By Justin Vellucci
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The prog-metal quartet Tool exudes context, from its rich LPs, full of epic songs and epic phrasings, to its historiography as a band, which is ripe, unfortunately, with legal headaches and more than its share of silence. (More than a decade passed between the band’s last and newest LPs.) But the group largely avoided the knotted intricacies of much of that context Friday night, playing it safer than anticipated during a performance to a packed crowd at PPG Paints Arena, Uptown.
Tool is trekking around the nation, touring an ambitious, 86-minute LP that topped the Billboard charts (Fear Inoculum, a triumphant return to form) but few songs from the record reared their heads last night. Instead, the group – drummer Danny Carey, bassist Justin Chancellor, guitarist Adam Jones and frontman Maynard James Keenan, alphabetically speaking – focused on back-catalog staples like “Aenema,” “Forty Six & 2,” and “Parabol”/”Parabola.” The evening closed with a rousing rendition of “Stinkfist,” which has come to be one of the band’s live signatures.
The Pittsburgh crowd of roughly 16,000 roared and cheered the band’s performance but there was, at times, an eerie disconnect between what was happening on stage and what was going on in the stands. The band’s lengthy, often-meandering compositions, stacked back to back with almost no between-song chatter, bled from one right into the next, lending the performance the feeling of a tribal incantation rather than a live arena-rock concert. While the audience clearly was engaged – cell phone usage was STRICTLY, STRICTLY kept under wraps until the closing song, increasing audience focus on the task at hand – there also was a haziness to the evening, something exacerbated by the amount of mind-altering smoke that wafted through the crowd.
But Tool did what it does best, offering cryptic asides – “Supposedly, Pittsburgh. Supposedly,” Keenan said at one point, in rare patter to the hungry masses. “What is it, Pittsburgh or not?” – to punctuate larger-than-life lighting theatrics and screen projections from its music videos. Keenan, sporting a pointy punk Mohawk, stalked the perimeter of the stage, spending most of the evening perched on platforms to the direct left and right of Carey. Jones and Chancellor, only occasionally in the spotlight, dug into their respective ritual roles in potent blurs.
Fear Inoculum ** Ænema ** Parabol ** Parabola ** Pneuma ** Schism ** Jambi ** Vicarious ** Descending ** Forty Six & 2 ** Chocolate Chip ** Trip ** Invincible ** (-) Ions ** Stinkfist
Tool was supported by a forebear instead of an up-and-comer, in this case, the stage-conscious, post-punk act Killing Joke. It was a fitting (and rather loud) introduction to the proceedings and got the blood flowing. Now, if only Keenan and company tapped deeper into the richness of Fear Inoculum, we really could have completed the rite.