By ANDY SCHNEIDER
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Better than: Having to drive to Sacramento like when Bill Graham sold out on last tour.
Regardless of how you feel about it, Tool is a phenomenon you should be familiar with. Apart from Further, Phish, and a few other groups that can sell out multiple nights at Bill Graham, very rarely does a mobilized population of fans occupy the Civic Center Plaza like yesterday evening. Not unlike those bands, there's a subculture at play that any onlooker observing the sea of black shirts -- most of which were from prior Tool shows, most of which I believe cost around $50 each -- would find curious and ripe for stereotype.
Looking closer reveals some interesting paradoxes that speak to Tool's unique appeal. Wearing those shirts can be anyone from grey-haired Gen-X'ers to bleached teens, all happily chatting away the hour-plus queue. Tickets were the usual $100 each, if you were lucky enough to score one at face value in the first few minutes of the Ticketmaster stampede (like me, you probably weren't,). And despite that, a cursory smartphone census suggested that it wasn't a show just for well-heeled steel toes or Varvatos chucks. Not that say that Tool pulls in everyone, but the band's melodic, sonorously voiced and raw, meticulous message reaches more people than pretty almost any other metal band of the last few decades. Last night was a celebration of the congregation.
Failure, longtime friends and SoCal neighbors of our headliners, did a commendable, warmly received job at stirring the pit for the night's first hour, letting the most eager stretch their neck muscles to something in a standard timing. While San Francisco wasn't lucky enough to have Aussie post-rockers Jakob along for the Stateside leg of this tour, the upfront, Deftones-meets-Placebo trio went down much easier than S.F. local Jello Biafra's opening performances last tour.
But really, it was the spark of the first Timothy Leary sample that ignited the room, shortly followed by the rhythmic pyrotechnics of drummer Danny Carey's intro to "Third Eye." From there, Tool paced its way through a career-spanning dozen songs over two hours, comprising pretty much exactly what a longtime fan/first-time concertgoer would hope to hear. For those like myself who were there for the last tour, we got pretty much the same set, with a few substitutions and some clever arrangements. Nothing new and unreleased was heard, despite contested details of a completed album rumored for release. Sadly I wasn't invited backstage to inquire and propagate any misinformation myself, but I'm trying my luck again tonight. When asked, it sounded like a good portion of the crowd would be, too.
Some enjoyable liberties were taken over the night, including a few how-could-that-be-improvised drum solos, as well as an Eno-esque modular synth solo that ups Carey's musical mathematician cred in a whole new direction. Perhaps many of the crowd were drummers, or maybe headbanging in 11/8ths is simply out of the question, but something about Tool's aspirational-yet-attainable time signatures makes for really inviting air drumming. My best performances were during "Pushit," "Lateralus," and "Right In Two," but I have been practicing hard since middle school. Guitarist Adam Jones was given some extra space to demonstrate his inimitable, finely modulated feedback as the celebrated innovator of sound he is, while bassist Justin Chancellor seemed to be loving his job well enough to not need any special attention.
James Maynard Keenan, despite his vocals being a bit washed out in the mix, was sufficiently intelligible to at least trigger the crowd's recollections and beltings to fill in what Civic Center's less-than-stellar acoustics muddled. It's a special situation being an instrument-less singer of a band and knowing what to do with yourself on stage, and this is especially true with one of Keenan's status -- who sings unlit behind and to the side of his band. Known as a jokester and occasional foil to his band's broodingly serious image, one wonders if his steampunk mohawk crabwalking silhouette was meant to be disturbing or hilarious. The split reaction around me made it feel like it was our call.
Claymation and deranged CGI provided the backdrop, and new-for-2014 laser and confetti made an appreciated difference even to those of us entirely sober. But as Maynard's minimized stage presence suggests, Tool's message is its music. In my experience of live attendance and bootlegged listening, this was just as much a Tool show as has been consistently delivered to its die-hards, with a standard of emotional rawness and virtuosic execution anyone can feel and remember. Few acts have the power to earn such a devout following, and make such a personal experience from a space as non-intimate as Bill Graham. If you're a fan, you were probably there, or have your ticket for tonight. If not, or if you've only viewed the phenomenon from the outside, take the opportunity to listen to what so many and so varied find so moving. The congregation will be back around soon enough.
Thanks to the absolutely-no-cellphone-photography policy: Seeing a crowd entirely free of flashing screens in 2014 is just as spooky as the band's visuals were. As cool as it is, I feel really bad for the staff that has to enforce it
Is it possible to headbang in 11/8ths?
Wow, I can tell that some of the blown up condom balloons are ribbed.
Hey, Danny wore a Warriors jersey. That's so nice.
46 & 2
Danny's Modular Synth/Drum Solo
Right In Two