Tool Delivers Another Storied Spectacle Short on New Material

Tool with Primus and 3TEETH
Viejas Arena (San Diego)
January 10, 2016

It’s usually a big deal when a pair of multi-platinum bands decide to join forces to embark on a nationwide tour, especially when the duo has 50 years of musical experience between them. However, it is quite another thing entirely when the two groups are largely responsible for ushering the entire landscape of rock from one era to the next, all while somehow being difficult to categorize into just one group.

This is what we have when rock titans Tool announced they would be taking their friends in Primus on the road for about three weeks of shows around the country. When the dominant listening trends started to move away from the hair metal bands of the 80’s, they were two of a small group of bands carrying the torch through the grunge, alternative and nu-metal movements of the next decade. While each of these sub-genres eventually fell by the wayside, taking plenty of other bands with them, Tool and Primus somehow managed to identify with each group without allowing themselves to be fully consumed.

This distinction can be explained by an unwillingness to adhere to trends, maintaining a certain musical integrity, and other overused clichés. However, when it comes down to it, the success of Primus and especially Tool is really just a special union of originality and talent. They cannot be accused of copycatting, and it is nearly impossible to copy either of them, even intentionally.

During my drive from Los Angeles to San Diego for the sold out concert, I stopped at a gas station to purchase sustenance for myself and my car. While inside, I could faintly hear the pulsating sound of “Lateralus” from the radio inside the gas station. This was likely no coincidence, but it did nothing but reinforce my excitement for the night ahead of me.

Upon arrival, I was escorted to my seat in the middle of the floor level while opening band 3TEETH took the stage. 3TEETH is an industrial band from Los Angeles, hand-picked by Jones to open for the rock giants for the tour after he and the singer gradually became friends when they met at a wedding. They are without a bassist, choosing instead to use keys and samples to fill the void. Their sound is harsh and dark, typically descriptive of the genre.

Next up was the legendary three-piece Primus, fronted by world-renowned bassist Les Claypool. Whereas the opening band had no one playing bass, Primus’ music is totally centered around it.

The trio took the stage for about 45 minutes, joined by a pair of large, inflated mushrooms. The set focused almost exclusively on old albums, venturing beyond the 1995 release of Tales from the Punchbowl just once during the evening. The largest number of selections came from Sailing the Seas of Cheese, closing the set with fan favorite “Jerry was a Racecar Driver.” Claypool is nothing short of a genius on bass, slapping and strumming and bowing his way into oblivion while the listeners can’t help but stare with their ears wide open.

Primus also utilized a theater-sized screen on the back wall of the stage for music videos. Old home movies of families opening Christmas gifts, strange animation, cowboy dummies, and Mount Rushmore were just some of the themes captured on the screen. For “Mr. Krinkle,” Claypool lost his fancy hat in favor of a pig mask, worn for the song’s duration.

Finally, Tool. I made my way to the front of the stage where I would remain for the first portion of the set. As the lights went out again, a large heptagram appeared on the screen. Each member walked out in his own individual garb; Jones in black casual, bassist Justin Chancellor in checkered collared shirt and bow tie, drummer Danny Carey in a Kansas basketball jersey. James Maynard Keenan’s attire is random and changes every show. This time was no different as he came into view dressed in black riot gear, looking like an evil Power Ranger.

The band opened with their cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” something they had recorded live for their Salival EP and recently brought back for the Halloween show. The set would be very similar to the one they performed in October, and not terribly different from any show they’ve done for the past several years; just shy of two hours and mostly consisting of popular tracks from their last three albums. The only other exceptions were “Opiate,” a clip of presumed new material entitled “Descending,” and a short drum solo by Carey. It was during “Opiate” that Keenan joked about having to change the lyrics to appease the sensitive San Francisco crowd. “So now I have to sing ‘We both want to metaphorically rape you…with a metaphorical rhinoceros tusk.’”

By now, most Tool fans are not expecting to hear new material, but instead come for the experience. They want to feel it in person, and it doesn’t matter if they know what songs are going to be played. Tool is one of the most technically sound bands in the world, especially given the difficult and intricate nature of writing and re-producing their songs in a live setting.

Over the years, Tool’s live show has become something of an assault on the senses over the years, starting with manic energy and graduating towards art in the form of video concepts and imagery created by Jones and largely influenced by artist Alex Grey. Their shows, music videos, and album art are centered on this and the idea that bands ought to be heard and not seen.

But now they’ve added a new element; an elaborate laser light show, blending the sounds to the images in perfect unison. The crowd was burning in red as Keenan insisted “this pain is an illusion,” and then were drowning in blue and green as Keenan urged them to “learn to swim.” If it wasn’t already, the addition of the lights brings to fruition the advent of a perfect live show, and with the support of Primus, a night spent in ‘90s prog rock euphoria.

1 Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
2 Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver
3 American Life
4 Jilly’s On Smack
5 Mr. Krinkle
6 My Name is Mud
7 Jerry Was a Racecar Driver

1 No Quarter (Led Zeppelin)
2 The Grudge
3 Parabol
4 Parabola
5 Schism
6 Opiate
7 Aenema
8 Descending (new jam)
9 Jambi
10 Forty-Six and 2
11 Danny drum solo
12 Vicarious
13 Stinkfist (with jam)

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