Eaglebank Arena located on the campus of George Mason University had the pleasure of hosting the opening night of the 2017 Tour by the modern progressive metal band, Tool. Now, late May is really considered the beginning of the concert season but for the sold out crowd in the arena, it’s safe to say that they’ve already seen the concert of the year.
Before I continue, let’s get you up to speed on the band. Tool released their first album “Undertow” in 1993. Since then, they have released 3 more albums. Each one picking up where the last one left off, progressing heavier and darker. The last, “10,000 Days” was released a decade ago. That’s four albums in almost 25 years, and the last one was 10 years ago. Since that initial tour for their last release, Tools performances have been infrequent, sometimes playing less than ten shows a tour, and even went a couple of years not performing in the United Stated. And the tours that did last more than a handful of shows saw the band hitting cities that usually aren’t on the touring map for an established rock band. That brings us to the good.
This was my fourth Tool concert… my 3rd since their last release. Talking to a number of fans earlier in the evening, it seemed that more than half the crowd had never seen them and this is the bad they have been waiting for. And Tool did not disappoint. It’s either a blessing or a curse to see the first show of a tour. Everything will go right or everything will go wrong. Sound problems, lighting problems, the band is unrehearsed. None of those issues reared their ugly head. They exploded onstage with “The Grudge”, the opening track of the 2001 release “Lateralus” with its tribal percussive rhythms and signature guitar/bass riff age making way for the entrance to the voice of the Tool Army, lead singer Maynard James-Keenan. All was right in the world. Maynard took his normal position at the back of the stage on a riser under dim lighting. Tool is not a glamour rock band. They are a band about the music. For them the music takes center stage, which is why Maynard is almost invisible at every performance, rarely coming out to front a center stage, and rarely would you see him in his natural state. From what I witnessed being up front for the first song, Maynard was dressed up as a soldier from the popular video game HALO.
The rest of the show consisted of mostly fan favorites from the TOOL discography… I hate being that set list spoiler alert guy…a few deep cuts were there. Guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor pretty much stage on opposite sides of the stage. Again, the music is so complex; it requires all of their concentration to pull it off, which is why it is hard to find a more visually stunning stage show than that of Tool. Their use of wide screen projection can’t be matched, displaying beautiful and sometimes wonderfully disturbing images to flow with the body of work delivered by Maynard. Tool is known for mind blowing music videos…animation and such created by guitarist Jones, and a few of them made their way onto the set. The surprise for me was something I still haven’t confirmed. After the intermission (yes, and intermission was had), drummer Danny Carey came out for a drum solo. Now, my seats were at the back of the arena, dead center. During the solo, what looked to be a “live” hologram of Danny suddenly appeared behind him playing the solo. Speaking to a few others that had seen the show the next day, they also had seen the same thing as well as an image by Adam earlier in the show. I’d like to point out that I don’t do drugs, and I am in great health. I’ve seen my share of wild things at concerts but that was the wildest (if it holds up)…which brings us to the (not so) bad.
If you were in the minority of people that have seen a Tool performance or two before like me, then this show. Probably wasn’t any different… of course, minus the hologram. Most of the songs you’ve heard before live and the lighting, while amazing, you’ve seen it. And like me, I’m sure the repeat concert goers were hoping for a set of new, unreleased songs. Ok, don’t want to hold it in but we did get “Descending”, a song that 2 or 3 years old and has made it onto the set list several times, but a first for Fairfax, Virginia! So, this is not bad… this is all good! I mean, its Tool… you can’t go wrong with a Tool show. You still walk away with your jaw dropped and that amazed look in your eye. If they don’t release the next album for another few years but still tour, I’m going. I’ll get there early…which brings me to…the ugly.
This show was May 24th, two days after the horrific terrorist attack at a pop concert in Manchester, England. Security at concerts have been extra tight for the past few years, but EagleBank Arena ramped it up a few notches as tensions had risen all over the world. And nobody argued…in fact, patrons were happy, and thanking the staff as they finally made their way inside after standing out in the rain for up to 45 minutes. Unfortunately because of that, most missed probably the best unheard of band to open for Tool ever. They are called Once and Future, a quartet out of Oakland California. They brought to the stage a sound reminiscent of the earlier progressive symphonic sounds of YES, Moody Blues, Camel, and mid-70’s era, Genesis. They blew me away with one song (as a concert photographer I was allowed one song before being shuffled back to the waiting room with the others). After the Tool performance I stopped by to pick up their CD and listened to it on the way home and was totally drawn in.
So, there you have it folks. Tool. No new album (as expected), new tour (anxiously expected and welcomed), stellar performance.