The band Tool posits a conundrum. Its members--Maynard James Keenan, Danny Carey, Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor--bring a spiritual awareness to their music and their live performances that opposes the oblivious fist pumping and head-banging of many of its fans as well as the soulless machinations of the venues.
Their music dualistically elevates the positive energy and attracts negative people and their behavior. I noticed this at the outset of Tool’s appearance, Jan. 18, at the Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque. It took awhile for me to settle in and then throughout the show, I alternated between participating in my surroundings, and observing them intellectually. This forced me to acknowledge that something was missing.
I saw Tool the last time on my 24th birthday in 2010. I had ingested an adequate amount of psilocybin mushrooms at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I gave up the ordinary world and my concerns attached to it, letting my inner compass guide me. I felt that time and space had shifted into a dimension ruled by love, though I was watching from the outside. Synchronicities aligned, trust enveloped me. And Tool supplied the soundtrack. Super dope.
The Jan. 18 show at Tingley presented me with mixed feelings. I’m pregnant, and so had to prepare myself to be sober, not reluctantly, but curiously: How would my experience compare to my first one a year and a half ago? I tried to drop my expectations, but I couldn’t help but hope that Tool wouldn’t disappoint. We arrived to a disorganized staff, simultaneously attempting to usher my photographer to the pit for a photo, while distractedly managing other duties. I went to our seats.
Our box seats along stage right were jam-packed with bodies, neatly, but uncomfortably, people haphazardly spilling into the stairs. Many fed off the excitement, including myself rocking back and forth in anticipation—while others stood cross-armed, seemingly bored. Burnt pot and tobacco permeated the air, and I wondered how much fun can be had in high-security, huge venues made for cattle herding more than good ol’ rocking out and vigorous partying. My photographer returned during the opening song, “Hooker with a Penis,” complaining that he’d lost his escort and never made it to the pit. He began shooting from our seats.
Processing the paradox of freedom-fighting music to the restrictions of the environment took me through the first three songs: “Hooker,” followed by “Jambi” and “Stinkfist.” Projections and lights aimed at metaphysical suggestion, in a creepily compelling aesthetic, accompanied each tune.
I occasionally tried to get out of my head but felt stuck on a list of ancillary complaints: the venue was too big and impersonal; the drums were hard to hear; we stood among strangers competing for a clear view of the stage. Then, midway through “Schism,” security muscled us out because they caught my photographer taking photos. After failed attempts to reach anyone with authority and a curse-laden shouting match between my photographer and coliseum staff, they booted us. After a huge ego check for my partner who’s accustomed to access, we returned to the box office, where we contacted our escort again and he return to our seats.
I drew these conclusions: Drop all expectation; a person in uniform has no interest in your story, nor the ability or willingness to do anything about it. We must be impeccable with our own integrity in the face of others’ lack of professionalism.
We re-entered, probably around “Forty-Six& 2,” and I finally decided to tune out everything around me, becoming entranced in the visual affects that have earned Tool its rep. The foursome is known for using screens to paint a story coinciding with the song. According to a tall Texan rocker I met, who was on his 13th Tool concert, no other band since Pink Floyd provides as elaborate a visual experience as Tool.
Whether this is true or not—what about U2, for example—I felt entranced by the shapes and lines depicting sacred geometry, like those in artist Alex Gray’s work. During “Lateralus,” for instance, the projections depicted a person outlined in red that turned into a lime-green, red, tangerine, kundalini flame, and finally into a geometrically constructed person with all the energetic meridians connected, activating seven red dots indicating the locations of a person’s chakras. My eyes kept getting bigger and bigger, while all else around me was forgotten.
Then a familiar lyric or screeching guitar note would jar me back. I’d find myself dipping into Carey’s powerful rhythms, tribal chants I felt vibrating up from my feet to my mouth. Involuntary laughter escaped through my teeth.
I don’t think that, though Maynard screams his lyrics, he intends anger: “I sure could use a vacation from this/ Bullshit three ring circus sideshow of/ Freaks/ Here in this hopeless fucking hole we call LA/ the only way to fix it is to flush it all away.” He is passionately observing how mindlessly lost we run amok looking for meaning in life, many not finding any. I resonate with Maynard’s desire for humanity to change, but I don’t feel violent about it, nor do I take these lyrics as a personal mantra or manifesto as some of Tools fans seemingly do.
In the final verse of “Ænima,” the lights faded to Maynard’s hymn-like voice, and I felt content. Whatever brought the other 9,000 people to Tingley that night, I remained ultimately unaffected by all the rules and suffocation of a hardened industry concerned mostly with profits. Despite all the ways this show could have paralleled Tool’s performance at Red Rocks, I let it be what it was—four undeniably talented musicians gift us with their craft and vision. I just took the long route to having this experience this time. Conundrum solved.
Photo by Matthew Irwin