LIVE: Tool / Brass Against @ 3Arena, Dublin

By Fiachra Johnston

There’s something to be said about ’90s pageantry in rock. We may give all our love to the grand stadium performances of pop and hip-hop of the modern era, and rightly so. The art of the live show has been perfected and with the high quality of audio visual production complemented by ever growing spectacles in pyrotechnics, light shows and video supplements, concerts in the 21st century are more exciting than they’ve ever been.

Yet there’s still some things the rock bands of the last 20 years can teach you. While Los Angeles 4-piece Tool were never particularly calm and collected folks in terms of their stage shows, there was always a paradoxical restraint to their music that gave them a (sometimes bordering on condescending) sense of aloofness in the scene. Interwoven through intense lyrics and their few… rather lewd metaphors, were exciting, and often surprisingly tranquil, experimental riffs and drumlines, making for some of the most interesting prog sounds of the decade.

So, too, does this intersection of mystery and spectacle apply to their live sound. Last in Ireland as part of the 10,000 Days Tour in 2006, the illusive alt metal juggernaut of the ’90s returned to the emerald isles in Dublin as part of the two-year delayed ‘Fear Inoculum’ tour, for an all-seated, no cameras allowed gig with a surprisingly strong focus on recent releases from the similarly titled album.

It’s not hard to see why our opener, self-proclaimed “horny metal” collective Brass Against were chosen to set the tone for tonight. Adorned in white boilersuits and equipped with sharply polished trumpets, horns and tubas, their stage presence is as striking as their sound. Lead singer Sophia Urista opens the night up with Audioslaves’ ‘Cochise’ and it’s immediately clear who the stage belongs to, as her energy intermingled with the big band sound of BA creates a wickedly rebellious atmosphere in the 3Arena. Included in the set are two of Tool’s own tracks, ‘Stinkfist’ and ‘Forty Six & 2’, along with a short rendition of the opening to ‘Lateralus’ that leads to their fittingly explosive finale, ‘Bulls on Parade’. Having cut concert tracks is always a nice touch to an opener’s set that allows for a fun live experience of some otherwise omitted songs, and with Urista’s raucous presence and golden vocals proving a suitable replacement for frontman Maynard Keenan’s of rasps of old, these end up being as much BA’s songs as they are Tool’s. Their short but sweet set of ’90s and ’00s rock covers, including a version of Deftone’s ‘My Own Summer (Shove It)’ that would have Chino Moreno shaking the barricade leaves the crowd thoroughly energized for the main event.

As the lights go down and the signature act of the night make their way on stage, the full scope of the set is revealed. The “traditional” open heptagram (continuously lowered throughout the night, it feels) looms above the stage, right above drummer Danny Carey’s truly monstrous kit, complete with giant gong. Adorned all around the stage and reaching about to the ceiling is a thin white veil, bouncing projected imagery around the band as they walk on to the instrumental of ‘Litanie contre la peur’. Like with the 10,000 Days Tour, so much of the show’s look is dictated by the incredible video design, in part the work of guitarist Adam Jones, who also acts as a graphic and visual designer for much of the group’s work. The veil is accompanied by three massive screens, perfect for displaying the band’s obsession with “perfect geometry” as they launch into their first song, the titular ‘Fear Inoculum’.

As is par for the course, Maynard keeps to the back, out of the lighting, on two mini stages set behind and around Carey’s drum kit. At times nearly invisible, his voice echoes through the arena as Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor take to the front blasting through two of Tool’s best known tracks in quick succession. The renditions of ‘Sober’ and ‘The Pot’ are everything they should be: sharp and explosive, a hurtling pace matched with almost grotesque claymation visuals on the screens and veil that whips up the already excited crowd, after which the veil is lifted, revealing the band in bright white lighting that seems to fill the entire arena.

For a seated gig, the crowd’s energy is at first, a little unsure of itself. Defaulting to sitting down during the first 3 songs, Maynard takes to the mic for one of only 2 times during the show: “Here’s a story: I got food poisoning… I’m 58, I might just shit myself on stage. If I can stand up, so can you”. The crowd does not sit back down after this, as though the fear of watching someone loosen their bowels mid-concert is reason enough to obey his instructions.

While ‘Sober’ and ‘The Pot’ are the only inclusions from their respective albums, ‘Lateralus’ gets some love in the trio of ‘The Grudge’, and ‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’ leading into ‘The Patient’ (which, in other nights, has been substituted with ‘Right In Two’). Tracks from this record have always played well live, and tonight was no exception as the pavement cracking bass lines from Chancellor shine through under suitably nineties imagery of a corpse’s third eye opening. 

They’re joined by an utterly entrancing rendition of ‘Descending’: played in orange lighting under the shadow of a black pyramid onscreen that seems to wrap itself over the band ominously, it’s a strange moment of eerie calm that’s emblematic of how much Tool’s visual aspects play into their stageplay, as your eyes are drawn off the band and to this leering black spectacle in the center. ‘Ænima’ also gets some love with ‘Pushit’, and the most surprising inclusion of the night, the comically over-the-top ‘H**ker With a Penis’, which closes out the first ‘act’ in the most explosive way possible as Keenan goes all out on vocals, much to the crowd’s absolute delight.

After a 10 minute intermission, our final few tracks open with Danny Carey alone on stage. ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ sees the drummer put his electronic skills to the test in a live mixing of the trippy instrumental interlude, before the band (including Maynard) rejoin and move to the front of the stage for the percussionless opening to ‘Culling Voices’. Even Carey joins on guitar for a moment of surprising calm and vulnerability from the quartet that catches the crowd off guard after the hour or so of heaviness that’s preceded. Returning to drums for ‘Invincible’, our final song of the night (where the crowd is given the green light to record and Keenan returns to confirm he has, in fact, not evacuated his insides live on stage) Carey and company give a soaring finish that even sees an attempt at crowdsurfing from the front rows and a sudden drop of confetti.

Tool constantly avoid straying into nostalgic territory (hence the surprise of tracks such as ‘The Pot’ making an appearance), but even so, closing the show with three tracks from the newest record is surprising. Given how these tracks fit so well into the live set, it’s hard to be upset, as the live performances of Fear Inoculum often feel like the definitive versions of the songs, bordering on sounding even better live than in the studio. As the final wails of Adam Jones’ Firebird hits and Maynard retreats back into the dark, as the last bits of confetti get caught in the back of our shirts, the trance is over, and we’re finally left to get our bearings, and fight for a place on the last tram back from The Point.

Whether you consider it condescending or enlightening, Tool’s unique approach to music has always lead to some historically classic live sets, and whether it be putting a new visual twist on older works, or amplifying an already excellent new album to even greater heights, the Fear Inoculum tour continues the band’s indefatigable live tradition. If another record is potentially on the cards, perhaps we can hope for a shorter wait than 16 years for another appearance in Ireland.