Tool @ The Tacoma Dome
It must be a trip to be Tool. To have arrived at their level of musicianship and experience, to still be inspired with a vision, and to have the massive budget to realize that vision along with the arena-size audience eager to receive it… it must be a real trip.
Tool provides a very valid reason for seeing them play live. Aside from hearing their tight and intricate sounds and feeling their intense energy in person, there is their sweeping showmanship. Over the span of over two decades I have seen Tool play live four times and they have always offered a memorable stage show. This most recent set at the Tacoma Dome was no exception. Backed by a looming wall of segmented, high-def screens and haloed by an arch of versatile lighting and laser gear, the band plays in front of an ever-changing monolith of morphing, psychedelic art. The ensuing visuals are intimidating in scope and content. Woe to the previously uninitiated patron high on hallucinogens… you’re gonna have an intense trip.
The visuals, like much of their lyrical content, feel rooted in the darker sides of existence and the mysticism of ancient civilizations, with hints of sacred geometry, all sprinkled with an introspective dose of psilocybin. Tool has always maintained a certain profundity in their work. Their lyrics explore the weight of humanity, the rage over its many shortcomings, and an underlying sadness that we fail to somehow be better. The progression of their albums has been a journey from a righteous anger that culminates with Ænima and then releases with Lateralus into an uncovering of the original pain which lies below. That search for the source of our suffering and the hope that it can be overcome continues with the following two albums. It's always been interesting to me to meet fellow Tool fans and learn which is their favorite album. More than with other bands, it seems like a bit of a Rorschach test as to where each individual is in their personal process. Fear Inoculum follows this trajectory, moving towards the healing, but breaks with a previous tradition. Up until August of 2019 each new Tool album was strikingly different from its predecessor, whereas 10,000 Days and Fear Inoculum share the most similarities. However, though more subtle, the differences are significant, with Fear Inoculum being more of a hypnotic meditation that relies on its instrumentals more than any previous album. I know little of the personal lives of the band members, but going off the progression of their albums alone one might infer that they have fought their way through a long and dark tunnel and emerged healthier on the other side. Fear Inoculum, as it would seem the name suggests, is a recommended practice for processing the darkness unveiled in previous albums. It is the suggested meditation for moving forward, the prescribed medication for our many illnesses, the inoculation against the fear holding us back. Perhaps Tool has always been a presence in the frightening shadows before us, that encouraging voice calling out from the abyss, beckoning us to follow the bread crumbs back home… or at least somewhere better.
Musically they are as immaculate live as they are on their albums. The sustained discipline of their intricate rhythms, their established themes which bend, progress into something new, and then return… their overall approach to songwriting bares more resemblance to classical compositions than what one generally expects of a rock band. Seeing all that combined with their visual show and the energy of several thousand fellow fans is a uniquely powerful and spiritual experience. Tool never rips-off their audience. Yet another bonus of this present tour is a strict rule against cell phones being used for photos or videos during Tool's set. It had been a while since I had seen an arena show without a sea of up-raised cell screens floating in the lower periphery of my field of vision and it provided yet another reason to be nostalgic about the '90s… Following a tradition of intentionally selecting their opening bands, the Tacoma audience was presented with Steel Beans, a one-man-band on drums, guitar, and vocals that is truly unique. Imagine Dick van Dyke's character from Mary Poppins on a little bit of meth and with a lot more vulgarity. Whatever you may think of it, it's interesting.
Concerts are expensive, the fees charged on top of the actual ticket price are comically criminal, and as yet another aging rock fan it does get tougher with time to push myself to find parking, be herded through security, and accept all the ordeals that come with going to an arena concert. That being said, if you have the opportunity to see Tool live I would highly recommend taking it. This is not a joyless, cash-grab reunion tour. This is not a remember their greatest hits marathon. This is four time-tested, serious musicians who have never stopped exploring their craft and they have new creations to share with you. They're waiting, the syringe is dripping, and they want to inoculate you against a world filled with mediocrity.