It’s always fun to be around Tool’s cerebral and studious fan base, some of whom get even more talkative while they’re slamming pre-show beers or slowly absorbing edibles. Prudential Center seemed sold out on Saturday (Feb 26th, 2022), as measured by the number of dudes panhandling for tickets outside the venue and the full sea of faces inside. A step in any direction brought you within eavesdropping distance of another cool conversation about Tool’s shows, songs, sound, or merch. The venue was alive with all this rowdy camaraderie until everyone snapped into their seats in a strangely synchronous get-the-fuck-ready moment, like bees in a hive communicating with pheromones. Right after that, the arena went dark, and Tool’s fans stood up from their seats in a religiously attentive manner.
Maynard’s black leather jacket with the red Puscifer logo and Tool’s glowing heptagram were among the few similarities between Saturday and the Pru Center show we caught three years ago. Sure, Tool’s 2019 and 2022 Newark shows offered setlists of equal length: both thirteen songs, three of them being the encore. Both shows were also kickstarted by the freakishly prescient “Fear Inoculum.” But compared to their 2019 Newark show, Saturday’s set was pretty different, with only five of the songs we got last time. One big 2022 treat was getting “Opiate” from their 1992 debut EP of the same name, as the second song, no less. Given the way the lights and visuals are so tightly aligned with each beat, it’s impressive that Tool continue varying their songs from night to night, as one can see from the setlists on this second leg of their Fear Inoculum tour. Other bands who keep the same setlist on every date have little excuse for that when Tool are finding ways to switch it up amid such an intricately orchestrated experience. Understandably though, there are certain recurring sequences you can expect from Tool right now: the gripping foursome of “The Pot,” “Pushit,” “Pneuma,” and “The Grudge;” the wrath of “Descending” before “Hooker with a Penis;” a bone-rattling encore of “Chocolate Chip Trip,” “Culling Voices,” and “Invincible.”
Funny enough, during Tool’s 2019 Newark show, Maynard James Keenan spoke little more than sneering, “Sounds like Jersey,” in regard to our cheering. He ribbed us again this time, right after that juicy “Fear Inoculum” opening stirred up a cacophony of growling and shouting. “Jersey. Don’t fucking embarrass me. Jersey.” But after all that’s happened in the world since 2019, MJK had much more to say to Newark on Saturday, veering sweeter than his political remarks at Governors Ball in 2017. During that sinister cut of Tool fundamental “Opiate” – once Adam Jones had woven a tonally-textured knit of otherworldly guitar sounds – Maynard James Keenan made a persuasive request. “So, it’s been a minute. It’s been a while. Lots of shit’s happened since the last time we saw you. Some awful shit. Some good shit. Some awful shit and good shit’s happening right now. But all the awful shit – not tonight; not in here. This is our chance to be a little selfish and enjoy this night,” he urged to big applause, before he continued singing, “If you want to get your soul to heaven, trust in me now, don’t you judge or question…” The next classic to follow, “The Pot,” coaxed out big singalong screams for each “You must have been…high,” as well as artful portrayals of that chorus beneath cupped palms in the dark.
X-ray vision within Pru Center on Saturday would have revealed skulls banging wildly and bones moving well outside of the body’s standard time signature. And the rest of the band would surely forgive those of us watching Danny Carey’s dynamic drumming more than anything else. All of their contributions are crucially badass; it’s not as if he’s outshining the rest or any such imbalance. It’s just that Carey’s style and technique behind the set is so striking, destructive, and suspenseful, it keeps yanking your gaze back up to his platform. In sync to a chilling degree, bassist Justin Chancellor – who was all smiles on Saturday – brought gooey and hard-edged grooves, grabbing many eyes too. It was all a canvas for the elegantly brutal guitar work of Adam Jones, which can sometimes sound more like alien signals or the lower-decibel hums of nature than something created by a musical instrument. And to our immense relief, Maynard James Keenan’s voice has not only sustained its rich qualities through two bouts of Covid, but seemed to reverberate more powerfully than ever. Delivering each incisive line with fervor in his voice, MJK swayed in his familiar intimidating stance. His multicolored spikes and clownish dark makeup looked especially dramatic before the enticing hellscape of flames and skeletal graphics behind them.
The fact that I’ve resisted raving about the insane visual experience for this long is a testament to Tool’s intense musical impact. But the spectacle of animated goodness darting across the thin white strings circling the stage was enough to cause a sober buzz. Thanks to a range of Tool art regulars like Alex Grey and Meats Meier, your eyes and mind were perpetually voyaging through the anatomical, the astronomical, and a range of indescribable territories in between. The confetti itself, which differs by tour date, fits together like puzzle pieces to form three versions of Fear Inoculum artwork. Most fans were likely hip to that easter egg thanks to Tool’s recent related posts, but those who weren’t aware of the confetti’s collectible quality watched the rest of us leaping and wrestling for the fluttering pieces with confused amusement. Tool’s fan base may get some heat online, but those present at Newark seemed universally caring and chill, as evidenced by the nice subtle thing that happened next. Many onlookers who didn’t care about the confetti ended up catching pieces for those who wanted them and passing them around. In another display of unity, most of the thrashing bodies in the arena hadn’t stopped moving for a moment since the L.A. legends had taken the stage. The peaks and waves of Tool’s sound lingered like fog even after “Invincible” brought it all to an epic close. Their energy was still compelling muscles into motion as everyone departed that realm of heavy audiovisual bliss in deep discussion and returned to an icy night.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley