Maynard James Keenan, Tool’s vocalist, supposed frontman and a guy who often lets it be known he’d rather spend his time making wine than music, spent the two-hour-plus set at the back of the stage, doing what could be described as menacing tai-chi-type routines on a pair of risers that flanked drummer Danny Carey. He’d break up the compelling choreography to spew bursts of angry and gory lyrics through a standard microphone or strapped-on megaphone. An illustrative sample: “It’s no fun until someone dies!” from 2006’s “Vicarious.”
Keenan never had a spotlight shining on him, and no shots of Keenan appeared on any video screens, which were instead occupied from start to finish with animated scenes of aliens, insects, malformed humanoids, lots of bones, blood and fire — all surrealistically presented. As if the nonphysical boundaries weren’t enough, a large portion of the show had the band performing behind a semi-sheer curtain.
Dressed in red plaid pants and sporting a colorful mohawk coif (he’s gone for the Travis Bickle look for years), Keenan rarely engaged the crowd. When he did it wasn’t to say anything nice or make small talk. “This town needs a g--d--- enema,” he huffed before “Ænema.” That 1996 tune, along with the band’s usual relentless and punishing riffs, featured a rare-for-Tool scream-along chorus, of which the crowd shrieked every profane word. Before “Part of Me,” originally recorded for the demo tape that got Tool its first record deal, Keenan asked folks younger than 30 years old to raise their hands. “When we wrote this next song you were not even sperm yet,” he told those who showed their age.
Guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor spent more time staring at their assortments of stomp boxes and fiddling with gizmo knobs than they did trying to bond with the audience. Drummer Carey, along with being the most important guy in the band sonically, was the only Toolie willing to indulge the fans with rock star cliches. During the second of two extended drum solos there was not one but two gong solos, or twice as many gong solos as John Bonham would indulge in at the height of Led Zeppelin’s bombastic phase as a touring act.
The emotional distance Tool kept from its audience only made the fans work harder to show their love. The largely large male and black-clad contingent packing the area in front of the stage channeled their inner alienated adolescent with heads banged and fists thrust toward their aloof heroes as if the years never dulled the teen angst that initially attracted them to this lead-heavy band. Similarly, Tool’s latest material — “Pneuma,” “Invincible” and the new record’s title track were among the fresh tunes offered up — had the same mix of dense droning notes and constant time changes as the band’s earliest output.
Keenan rewarded the audience for putting up with the psychic walls by briefly lifting the band’s standard and fascistic ban on using cellphone cameras during the show while closing the set with a version of 1996’s fan fave “Stinkfist” that had as much punching power as it has ever had.
“Congratulations. You made it,” Keenan sneered. There was no encore.
An earlier version of this story listed the wrong song for the lyric “It’s no fun until someone dies!” The verse is from 2006’s “Vicarious,” not 1993’s “Intolerance.”