It has been a long time since prog-metal band Tool graced the Emerald Isle. Their last performance here was in 2006 at The Point Theatre in Dublin, which was technically the same venue as the one for their sixteen-year return. To illustrate this passing of time, The Point Theatre has been reconstructed to hold double the capacity since back then and has gone through two different corporate sponsors in that time, from The O2 Arena to the now 3Arena.
Yet, in that vast amount of time, there was only one album released by the band, 2019’s Fear Inoculum, so technically, Ireland has been included in each album’s tour cycle since 2001’s Lateralus. The Irish love for Tool had not dissipated in the decade-and-a-half since their last performance here, as was evident by the packed house.
Support for the night came from the brilliant Brass Against. Brass Against could be considered a novelty act if such a term wasn’t seen as a pejorative, but remember, I used the adjective “brilliant” before mentioning them, so there’s no negativity intended here.
The novelty of the act is in what they dub “horny metal,” i.e., alt-metal covers played with a drum, guitar and brass section. The band have been on the rise in popularity and recently had their cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” play over the credits of the latest Matrix film.
Walking out in matching white jumpsuits, as if Devo had gone to the cleaners, the band present their marching-band-on-mescaline approach to tracks like Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name Of,” Audioslave’s “Cochise,” Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” Deftones’ “My Own Summer (Shove It),” and even Tool’s own “Stinkfist” and “Forty-Six & 2.”
In a lot of ways, Brass Against – a band known mainly for their Rage covers – feels kind of full circle for Tool in Ireland, as the band made their Irish debut in ’93, opening for Rage Against the Machine on their European tour, which included dates at Dublin’s Tivoli Theatre and Belfast’s Ulster Hall. Yet, despite being musically spot-on, a lot of Brass Against’s covers actually elicited laughter. Admittedly, this was laughter of recognition for the song being played, normally followed by an encouraging cheer, but it is interesting how the simple choice of instrumentation can not only be a novelty or gimmick but how it can induce totally different reactions from the audience. If the band had been of a traditional set-up of guitars, bass and drum, no matter how spot-on their performance was, there wouldn’t have been such a warm reception to a set of covers.
Now that the band have established their genre of horny metal through covers, it will be great to see them perform more original tracks. There was one original song on display – “Umbra” - but the band have legs beyond just the initial novelty of recognising a brass section performing some of your favourite metal tracks.
Signposts throughout the venue read, “Tonight’s show has a strict no-camera policy which includes cell phones. We respectively request that you please watch and listen to the show, not your phone. You will be ejected from the show without the opportunity to return without a refund if you violate this simple request and elect to take photos throughout the performance.” Throughout the night, voices came over the address speakers restating this policy. At one point, I overheard a fan asking one of the venue’s staff, “How are you enforcing the no camera policy?” to which the unprepared staffer, not expecting the question, simply replied, “Eh…I don’t know.”
But the no camera policy and the constant reminders really did seem to make the crowd cognisant of putting their phones away and paying attention to the elaborate stage production that the band had put together.
A lot has been written about the visual components of Tool, particularly their live shows and album art. The greatest attention is often given to the Alex Grey psychedelic art of the human body, mind and eyes, and while those are certainly key components to the visuals, there’s so much more on offer.
It is not just psychedelic weirdness; there’s a trip of peripatetic landscapes that brings you from the serene and tranquil to the damned and apocalyptic in a single song, as well as kaleidoscopic images of drummer Danny Carey in real-time as he plays “Chocolate Chip Trip,” or dancing light figures or, in the case of “Sober,” simply projecting the music video.
For the first half of the concert, the band were behind an oval-shaped string curtain, where the projections did most of the visual legwork. After a while, the curtains got peeled back to show more of the on-stage monitors, which served for their own kind of visual madness, such as making the stage look like it was melting at one point. There was also a lighting centrepiece above the stage, which, depending on your perception, either resembled a pentagram or a Star of David and moving overhead lights that served to distort the audiences’ perception of space with subtle movements. None of that is even getting into the light show throughout, which would be a huge tangent, but suffice to say, all of the visual components worked in tandem to give the audience the trippy visual extravaganza expected of a Tool concert.
