Tool Asphyxiates the Erwin Center

“Supposedly, Austin,” announced Keenan. “Work on it”

Tool avoids the spotlight. Thus, it came as no surprise Tuesday night at a rafters-full Frank Erwin Center that the cult L.A. fourpiece remained shrouded behind a thin veil of metal-beaded curtains for the initial 30 minutes of a tour stop in support of the group’ first studio album in 13 years, August 30’s Fear Inoculum.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

The pitched wind chime of the title track kicked off the prog rocker’s 135-minute set as Danny Carey’s polyrhythmic tablas played tag-team with Justin Chancellor’s thick, knotty basslines. Voice still strikingly youthful at 55, Tool’s reluctant frontman Maynard James Keenan hit the exorcist growls on bone crusher “Aenima.” Like that 1996 single off the Grammy-winning album of the same title, Keenan gnashed in rage while orating a fuck-you soliloquy as Carrey’s double-kick blitzkrieg unfurled an Armageddon crescendo.

Danny Carey (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Lateralus twofer “Parabol” and “Parabola,” followed. The former masked vocals that crawled through a gossamer of creeping cymbals and delayed haunt. The latter trip-wired an explosive chassis of arachnid percussion and battery acid overdrive that ended in a plodding maelstrom. The metallic curtains finally retracted to give an unobstructed view of Tool.

Maynard James Keenan (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Keenan looked typically odd in makeup, a mohawk, and red-plaid pants. Carrey manned a gargantuan drum set. Adam Jones stood still – acting almost like a stand guitar for his iconic silver Gibson. Chancellor cradled his bass as he rocked back and forth like a see-saw.

In the quartet’s asphyxiating grip of distortion and mechanical riffs, it felt like the band never exited the limelight and were simply filling a void they themselves created.

Adam Jones (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

“Pneuma” dialed in Tool’s staple Middle Eastern intonations, unwinding into a lysergic territory as Jones pulled double duty on guitars and synths that writhed and wriggled in serpentine feedback. Radio-friendly fan favorite, “Schism” blew hair back and kicked in ribs. 10,000 Days’ visceral “Jambi” chafed the skin in sandpaper riffs and drill bit percussion.

Despite the sadistic creed in “Vicarious,” the song found Keenan’s voice morphed into a muffled radio signal as he swung his legs over one of the raised platforms on either side of the drum riser like a kid – an unexpected but welcoming action from the often ornery and eccentric frontman.

Justin Chancellor (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Fear Inoculum’s nearly 14-minute epic “Descending” animated like a Frankenstein monster of their four previous LPs since 1993, pulling from Undertow and Aenima’s thrashed assaults, Lateralus’ labyrinthian intricacies, and 10,000 Days’ THC-laden triptychs. Before a 12-minute intermission, “Forty Six & 2” pierced like bag of nails.

After the break and touching off the last half-hour of the performance, “Chocolate Chip Trip” segued into a drum solo assisted by King Crimson’s locally-sourced Pat Mastelotto. Both Carrey and Mastelotto’s drums became extensions of themselves as their arms crawled across the kits like spiders webbing in and out of angular and jagged rhythms. “Stinkfist” closed the odyssey night to the bliss of Tool nation.

Erwin Center set-list, 1.21.20

“Fear Inoculum”
“Forty Six & 2”
“Chocolate Chip Trip”

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Tool, Maynard Keenan, Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Adam Jones, Pat Mastelotto, King Crimson, Frankenstein

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