Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tool at Nokia Theater, 7/19/10

Not many bands can be said to have a unique sound.  Everything sounds like bits and pieces of everything else, and that's just fine.  Necessary, even.  Some of my favorite bands are the least original ones, like The Hold Steady, who take an idea, a sound that's been around, and play it better than anyone.  But when you get a band that takes their influences, mixes it with their own talents and creates something impressive and original, well, that's fairly incredible.  From where I'm sitting (on a dinner table chair next to my bed, for the record), that band is Tool.

Anyone who read my decade's best countdown knows that I hold Tool up pretty high, but despite that, I'd only ever seen them at Coachella, four years ago.  They're almost the musical equivalent of Haley's Comet, only putting out a new album every five years or so, and touring sporadically.  Somehow I've always managed to bungle my opportunities to catch one of their concerts, but this time I jumped at the chance, shelling out an almost absurd amount of money.  It was worth every cent though.  They may not move around much on stage, but the sounds they make are captivating.

The band came out in typical formation: guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor flanking the stage, with drummer Danny Carey on a riser between and behind them.  Singer Maynard James Keenan took up his customary position to Carey's right, slinking around behind the action.  Dressed in a cop uniform, complete with ridiculous mustache, Maynard didn't spend much time speaking to the audience between songs, but his voice was strong as usual, even if he noticeably held back in a couple spots.  After an image of Timothy Leary appeared behind the stage, telling us to "question authority; think for yourself," the band started off with "Third Eye," perhaps their longest song and a fitting opener with its twists and changes.  Also, the lyric "So good to see you, I've missed you so much" could be taken as a 'welcome back' to the fans, if one were inclined to think Tool was that sentimental.

Throughout the night there were very few moments of silence, with Jones and Chancellor combining on musical transitions between songs, both from the albums and some I'd never heard.  On "Stinkfist" Jones tweaked his guitar on the first two verses just enough to give the song a new angle, and the bridge of "Schism" was played ultra sped-up before being brought back around again at normal speed.  I really can't say enough how impressive their sound is, mostly coming from three people (Maynard occasionally added some keyboard/synth action).  I've always been prone to rave about Jones' guitar playing, but Chancellor's bass is the key to everything, straddling the line between backbone and lead.  And if there's a better drummer than Carey, I'd love to hear him; the man's ability to switch time signatures so often is crazy.

The set was a nice a la carte of their entire catalogue, taking three songs each from the three most recent records, plus a nice treat in "Intolerance," from 1993's Undertow.  Maynard introduced that song with a weird monologue about Back to the Future that was as amusing as it was hard to follow, and it made up the bulk of his speaking to the audience.  After the main set the sound of helicopters pulsated in the theater, slowing getting louder until the band came back to play my favorite song, the epic "Lateralus," and "Ænema," which Maynard dedicated to all of us "politically informed Hollywood types" before singing about California sinking into the sea.  We didn't take it personally though; as long as he keeps making music this good, he can hate us all he likes.

Setlist: Third Eye / Jambi / (-) Ions / Stinkfist / Vicarious / Intension / Eon Blue Apocalypse / The Patient / Intolerance / Schism / The Pot

Encore: Lateralus / Ænema

Photos by Andrew Youssef, OC Weekly

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