Tool: Live Review From Resorts World Arena, Birmingham, Wednesday 4th May

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Finally back on UK shores for their first tour over here in over a decade, TOOL shows will always have a lot to live up to. Though they did stop off at Download in 2019, this was the first real taste of TOOL’s legendary arena show. It was also a chance to hear some of the Fear Inncolum material, that they didn’t play at Donington Park, for the first time after waiting 13 years for the record and another three on top of that for these dates. With all these expectations at play, could TOOL truly deliver on all of them? Abso-god-damn-lutely.

Taking to the stage first in the Resorts World Arena was BRASS AGAINST, who performed just one original song amongst their covers of the likes of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, DEFTONES and yes… TOOL. Musically, they’re definitely an interesting proposition that is sure to get a crowd hyped up by singing along to some massive tracks. The arrangements of these iconic songs are good fun and Sophia Urista’s vocal performance is strong enough to do them justice. That being said, watching a support band play some of the headliners biggest tracks, knowing that the band themselves won’t be playing them, just makes you want TOOL to be on even faster. It’s a weird dynamic in the feeling you get that this an enjoyable and different take on this song but I’d rather see the band who are literally in the same building play it. Was it a good time? Yes. Was it entirely necessary? Probably not. 

Overall score: 7/10

From the very first notes of Fear Inoculum, it’s clear that the rumours are true. Every single person was instantly glued to their seat in anticipation as the opening guitar lines reverberated around the arena and the visuals started to dance. Fear Inoculum as an opener is like the opening of a west end show, it’s almost a mini version of the show itself with enough moments that drop your jaw that you’d pay the price of admission to witness that one part on its own. It immediately sets the tone that if anyone wasn’t totally on board with their 2019 album, this will change your mind. They’re long listens but in this environment, you’re bought into every single note and that allows you to truly engage in each moment the way the record wants you to. Penuma in particular is arguably the star of the whole show.

Of course there are also tracks from TOOL’s back catalogue dotted in between to break it up. On this particular date of the tour, they opted for Sober and Right In Two instead of Opiate and The Patient which they had been alternating in between shows. Though it’s impossible to imagine any track with these four musicians on not holding up in a live environment, both choices were great additions. It does feel slightly criminal that so many mammoth tracks are left out like Lateralus, Vicarious, Schism, Forty Six & 2 but when you have each selection sounding like it’s alongside that group in being irreplaceable live, it definitely softens the blow. The only point in the set where this didn’t ring true was when the band came back on after the late interval for an encore and played Chocolate Chip Trip. It’s essentially a drum solo that felt unnecessary on the record and even more unnecessary live, especially considering there had just been a 10-minute break.

Due to the camera ban during their performances and the wait to see them back in the UK, TOOL’s visuals have become myth-like over the years and they’re just as overwhelming as you’ve heard. The semi-circle curtain made up of individual see-through strips that surrounds the front of the stage, paired with the huge back wall screen, leads to some incredible images. With the projections out in front of the band, it gives the whole thing a 3D element that never feels cheap, it’s incredibly immersive. At times it feels like you’re travelling forward with the band whilst other times it’s like you’re peering through a wormhole that they’re inside of. 

Adam Jones, Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey are the trinity at the front of the stage and though they don’t play off of each other during the set, it’s incredible to watch them be so in sync with one another at all times. With Jones prefering to stand just to the side of where you can see him, the real go to visual point is Carey. If TOOL’s visuals don’t leave you with your mouth open, their drummer will. The moments in the set where a song finally reaches its full potential is a sight to behold and Carey’s playing is simply too impressive to put into words. As mentioned at the start, the rumours you heard are true, from a visual standpoint and performance standpoint, TOOL are simply unmatched.

Maynard James Keenan sticks to the back corners for the whole set but you can still see him skulking and shifting away in the shadows. With all of the visuals around him, often you can only makeout his dark silhouette amongst the colour but this only makes his performance even more engaging. Appearing as the shadow cloaked twin of a frontman archetype, Keenan only addresses the crowd on several occasions, once to make a joke about the Manchester crowd they had played to a few days before and say it’s good to see you and finally at the end to give people permission to use their cameras during the set closer, Invincible. It’s impossible to imagine TOOL being any other way and it’s just another factor at play to put the performances themselves as the sole focus of the evening.

Echoing the same feeling as when they release music, TOOL arriving in a city near you feels like a huge event. Though their credibility as musicians speaks for itself, the stories of their  live shows that remain shrouded in mystery have become just as integral to TOOL‘s legacy. It’s a completely different experience to seeing any other band on the planet and that’s exactly the way it should be. 

Overall score: 9/10

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