Expectations were high Monday night in San Antonio for the long-awaited return of Tool, who canceled two previous gigs due to a band injury and illness. My anticipation for the performance stretched back more than a year to the quartet’s warm-up gig at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium, which a former collegiate associate of mine failed to acquire tickets for.
The rules for the evening were displayed like tombstones every 20 yards in the quarter mile stretch from the parking lot to the AT&T Center: No moshing. No crowd surfing. No cameras or recording devices. No matter.
The Sonic Youth-inspired instrumental noise from openers, Seattle’s Kinski, might as well have been elevator music. We wanted Tool. With the intermission music and the house lights on, Maynard James Keenan and company appeared nonchalantly on the stage. The normally cryptic lead singer, dressed like an urban outfitter with cowboy boots, a belt buckle, and cowboy hat atop his mohawk, addressed the apprehensive audience: “San Antonio, I swear you people have the worst luck. I’m not sure how to put this … I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is there is no bad news.”
Of course, he was lying.
I’ve long believed that Tool is the Pink Floyd of my generation, a mainstream, yet innovative faction focused on creating an abstract and meaningful experience, whose individual musical pieces cannot be separated from their conceptual whole. But somewhere in the five-year span between 2001’s Lateralus and last year’s 10,000 Days, which includes A Perfect Circle’s disastrous Emotive, Tool lost a bit of its multidimensional and cryptic vision, began to cover it with more grandiose production, and hoped no one would call bullshit. The subtle change surfaced Monday night during the band’s weak and short-lived set. (Houston received a two-song encore the previous night.)
The stage set-up looked like the Great Seal, a pyramid with guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor forming a solid base, Keenan and drummer Danny Carey resting one level above, and a series of screens providing the Third Eye. They opened with “Jambi,” one of the hardest hitting new numbers, before Jones’ sustained guitar gave way to Aenima’s “Stinkfist” and “Forty Six & 2.” From afar, the quartet appeared meditative and precise, carefully crafting their pounding prog-rhythms. From the fifth row of the seated pit section, the scene was something else entirely. There was no mystery or mystique, the bottom tier looked bored during the earthly trance induced by “Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann),” ”Rosetta Stoned,” and ”Intension,” while Keenan’s vocals were barely audible.
Then came a 10-minute pause, during which the band primarily sat on stage while men in white lab coats readied the impending laser supplement. The green beams proved to be a potent opiate, effortlessly engaging the stares of attendees during another tiring trifecta ("Right In Two,” "Wings for Maria (Pt. 1),” and "10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)"). The effect was too purposeful, following unimpressive and overwrought experimental excursions that paled in comparison to Boris’ SXSW showcase or Kinski’s work for that matter.
King Crimson’s Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto nearly saved the night with their appearance and subsequent jam during the evening’s closer, “Lateralus,” but by that point the audience was starving for something from 1993’s opus Undertow (“Sober,” “Prison Sex) or at least the better suites from 10,000 Days (“The Pot,” “Vicarious”). Instead, it appeared as though Tool had become a mere capitalist machine, the very thing it once rallied against.
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