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Tearing Across North America in Support of “Fear Inoculum,” Tool Wins Hearts of Diehard Fans (Live Report, Photos, and Setlist)

Finding myself at the immense United Center on a cold Sunday night is definitely out of the ordinary, but this wasn’t to be an ordinary night. Seeing Tool is an experience, one I’d been longing to encounter since my last time seeing the legendary progressive rock band back in 2007 (with Big Business of all bands — it was wild). To top it off, I was to see the arguably more legendary (you can fight me over that) Killing Joke, who was to open the night. To call this lineup ridiculous, crazy, or what have you, isn’t wrong — in fact, I actually vocalized my excitement to an empty office when this tour was first announced. It’s a meeting of the minds, idealogue Maynard Keenan against idealogue Jaz Coleman. It was going to get interesting.

Unfortunately for Killing Joke, the big stage didn’t really work in their favor. This isn’t to say their set was not good… it was great. It was everything I wanted from a Killing Joke set and more, but the way they all huddled closely to each other onstage (which was, to their detriment, filled with Tool gear) felt like they belonged somewhere more intimate, much like the Empty Bottle shows they played near the Absolute Dissent album release some nine years ago. Even so, the heavy post-punk veterans played with all of their souls, casting their dark shadow over a still-filling up stadium. Small pockets of the audience seemed to understand exactly what was going on — a headbanger here, a dancing couple there. This is music to move to, and, sadly, there wasn’t really a lot of that. Though the two exist in a similar echelon, Tool’s mathematical rock and Killing Joke’s emotive body music couldn’t be more musically dissimilar, and I don’t think the audience really knew what was going on… which is a shame, really.

Whereas Killing Joke played to the audience, Tool played to the stadium. To a sold-out audience of more than 20,000 (that many people to someone who generally goes to smaller shows is baffling), their performance was over-the-top outrageous, something you might see in one of those “special concert DVDs” or whatever. With a stage enveloped in a curtain of chains, the four-piece performed to strange, three-dimensional projections and ridiculously programmed lights. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of their performance was Maynard’s vocal range, something which was sadly missing from this year’s Fear Inoculum. However, to those who weren’t up against the stage, Maynard was rendered a shadow against the backdrop.

tool
Tool. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

The now-camera-shy (or camera-phobic, as evidenced by the strict and draconian no cameras allowed rule, breaking of which would result in immediate expulsion… not that it stopped anyone) Maynard kept to the back of the stage, giving the spotlight to his bandmates Adam Jones, Justin Chancellor, and drummer Danny Carey, whose kit has grown so exponentially in the past decade that it resembled a spaceship.

Playing now-deep-cuts like “Intolerance” and the previously rare “Parabol/Parabola” pairing, this was a varied set, featuring tracks from every Tool release (save Opiate, but who would expect that now?), and the crowd reciprocated. The lukewarm response to Killing Joke was replaced with an ecstatic vision of fandom, people singing along, dancing, headbanging (this one was me), and more. As someone whose concert experiences are limited to just headbanging, the hoisting of the invisible oranges, mosh pits, and angry cross-armed judgment, it was interesting seeing such a varied response. Who would have thought a concert would be fun, right?

Tool setlist (via Setlist.fm):

“Fear Inoculum”
“Ænema”
“The Pot”
“Parabol”
“Parabola”
“Pneuma”
“Schism (Extended)”
“Jambi”
“Vicarious”
“Intolerance”
“Forty Six & 2″

Intermission:
“Chocolate Chip Trip”
“Invincible”
“(-) Ions”
“Stinkfist”

Remaining tour dates:
11/5: Cincinnati, OH — US Bank Arena
11/6: Cleveland, OH — Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
11/8: Pittsburgh, PA — PPG Paints Arena
11/9: Detroit, MI — Little Caesars Arena
11/11: Toronto, ON — Scotiabank Arena
11/12: Toronto, ON — Scotiabank Arena
11/14: Boston, MA — TD Garden
11/16: Newark, NJ — Prudential Center
11/18: Philadelphia, PA — Wells Fargo Center
11/19: Brooklyn, NY — Barclays Center
11/21: Uncasville, CT — Mohegan Sun Casino Arena
11/22: Atlantic City, NJ — Boardwalk Hall
11/24: Raleigh, NC — PNC Arena
11/25: Washington, DC — Capital One Arena

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