Embracing the stage instead of witnessing it second-hand through your phone’s camera really does help to elevate the odyssey that the band’s music takes you on. The no camera policy which, from what I gather from overhearing was initially derided as needlessly restrictive, was therefore much appreciated.
Cross-referencing the setlist for the night with the other setlists on the tour, the sets seem to be made up of a majority of tracks from Fear Inoculum, with a couple of older tracks (“The Pot,” “Pushit” and “Hooker With a Penis”) as consistent cores throughout, two interchangeable tracks from Lateralus and a different fan-favourite each night. In the case of the Dublin show, this was “Sober”.
This set makes sense as not only are the band promoting Fear Inoculum, so they would obviously favour songs on that album, but they also seem reluctant to want to wallow in nostalgia. The older tracks seem somewhat obligatory as the band want to push forward and focus on the future. It’s noticeable that many of the tracks of yesteryear are pushed to the front of the setlist, making up almost the first half of the show before the curtains are pulled back, with “Hooker With a Penis” being played as the song before the encore. It almost seems like a culling of the crowd who just want to hear the hits.
The playing of the old tracks seems somewhat in line with the band’s sardonic edge. “Holy fucking shit; we’re in Dublin,” says singer Maynard James Keenan twice at the beginning of the show; seemingly mocking artists who elicit the name of the city they’re in for cheap applause.
Maynard’s stage presence is primitive, as he stands in an arched position, constantly swaying and beating his chest like he’s the missing link in the evolutionary chain. What little between-song banter there is expectedly wry and sarcastic.
As with the established formality of the no camera policy, many felt that the whole crowd being seated was a prerequisite from the band to enhance the experience. After a standing ovation following “The Pot,” the crowd sat down again and Maynard quipped, “Are you tired? I’m 58-years-old and I’m standing up,” before talking about getting food poisoning earlier and risking shitting his pants. “If I’m risking shitting my pants for you,” he continued, “you can stand the fuck up.”
The audience was more than happy to oblige. For the rest of the night, the crowd indulged in some magnificently complex and seemingly-infinite soundscapes and drank in the worlds that Tool brought them to. And while, yes, there are uses of synths and who knows what Danny has hidden behind that drum kit, it’s quite amazing that this music that seems like it can be classified as both world music and out-of-this-world music simultaneously is being made with the basic band set-up of guitar, drum and bass.
Maynard’s voice accompanying this music seems both harsh and aggressive, yet also beautiful and melodic. It really does stand out in not only the metal genre but all music. It is no wonder why Tool is as prominent as they are. No one else can do it like them.
Before the final song, “Invincible,” Maynard announces, “Good news. You can now take out your stupid cell phones and record the last song.” The sudden appearances of the blue lights from all the mobile phones really did serve to snap you out of the hypnotic state that the band’s music and production had worked so hard to earn up until this point. Suddenly, you’re in a sea of phones all recording the same thing and it is a major distraction.
“Holy fucking shit; we’re in Dublin,” Maynard repeats one last time. As the show ends and the lights go up, it is like coming out of hypnotherapy. You’re so dazed and lightheaded and your raging, ringing ears let you know just how many decibels have hit you over the last two and a half hours.
Tool really gave it their all at the show. Talking afterwards with friends who were also there, some were disappointed that they didn’t play this song or that song, but I feel that the hits they did play were the band being magnanimous. It felt like they just wanted to have a show fully dedicated to their new material, but decided to give the fans a little something here and there.
While there are some variations in the set each night, as a musician myself (albeit, not nearly as good as the members of Tool), the idea of playing that set each night for an entire tour would annihilate me. So, I now understand the gaps in their touring and release schedules. I hope they have a good slumber after this, and Ireland will be ready for them again when they return sometime between now and when the sun explodes.