Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Concert Review: Tool @ Red Rocks, 6/29/2010
I had the good fortune to get my hands on tickets to see Tool on their summer mini-tour this year, where they played two nights at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado. Here's my review of the show.
The first time I saw Tool was at Bonnaroo 2007, where they headlined on the main stage. At the time, I considered that show to be the best I'd ever seen, until I saw Nine Inch Nails on their Lights in the Sky tour. Tool's visuals were as spectacular as I expected that night, and they played a great, if a little predictable, setlist with the fantastic live sound for which they're known. Last year's set at Mile High Music Festival was almost identical, though with a somewhat poorer sound mix that left me just a bit disappointed. In light of that, I went into this week's show trying not to get my hopes up too high for any surprises; if anything, I expected another solid set from one of the best live acts in the business.
Fortunately, my expectations were blown away from the first note. After a dismal set from hip=hop duo Dalek, the lights at Red Rocks went out and the amphitheater began to echo with the sound of Timothy Leary's ragged voice stating, "Think for yourself...question authority." Fans of Tool will recognize this as the live intro for "Third Eye," the thirteen-minute, rarely-played closer to Tool's second album, Aenima. Tuesday's rendition of the song was easily the best live version I've heard, and it charged the night atmosphere with furious intensity. It was an entirely unexpected start to one of the best shows I've ever seen.
Maynard James Keenan's vocals were the strongest of his that I've heard in a live setting. Likewise, his energy was off the charts for most of the concert; the simian dance of his mohawked silhouette was a constant source of entertainment. Instrumentally, Tool is always stellar, both on album and live, but they seemed especially tight for this show. Bassist Justin Chancellor provided a meaty foundation for guitarist Adam Jones, whose distorted guitar lines were as varied and complex as I've heard from him. Of course, Danny Carey continues to prove that he is by a wide margin the best drummer in music today. Watching Carey play is one of the greatest displays of musical excellence in the business; the man simply astonishes every time he takes his seat behind the kit, and Tuesday was no exception.
Following "Third Eye," the band moved into the heavy chug of "Jambi," from their most recent album. From their, Tool moved through classics like "Stinkfist" and "Schism," always concert favorites on which the band has expanded and perfected over the years. Another pleasant surprise came in the form of "Intension," which provided a downtempo interlude before the heavier "Right In Two," which was also unexpected. Of course, no Tool show would be complete without the nine-minute epic that is "Lateralus." Tool invited openers Dalek onto the stage for this number, and the duo did an admirable job of not butchering the song. It wasn't as memorable an appearance as, say, Tom Morello's at the Bonnaroo show, but Dalek's ambient electronics provided an interesting take on a song that is already great. Tool closed the show with "Aenema," the fiery title track to their second album. I saw them play this at Bonnaroo, but Tuesday's performance was intense in a way that was not possible at a festival show. The entire crowd seemed behind this one, ranting and screaming and pleading along with Keenan until the final blast. It was a massive display, and is definitely one of the best tracks I've ever seen performed live from any band.
Visually, Tool seems to have somewhat reimagined their live approach for this tour. The large screens that backed the band previously were increased in both size and number, and Carey's drum kit was lit from underneath. The screens played a mostly new series of animations, some from Tool's stop-motion videos and some different entirely. This effect was coupled with a stellar laser setup that kicked in at perfect moments throughout the show. The most remarkable visual element was, however, not the band's doing. About an hour and twenty minutes into the show, the moon rose behind the huge rock formations around the stage, bright orange and gargantuan. It provided an anchor for the chaos of the lights on stage, and was the kind of perfect moment that happens only very rarely at any live show.
Ultimately, though, it's Tool's instrumental preciseness and the fullness of their live sound that makes them such a great act to behold. When the band sticks to their comfort zone and plays their hits, they're great. When they take chances, as they did with "Third Eye" and "Right in Two" last night, they're phenomenal. Despite claims that the band is aging, Tool's show is still one of the very best, and is something that any music fan should see.