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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Last Night's Tool Show (And My Multi-Decade History With the Band)

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2016 at 12:44 PM

click to enlarge PAUL PIAZZA
  • Paul Piazza

Wednesday, January 6
Bill Graham Civic Center

While en route to last night's Tool show, I realized that the band and I have had a working relationship closing in on 25 years. The Tool I know and remember has grown considerably in size and scope from when I first encountered the band in college during the early '90s.

While working as promotions director for my college radio station, KDVS 90.3FM, I received countless copies of Tool's cassettes and CDs by Zoo Entertainment (the band's first record label). The guerrilla tactic of overwhelming a college radio station (or any other, for that matter) with loads of free products to “get the word out” (while completely, wasteful, useless and wholly unnecessary) meant the station would end up with lots of extra goodies, which I was totally okay with. 

I added Tool's Opiate EP into rotation at the station, a strange debut release for a new band that oddly featured a small handful of live and studio tracks. Consequently, when the band finally started touring (playing virtually every little shithole in the country), the station was able to give away loads of free tickets to their show at a tiny pub called Mansion Cellars located within walking distance of my apartment and the station. The cover was $1 and Tool played for (maybe) 30 people.

In the early days for Tool, it was incessant touring in small clubs, word-of-mouth, the willingness of the group to give 110% playing near empty rooms across the country, and the group's ferocious delivery onstage that made their live shows impossible to top. After supporting countless acts and finally releasing the blockbuster album Undertow in 1993, everything got bigger for the act and they became a veritable headliner seemingly overnight. Of course, having a gargantuan song called “Sober” take over radio airwaves the same year that the record was released certainly helped.

After years of working in record retail, I ended up becoming a sales rep for BMG Distribution which, coincidentally, sold and marketed the entire Tool catalog. By the time I had started selling their music for a living, they were already enjoying arena-size success and 1996's Ænima was selling like mad.
click to enlarge Drummer, Danny Carey - PAUL PIAZZA
  • Paul Piazza
  • Drummer, Danny Carey
Because of Tool's massive success and their ability to deliver musical fare that lived up to its hype, their label liaison would now fly in just to play their record and not give anyone advance copies (as customary at the time). The record label rep would bring only his one copy, play it once in a conference room at our branch office for the reps, and leave with it tucked securely away in his travel bag.

This was proof positive that Tool now controlled the record industry. From the artwork that we (sales and marketing staff for BMG) placed in print ads, to the signs hung at Tower Records, Tool and their management made certain everyone played by their rules. Even ad dollars were sparingly spent and getting approval for any extra-curricular activities (like listening parties and in-store listening events) became a royal pain the ass.

No other artist that I've dealt with has (or ever was) solicited this way to date.

Likewise, procuring press credentials for last night's Tool show was equally daunting. Rather than submitting a request to the local promoter (in this case, Another Planet), all requests were approved by the band and collated through their current label, RCA Records. Unfortunately, this meant waiting until the day of the show to find out if I could even get a press pass. Furthermore, live camera work was only allowed during the first song as opposed to the customary three songs allowed at nearly 99% of live shows by other artists.

In the end, only four photo credentials were issued. Much less than the amount usually issued for shows of this size.

Aided by merely a black curtain, a handful of panels of expensive video wall, and a lit up symbol placed center-stage above the drum kit (which oddly resembled the Star Of David), Tool started off their show at 9 PM. After a short interlude, the band launched headlong into their set with a slow, droning cover of Led Zeppelin's “No Quarter” followed by longtime crowd favorite, “The Grudge.” from the 2001 album Lateralus.

Singer Maynard Keenan, as customary, stood atop a drum riser adjacent to drummer Danny Carey, often in the dark and with little light. Likewise, guitarist Adam Jones stood stage right with his varied effects and offered few gestures to the crowd outside of an occasional smile. Bassist Justin Chancellor, who held court stage left, delivered the low-end and also stayed mostly in his confined area.
click to enlarge Maynard James Keenan - PAUL PIAZZA
  • Paul Piazza
  • Maynard James Keenan
And while Maynard donned a costume very akin to RoboCop, most of the attention was focused at the screens overhead which played visuals (most from the band's previous shows or recent tour reels). Tool did throw the audience a few bones, though. Even though they haven't dropped a new album since 2006's 10,000 Days, they played new versions of older songs like "Schism" and "Opiate." 

Sans the inclusion of “Descending,” a brooding and dark instrumental piece, older material ruled the night. From a trippy, fusion-laden drum solo by Danny Carey to stellar live versions of both “Vicarious” and “Stinkfist,” it was nearly impossible to not be transfixed by the group's psychedelic yet oppressing visuals.

Other highlights included the groove-laden “Vicarious,” which featured some mind-numbing visuals of oddly-shaped creatures entering and leaving various orifices (you have to see the video to fully understand it), along with a skeleton that morphed and disfigured and eventually became overwhelmed by everything it came into contact with.

Judging by the amount of fans who stayed until the house lights went on, nobody in the crowd seemed like they felt duped in any way. If anything, furious rounds of applause and chants of “fuck yeah” carried on long after the night's closing song.

Critic’s Notebook:
  • Even though Tool has been anything but prolific – their last full-length release was released just under 10 years ago - Tool fans still came out en mass. The two mid-week shows sold out at the 7,000 capacity Bill Graham Civic Center in just under a day leaving many fans furious. Sadly, loads of third party sites like StubHub, Vivid Seats, and the like overflowed with tickets going at obnoxiously high prices. Tonight's show precedes a tour with Primus starting January 9th and ending on the 31st. Bigger venues next time, please
  • Throngs of Another Planet and NES security staff employees roamed nearly every crevice of the venue in an effort to stop fans from taking video and/or pictures. Unlike other shows I've attended at this venue, it was the tightest yet most efficient crew. In turn, very few attendees used their phones for fear of getting them taken away or, more importantly, ejected from the show.
  • For those coming to the venue for the first time, the parking situation couldn't have been easier. Aside from being near many monitored and/or enclosed parking lots, there was ample street parking even for folks arriving as late as 8 PM.

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Eddie Jorgensen

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