Live Music + Gig Reviews

Tool @ Hammersmith Apollo, London

14 June 2006

Life is full of little pleasures, it’s just a matter of taking the opportunities while they present themselves. Cue a blitz of furious mouse-clicking as I realised Tool tickets had finally been released on the web. Making a typically brief visit to these shores after a first UK festival appearance for five years, the response to these American heroes is as fervent as ever, and tickets vanish within hours.

The reason being is that Tool are a band that have simply everything. With four universally-acclaimed masterpieces behind them, a live show that sends critics into spirals of superlatives, the band also boasts four of the finest rock musicians anywhere. Culminating with the furtive Maynard James Keenan, a man who now spends half his time enthralling the world with A Perfect Circle, his second of several bands that he fronts. Busy work indeed, no wonder nobody can get near him, but when you have the most exquisite rock voice of this generation, that can do the talking for you.

Unsurprising, then, that a rammed Hammersmith Apollo is sufficiently excited to roar its appreciation on hearing the guitar sound-check. When the lights dim, and the black curtain recedes to display the band standing poised for action, the noise is simply deafening.

Opening with Stinkfist, the first track from 1996’s nima, gives the swelling crowd perfect opportunity to display the extent of their following. Every voice seems to scream the words back at Maynard, every fist raised to beat out the tantric rhythms that are furiously delivered by a band clearly feeding off such a perfect reception. Adding to the conceptual side of Tool’s music, the band largely appear as four silhouettes against the four giant screens that loom behind them. The images switch between the trippy plasticine creatures that frequent Tool’s music videos, to a hallucinogenic wash of colours and shapes; with each song a different story appears to be played out, adding a unique and fascinating dimension to the evening’s proceedings.

Maynard, sporting a sleek black Mohican, only has to ask inane questions such as “Are there any Irish people in?” to raise a cheer between songs, the sound of his voice alone will do. With The Pot, this voice reaches its peak, flowing effortlessly through a range of dynamics and octaves before bursting into an enduring bellow which is echoed superbly by the crowd. Not to be outdone, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey flourish their devastating ability with the time-signature gambol that is Schism. Backed by its darkly disturbing video, this track is a notable highlight. Consisting, as with most Tool songs, of numerous seemingly separate movements merged into one lengthy and challenging epic, the band even finds time for a glorious drum solo mid-way through.

It is fresh interjections such as this which make the live show that Tool produce so memorable, and much of this work comes from Danny Carey. Rendered almost invisible behind an enormous drum set-up, his work with bongos, bells and an ear-splitting gong is indicative of a band that knows no bounds. Maynard, by this point donning an Eddie Vedder-style white hat, contributes to the storming live sound by sampling his own backing vocals into the mix.

After crowd favourites Sober and Lateralus, every hand rises in appreciation as the band prepare to leave the stage. But instead of doing so the four men, with enormous grins on their faces, sit down at the front of the stage for their pre-encore breather. With a flick of the wrist, Maynard raises and drops the noises of adulation that emanate from the floor; this may well be the best example of audience-crowd interaction that I have ever seen. All that remains is for new single Vicarious and the classic nema, with its menacingly tribal outro, to be delivered , before bandmates are seen embracing at the end of what they know was an absolute triumph.

And it could have been better. Such is the quality of Tool’s back catalogue, several more of the band’s best moments do not get an airing. One of the downsides, perhaps, of being a band at the very top of their game.

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