Twelve years. That’s how long it has been since Tool last played in Europe. Twelve. Long. Years. In that time the UK has seen several changes of Prime Minister, the US has had three incumbent Presidents. Trump happened, Brexit happened, UK poverty levels have skyrocketed as have the numbers of people sleeping on the streets and mental health problems amongst pretty much every age bracket. It’s fair to say that things have been pretty shitty in Tool’s absence. Tonight, even if only for two hours, everything in the outside world is irrelevant, and the only thing that matters is four geniuses playing some of the finest music ever created. Mom’s coming round to put it back the way it ought to be.
“Hey, hey, hey, hey” eerily emanates from a darkened stage. Adam Jones’ distinctive guitar tone plays a jagged riff that is bouncy and angular at once. On a dime, Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey fill out the sound with their intricate rhythms and Ænema begins in full force. It’s a stunning way to open the show as the blackness erupts into a flurry of kaleidoscopic colour, rainbows dancing across one another around the massive and full venue. The visual accompaniment that adorns the colossal screens that create the backdrop of the set is psychedelic and enrapturing, vivid and horrifying images purposefully moving in time with the song. These visuals created by long time collaborator, Alex Grey, and Adam Jones do the heavy lifting for most of the set, throbbing and ebbing to the off kilter rhythms.
Tool themselves are atypical performers. They don’t lunge around the stage like your typical rock gods, nor do they engage the audience much at all. Instead they stand behind a translucent screen that drops across the front of the stage at the start of The Pot and remain obscured and silhouetted for the set’s majority. Maynard James Keenan in particular stands next to the drum riser in the dark hidden away from the spotlight, something it’s fair to say no other frontperson would do. There is no strutting and peacocking in Tool’s understated stage presence, they let the wistful lyricism of the music do the talking.
As the set rolls on through stonewall classics, we get to what everyone has been waiting for since 2006: New Tool music. Descending and Invincible both sound like a continuation of the explorative sound Tool achieved on 10,000 Days, as they rise over the course of several minutes into blissfully cathartic crescendo. The pace of the songs is lulling and introspective as Keenan’s soft voice whispers out harmonious melodies, while Carey proves why he is arguably the best drummer working right now. The percussive flair of these two songs is unrivaled in Tool’s own back catalogue, save for Ticks and Leeches from Lateralus, and is enough to carry the mighty songs through their extended run times. Fascinatingly, and speaking to their genius ability for craftsmanship, these eleven or so minute songs both feel like five, they fly by before you have really had chance to drink it all in.
As the finale of the set comes, lasers shoot high into the rafters of the venue projecting a gentle night’s sky over the voracious audience. It is a marvelous sight and quite unlike anything you will ever see from any other performing outfit. The duo of Vicarious and Stinkfist see out the magnificent show and end things just as they had begun; spectacularly. An explosion of technicolour and monochrome was the gentle balance of vivid imagery utilised to create such a dynamic and dexterous show, while obviously the unparalleled musicianship brought everything to life. Regardless of the obtuse nature of the music or the seemingly impenetrable time signatures, the audience remained hypnotised by Tool’s grandeur, and every left feeling enlightened and free of burden, even just for a moment.