LONDON O2 ARENA: MAY 10TH, 2022. TOOOOOOOL….. CAN THEY LIVE UP TO THE EXCITEMENT IN YOUR TOOL-NERD MIND?
A shade after 8:30, they’re on. Fear Inoculum is up first, a gently building Toolscape to set the scene and IT’S HAPPENING, it’s actually bloody happening. Then it’s a three-decade rewind to Sober, which is huge but with this unexpected diversion:
“….happy birthday dear Danny … happy birthday to you.”
Woven seamlessly into Sober’s bleak spell is Maynard’s singalong for the big fella Carey on the drums.
“Old as fuck. It could be your last.”
A couple more waspy barbs and a quick crowd singalong later, we’re back into Sober’s dark underbelly where Adam Jones’s original video plays out on the colossal backdrop. This is followed by Undertow and Pushit. Is this a start or what? The playing’s as meticulous, forceful and exceptional as the records so there’s pretty much no point describing it. Every riff, break, drop, surge, polyrhythm, tempo shift or whatever it is that knocks you out when you play the albums is right there.
Which leads to this: if the music’s beyond question (and it is), what’s the point of a review?
It’s to somehow share the spectacle – because that’s what this turns out to be. It IS a spectacle. Lasers and lights and the huge backdrop’s never-ending liquid flow of visuals sucking you into a psychedelic odyssey of infinite godheads, third eyes, altered states and more make for a meticulously staged art show, though it’s very much Tool art. Like their album packaging, the attention to detail is exquisite. And a silhouetted, mohawked Keenan on the risers either side of the drums, crouching and swaying like a predatory sex gimp, adds to the illusion. Total integration, full immersion.
Pneuma and Right in Two maintain the prolonged ecstatic hit but if there’s a lull (sorry, don’t shoot), it’s 7empest. Felt a bit of energy leak away in its second half. Having played it again several times since the show, I wonder why I thought that – still sounds every inch the Tool epic, still works as a Fear Inoculum finale. Maybe it’s more an album experience than a live thruster, but Fear Inoculum veers a little that way anyway. Refined and reflective.
But that’s just a minor plateau in 2.5 half hours. The highs are harder to pick because of the ridiculous levels sustained throughout. The Grudge – slightly faster than on record? – is one, as is Aenima’s venomous Hooker With A Penis. Tool still hit hard. And Keenan revelled in that one.
A 10-minute breather (with on-screen clock counting down the minutes, great idea) leads to an encore: Chocolate Chip Trip, Culling Voices (Tool-on-stools acoustic intro) and a storming, poignant Invincible to finish.
It’s a sign of just how good a gig is that the absence of some of your mostest specialest tunes (Jambi Aenima Schism etc etc etc) doesn’t matter one fucking jot. With volume and visuals like these, Tool’s already exceptional music is ultra enhanced. It’s the full trip. We know the guys on stage are regular, if ridiculously gifted, mortals breathing air and blowing snot like the rest of us. But it’s more fun to pretend they’re not. Not tonight, not on that stage. Tonight, they’re aliens, riding a hallucinogenic vortex and brainwashing us with musical divinity.
And if that sounds over the top, so what? If you were there, you know. If you get Tool, you know. London, the O2: a gig for all time.