and left the stage while ambient UFO noise took over the Garden and an ethereal, extraterrestrial light show made me feel, as close as I ever hope to feel, like I was being abducted by aliens. If you’re not one for loud noises that people could readily debate as not being “music,” this would have been the point to visit the restroom or put your earplugs in. This was not at all representative of the show as a whole, though, and shouldn’t deter metal and hard rock fans from checking out Tool if they haven’t seen them before. One other issue I take with this break, though, is that it set up an encore of only one song — after such a long build, I wanted more than that.

At the end of the show, Keenan quietly crept off stage while Jones, Carey, and Chancellor bowed, waved and applauded the crowd. It was genuinely touching — the mysterious, dark, and intense visage of the band dropped to reveal a few guys that all seemed grateful for the opportunity to share their music with such a large, enthusiastic audience. It was a fitting finale for a show that I had hoped to go on for at least a little bit longer, though still left feeling very satisfied with.


Hooker with a Penis
Stinkfist (with (-) ions into)
Ticks & Leeches
Forty-Six & 2
Lateralus (w/ Drum Solo)

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