Tool at Toyota Center, 3/25/2014
Among perhaps the shyest Grammy winners in history, Tool has a history of avoiding the spotlight for as long as possible, even onstage. It's been eight years since the band released its last heavy, psychedelic opus, 10,000 Days, and a solid Olympiad since they last darkened the doors of Toyota Center.
As the band strolled leisurely back into town on Tuesday night -- lasers and video screens in tow -- fans packed the arena to the rafters, eager to take part in the rare and transformative rite of rock and roll passage that is the Tool concert.
The Toy Box was still slowly filling during the early opening set by L.A.'s newly reunited Failure. I managed to hear just enough to be convinced that the heavy-alt trio has still got the slick, groovy sound that spawned a cult back in the '90s. Interesting as it was to see them under the big arena spotlights, it was tough not to hope they'd be back through town soon on their own, smaller stage.
When the house lights died away and a booming heartbeat started up, the crowd began to roar, and the noise only intensified when the band casually wandered over to their instruments. Led by the jagged riffing of guitarist Adam Jones, Tool burst out its packaging with the punchy "Hooker With a Penis" from 1996's Ænima.
A pointed song aimed at the very '90s notion of "selling out," the opening salvo of "Hooker" was delivered with a dry affect from singer Maynard James Keenan, who remained comfortably ensconced in the shadows throughout the show. Keenan can be a prickly character onstage and off, but on Tuesday night he seemed pleasantly engaged and happy to be performing for a packed, adoring house.
Clad in a Mohawk hairpiece and shades and toting a bullhorn, the singer offered the city what passes for high praise from his lips.
"Houston, Texas: Almost as cool as Arizona...but we'll get to that," Keenan said, cryptically.
As Tool ripped through "Sober," their rock-radio breakthrough, the band members were characteristically low-key up there, preferring to leave the visual interest to their undulating LED screens. It was easy to imagine some high school kid taking his first trip somewhere in the upper bowl losing his mind as entire rainbows' worth of lasers filled the arena during "Lateralus."
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