The last time Tool visited Australia was close to seven years ago. Their seventh time in the country, it was difficult to find diehard fans who would complain about seeing these legends of progressive-rock on the live stage. However, their presence was undoubtedly a little bit hollow to some, with the group having visited three times since the release of their fourth album, 2006’s 10,000 Days.
Of course, much of the music news of 2019 was occupied by discussions of Tool’s latest album, with the long-awaited Fear Inoculum showing up after 13 years, a lawsuit, and questions about whether the band would actually ever release anything again.
To help cap off a year to remember for the band, November saw the outfit share the dates of their first Australian tour since 2013, with most dates promptly selling out.
With months of eager waiting soon following, Saturday evening saw Tool finally return to Melbourne, taking up residence at Rod Laver Arena for the first date of a two-night stand.
Before the Los Angeles quartet could take to the stage though, fans were treated to the industrial experience that is Author & Punisher. Likened by some in the crowd to being a “metal DJ” of sorts, this one-man project of Tristan Shore was undoubtedly something that needed to be seen to be believed.
Between droning, atmospheric sections punctuated by pneumatic beats, howled vocals, and eclectic samples, the lengthy set often drew parallels with artists like KMFDM, Ministry, or evening Tool’s own 1996 deep cut, “Die Eier Von Satan”.
Though it was clear many in the audience were conflicted by the performance (with an obvious division between those who couldn’t quite understand it and those who couldn’t get enough), the consistent arrival of crushing sounds – akin to that of hell itself being unleashed – served as the closest thing to a perfect mood-setter that fans could hope for.
With avid excitement reaching fever pitch as time marched on, the appearance of a clear curtain around the stage signalled the return of Tool to Melbourne.
As drummer Danny Carey (whose forthcoming performance would truly see him become worthy of comparisons to an octopus) kicked off the title track of their latest record, the musical slow-burn soon reached its mesmerising peak with the vocals of frontman Maynard James Keenan forcefully cascading over the exceptional work of guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor.
With the spotlight overlooking the band’s members (as is tradition), the presence of immersive visuals, frenetic lights and lasers, and accompanying music videos helped to put the tunes into context; ebbing and flowing as the blistering rhythms and melodies did the same.
Though a few surprises followed throughout the setlist (including the presence of “The Patient” and “Part of Me”), a handful of omissions clearly stood out (including the absence of “Parabol” and the recently-debuted “7empest”), though the entire set was enough to be remembered as one of the finest collections of the band’s tracks performed on stage for some time.
Though a Tool concert is often noted for its atmospheric presentation, visual accompaniment, and (in Australia, at least) comparable rarity, the true star of the show is the collective musicianship of the band members themselves. While acute and shifting time signatures may serve as a barrier of entry to some newcomers to the band, the presence of this undoubtedly added to the rich tapestry of the evening, with extended instrumental sections highlighting the sheer talent of the rhythm section.
Even the post-intermission/encore performance of drummer Danny Carey’s “Chocolate Chip Trip” became more than just a percussive spotlight, with its outstanding technical proficiency likely inspiring a few fans to pick up the sticks and take to their nearest kit.
Closing out the night with the ubiquitous “Stinkfist”, Maynard took this as an opportunity to flex his charitable muscles, requesting security stand down so that the ban of photography and video may be lifted for this final song.
Of course, with a veritable sea of phone backlights illuminating the audience, the 1996 classic rang out across the venue, soundtracking impromptu moshpits as eager black-shirted fans wrapped up a night they’d remember forever.
For longtime fans of Tool, the group’s concerts are something akin to a religious experience. In fact, it was quite easy to find folks in the crowd who were spouting the fact that they’d managed to attend numerous stops on this latest tour; effectively putting the humble effects of casual fans to shame.
However, it’s refreshing to see a performance from a band who show little to no pretence. Sure, the band’s fans may attract similar criticism at times, though Tool themselves are a group who rely heavily on allowing their music to speak for itself; almost wholly removing the human aspect and allowing focus to rest mainly on music and visuals.
With the band’s intent to make this an immersive experience, the coupling of a lack of mobile phones throughout the crowd truly allowed for a show which could be enjoyed – dare we say – like the good old days. In fact, if anything, this concert quickly became the very example of what a gig should be, with the outfit putting on one of the finest shows you’ll ever see, and pairing it with an experience very rarely seen in this day and age.
Though Tool have now wrapped up the first night of their long-awaited return to Melbourne, some lucky fans clearly are clearly looking towards the next night with the excitement of doing it again, undoubtedly hoping that round two might just result in the potential appearance of the elusive “7empest”. Time will tell, but for those who witnessed the band’s first night in Melbourne, it’ll be hard to compare anything to this example of musical perfection.
Tool @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne 22/02/20 Setlist
‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’
‘Part of Me’
‘Forty Six & 2’
‘Chocolate Chip Trip’
Tool Australian Tour 2020
With special guest Author & Punisher
Sunday, February 23rd
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, VIC (All Ages)
Tickets: Ticketek | Ph: 132 849