Review - Tool @ the SAP Center (1/14/20)

Tool's Maynard James Keenan @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Tool's Maynard James Keenan @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
It's been nearly two and a half years since the four-piece prog metal band Tool visited the Bay Area, but that drought was declared over with their performance earlier this week at the SAP Center in San Jose. The band's been on the road since releasing their 2019 opus, Fear Inoculum (Spotify) in September, and what ensued this past Tuesday night was an aural and visual onslaught that lasted nearly 4 hours. Joining Tool on this tour was Author & Punisher, a solo noise-industrial artist known for his custom built mechanical rig which he uses to power-drive his music home -- definitely not for the faint of heart, but old-school industrial fans will appreciate his music.



But the main attraction of the night was certainly Tool. The band put on an absolute masterclass of musicianship that was anchored by drummer extraordinaire, Danny Carey, who as usual was positioned center stage wearing his trademark Lakers jersey (#8) and surrounded by an ever growing drum kit that featured a full-size gong later in the night and a giant curved vertical keyboard that was played like a xylophone positioned almost directly behind him. Between Danny, and bassist Justin Chancellor, the driving rhythm section challenged all of us in the audience to keep up with the intricate time signatures that define Tool's prog-metal sound. Justin, who commanded front stage right, was kept company by guitarist Adam Jones on the left side of the stage who offered up the tones he's most known for with his custom Gibson Les Paul guitars. Those core members of the band may be the 'face' of Tool, but the voice has always come from Maynard James Keenan. Often shrouded in darkness and dawning a costume of sorts, this night would be slightly different than the past. This night found MJK dawning only a faux mohawk and Joker-style face paint. Gone was his SWAT tactical gear, helmet and glasses when we last saw him (see here) and although he was still relatively hidden in the darkness, this was by far the most visible I can remember seeing MJK in a long time as he belted out vocals from one of two hidden risers positioned on either side of Danny. And for the eagle eyes in the audience, MJK again cross-promoted another musical side-project of his with a 'Puscifer' logo donned across the chest of his leather jacket.
Tool's Danny Carey @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Tool's Danny Carey @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
As artists and musicians, a Tool concert has never been about running around on stage and engaging with the fans... a Tool concert is first and foremost about the sensory experience of the music itself. As an example, for roughly the first 30 minutes of the show, the band performed behind a curtain of string that offered a somewhat obstructed view of the band, but allowed the lighting effects to bounce off the string that was suspended above and hung in a semi-circular fashion to hide the performers. The curtain was pulled back for the middle section of the show, and instead of the curtain to obstruct our view, a massive video wall at the back of the stage displayed images to again distract us from watching the band themselves. The curtain of string returned for the back third of the show before getting pulled back once more for the closing numbers. Using the curtain reminded me of how Pink Floyd built a Wall during their early 80's tour of the same name and album -- physically separating the band from the audience -- a metaphor on multiple levels, and used in a similar vein with Tool. Not to necessarily block the audience from the band, but rather distance the band from connecting with the audience and forcing our focus to be on the music they were creating.
Justin Chancellor of Tool @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Justin Chancellor of Tool @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
I'll be honest and admit that my focus was mainly on the stage throughout the night, but realized late into the show during "Forty Six & Two" that the band had also positioned two rows of suspended spotlights towards the back of the arena -- and not to point towards the stage, but for ambient lighting effects that were mainly pointed towards the lower level and lower back corners of the arena. Once I realized they were there, the additional lights created a depth to the experience that I can't say I've seen before at a show like this.
Adam Jones of Tool @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Adam Jones of Tool @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
As for the music, the show was one of the best performances by Tool that I can remember in a long time. The opening number of "Fear Inoculum" set the tone for the rest of the show which featured what I considered a great mix of songs across nearly all of their albums: Fear Inoculum, 10,000 Days, Lateralus, and ├ćnima. My only surprise was that they didn't include a song from their first full length album, Undertow, but besides that, I couldn't have asked for more. The full setlist is below and I've included our video of "Stinkfist" so you can see for yourself how elaborate the visuals were.



With Danny's drumming at the core of the band, it was hard not to reflect on the recent passing of Rush's drummer, Neil Peart, I couldn't help but make comparisons throughout the night to Danny and his playing style. Neil undeniably impacted modern drumming techniques, but Danny is also in a class to himself and I can only assume was influenced and inspired by Neil's drumming of the '70's and '80's.
Maynard James Keenan of Tool @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Maynard James Keenan of Tool @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
I'll close by saying that this review has been one of the hardest to write, primarily because of the intense security personnel who were out in force to ensure everyone kept their phones in their pockets throughout the night. I usually use my phone to take notes throughout a show, but when I attempted to simply check the time on my phone, I got a tap on my shoulder by one of the security guards warning me to keep my phone in my pocket for the duration of the show. Finally, just before their closing number, Maynard announced from the stage that 'You can now do what you've been wanting to do all night, security, stand down. You can now pull out your phones.' And nearly immediately, a sea of backlit displays appeared throughout the crowd. Should you have a chance to catch them play live in the future, I'd be surprised if the band doesn't apply the same type of security technique, but take it from me, do what you can to engage in the moment and and experience both the aural and visual art that these guys clearly put so much time and energy into crafting. A Tool concert is unlike any you'll most likely ever see.
Author & Punisher @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Author & Punisher @ SAP Center, San Jose, CA (Photo: Kevin Keating)
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Tool Setlist SAP Center at San Jose, San Jose, CA, USA 2020, Fear Inoculum

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