Let the following recollection serve as both a review of a perspective-altering experience and a cautionary reminder to not take your phone out at a Tool show. Just don’t do it. It’s not worth the hassle, but not in any slight to the band. They are worth all of the focus that your tiny little screen would take up and then some. Just read the signs that are posted as you walk into the venue, forget your smashed up iPhone 7 with a bubbled-up screen protector exists for a little while, and melt into a glorious wormhole of beautiful metal madness.
As people began to pour into Manchester’s SNHU Arena on Monday night (November 13), there certainly was a different sort of buzz that radiated from the back walls to the stage as a mish-mash of passionate and devout soldiers in the Tool Army, casual fans of the band, and even perhaps a few attendees who may not have fully understood the power of the band’s creative force — at least until the house lights went down — converged together to take part in an experience that virtually no other artist in the world has managed to offer.
Yes, there are a lot of bands that have mesmerizing light shows, palpable stage presence and an impressive energy that captivates their audience. But it can very easily be argued that none harbor the levels of those elements that Tool holds, even after more than 30 years on the grind, and for them to bring a punch that fierce on a freezing Monday night in New Hampshire was just an unfair flexing of their unparalleled devotion to the craft.
The central theme of musical exploration began even earlier than the main event with the evening’s opening act, as Jeremy DeBardi brought an impressive display of all-star level hand/eye coordination as the one-man band Steel Beans. On paper, the novelty of a one-man band may seem like somewhat a joke or a gag, which would be entirely on-brand for a like Tool who has thrived on being tongue and cheek throughout their career, but rest assured the talent was on full display and only grew until it was time to call it a night and make room for the rock and roll behemoth that was about to fill every inch of the arena.
The slow burn of “Fear Innoculum” started things off, and fans went feral as Danny Carey made his way to his expansive drum set. Soon joined by guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor, the trio charged full steam ahead into the title track of their most recent album, before frontman Maynard James Keenan took his customary place in the shadows and started to hand deliver the goods with his hauntingly soft-yet-powerful voice. It wasn’t until after the opening epic concluded that Keenan addressed the audience, stressed his well-documented displeasure of phone usage during the show and instructed everyone to put them away and to join the band for a night together, resulting in what would eventually start to feel like a trance or hypnotism of sorts.
From there, it was a full two-and-a-half hour masterclass of musical and artistic chemistry, and each of the band’s four members were the mad scientists all working on their own pieces of the puzzle. Whether it was Keenan delivering his vocals from the two platforms that sat in the wings on each side of the drums as he moved around at will, draped in mystery like something out of Shakespeare, or Jones and his legendarily stoic demeanor absolutely cranking riffs on everything from “Jambi” and “Rosetta Stoned” to “The Grudge” and “Invincible,” the sounds that have made Tool such fierce titans of the metal landscape over the years were turned up to full blast, sometimes hitting sonic heights of 112 decibels.
While Keenan and Jones certainly brought their respective expertise to the Granite State and had fans on their feet for a majority of the night, Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey were a tag team freight train of deep, driving grooves and chest-rattling rhythm that further built the wall of sound and artistic fury that came from all four corners of the stage. At numerous points throughout the show, in between the cracks of tracks like “Pneuma,” “Chocolate Chip Trip,” and a stunning, poignant rendition of “Culling Voices,” it felt as if each man on the stage were their own separate band, playing their own separate song and still somehow managed to have it all gel together with precision and focus.
The shared amusement around the room stayed intact, even through the duration of a short intermission, before Carey returned to set off the second part of the show and bring us back into the trance by unleashing the trippy groove of “Chocolate Chip Trip,” complete with a giant gong.
Before the band tore into the battle-tested classic “Stinkfist” to end the night, Keenan seemingly ended the hypnotic trance like the Willy Wonka of metal, with a simple “Hey Manchester, you made it!” before bantering with the crowd a little and allowing fans to take out their phones and document the show’s powerful finale.
Although there were assuredly a few folks who rolled their eyes at the idea of having to keep their phone in their pockets all night, it felt as if the crowd was more focused in on what was happening on stage, which was really the point all along, and made for a fuller experience. But what truly stood out the most wasn’t just the music, or just the characters on stage. Or lasers that shot out from the stage and soundboard to curate a radical light show that had even the most stone-cold sober fans feeling like they were tripping balls.
What stood out most vibrantly was the respect and appreciation coming from both sides of the barricade. From the fans, as they cheered with a feverish intensity all night, and from the band, as they pulled out every single little twist and turn you could think of and gave their loyal legion of followers quite possibly the best show of their lives on a frosty Monday night in Manchester.
Come to think of it, hell…maybe we should just keep our phones in our pockets at more concerts.
Article and Images by: Jason Greenough