Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tool Show, Feeling Beat

Wow, I'm beat. My friend Pennie and I hit the Tool show at the Frank Erwin Center last night -- first concert I've been to in a while. Definitely the loudest I've been to in years. Got in a bit after midnight, had a somewhat crumby night sleep, and made it to the office this morning by 8:00. I think it's gonna be a long day.

Anyhow, the show was great, if a bit different from any other concert I've attended before. I've never seen Tool live but I'd always heard they put on an amazing show, although the band members aren't particularly animated. I'd say that statement sums the show up, although it's both something of an overstatement and an understatement.

The show was really very, very good. The band played flawlessly, and the sound quality was actually pretty darn good for an arena -- damn loud, but only overwhelming at a few moments -- and the light and video design was spectacular. Six video screens in an array around the stage, a very large projection screen above the stage, and several elaborate articulated lighting rigs as well. Here are a few shots to give you an idea of the view from where I sat/stood:

We were seated directly across from the stage, maybe 15-20 feet above stage level -- perfect seats for this kind of show, in my opinion. The entire stage design was about big visual impact -- lots of lighting effects, fog, interesting/bizarre visual imagery, and so forth. My crapola camera phone wasn't up to the task of capturing any pics that showed the video screens with any clarity, but I think you get the idea.

Anyway, musically the show was pretty terrific. As I said Tool played flawlessly, faithfully and meticulously reproducing the sound and feel of their recorded music. A few songs were extended and reworked slightly, with additional solos and jam sections worked well -- mostly: they did make the really irritating choice of having about 6 minutes of extra drum-solo garbage with a guest drummer jammed into the second half of "Lateralus." That's my favorite Tool song, and the drum solo nonsense didn't do anything to improve it. Quite the opposite if anything. Oh well, what can you do? It might have worked better if the guest drummer (Terry Bozzio) had been properly miked so we could actually hear what he was doing. Overall, a dead spot.

Visually the show was mind-blowing. the video imagery that accompanied the songs was programmed and sequenced extremely well, perfectly pacing the changes in the music. Lighting was moody and complex, with fog and laser-style lighting used to excellent effect on many occasions. So, lots to look at and see.

Which is, well, a good thing, because while they may be amazing musicians Tool doesn't seem to know/care about being live entertainers. The lighting and video do all the entertaining for them -- the band mostly acts like a live soundtrack, barely even registering as individuals once they begin playing. They take the stage, take their places evenly distributed in a nice array, and play. They don't interact with each other at all, they don't move around (even Maynard hardly moved from his spot, rarely -- if at all -- engaging in any of the theatrics typical of singers). Almost no dialog with the audience aside from an admonition to not get too drunk too early as "we have a lot of stuff to get through tonight."

Overall, I understand the reason for this: these guys play some very intricate stuff. There aren't a lot of opportunities for the sort of strutting and mugging that most rock bands engage in, and if they were hopping around and goofing off chances are they'd screw up the songs. But I do think it was odd that Maynard would just sort of stand there and tap his foot while gesturing toward the other band members during extended instrumental sections. I don't know if he's got serious stage fright or just doesn't like to interact with audiences or what, but he kept such a distance from the crowd and was so overshadowed by the lighting/video/stage design that he might as well have been singing from offstage.

And this distant quality that the band had, coupled with the spectacular attention to detail in the performance and the incredibly saturated video/lighting design really created an odd effect: I felt like I was at the greatest laser show ever, not at a concert. The show as a whole didn't have a sense of "live-ness" at all. Little spontaneity, only a few brief moments of interaction with the crowd, and visual elements that seemed specifically designed to overshadow, dwarf, even make secondary, the human beings on-stage actually playing the music.

Now, this may be by design -- a lot of musicians are faced with the rather daunting dilemma of not being overly fond of playing front of large crowds but also having to do so for business reasons: choosing to let the lighting do the "large scale" entertaining while you plug away at delivering top quality music is a perfectly valid choice that at least attempts to give the audience what they've paid for. But it was easily the chilliest emotional response I've ever had to a live performance before.

Most acts try to at least communicate with their audience a bit, telling a few jokes, making a few comments about the town or current events, or otherwise attempting to acknowledge the audience and make them feel more a part of the performance. Some acts truly excel at this, with the charisma of the musicians somehow making the folks in the back row feel like they're 3 feet from the stage. Bono/U2 and Bruce Springsteen are, in my opinion, the epitome of this -- I've seen them both multiple times, in various sizes of venues, with both good seats and crap seats, and have always been utterly drawn in, emotionally, to the show. There was almost no effort whatsoever on the part of Tool to do this. In terms of feeling any sense of connection to the performers on-stage, this was roughly the equivalent of watching a fairly good concert video. Only without any close-ups.

And then there was the set list. A good set -- about 1:45 of music -- but I think we got shortchanged. By my recollection we got the following:

Forty-Six and 2
Rosetta Stoned (but no Lost Keys/Blame Hoffman)
Wings for Marie/10,000 Days

We also had some extended interlude bits -- instrumental noodling or pure sequenced synth stuff to give the band a few minutes to get some water and stretch out before diving into the next song. But a brief look around the web shows that many other set lists featured all of these songs along with "Right in Two," or "Aenema" (another personal fave), even the occasional inclusions of "Opiate" or "Swamp Song," and also included the "Lost Keys/Blame Hoffman" intro to "Rosetta Stoned." Any of these would have been an amazing addition to the show.

Add to this the fact that once they finished up "Vicarious" Maynard basically waved for about 15 seconds, chucked his water bottles into the audience one at a time, and then walked off-stage about 30-45 seconds before the rest of the band (who at least stood around and waved for a while, although an encore would have been nicer...), and the only impression I get is that a certain lead singer is jut not all that into doing this live performance thing anymore, or is just not that into this band anymore. One thing is certain: he couldn't wait to get this thing done with so he could move along.

So, while I have some mixed feelings about the show overall, I'm really glad I went. Terrific music, great lighting, decent sound design for an arena show, and a mostly A+ experience, if an oddly uninvolving one, emotionally. I'd definitely see them, again, although I'd adjust my expectations a bit -- their live performance style is atypical, I'd say, but they definitely work to create an amazing experience on the whole. But I don't know -- I'm getting the distinct feeling that it may be a long time before I get to see Tool live again.

If ever. The behavior of the band, or more specifically of Maynard, throughout the evening, really seemed to indicate that he's pretty much over this whole thing -- the songs, the other guys in the band, the audiences, the whole enchilada. This is made even more apparent by the fact that this was the first night back on tour after a multi-month break. It's not really a big stretch to expect that they would seem invigorated and recharged -- instead, they seemed polished, clean, flawless, and bored.

Some more pics:

During "Flood," (I think):
During "Wings for Marie/10,000 Days":
During "Lateralus":
End of show:
Mood: Tired, a bit harried (heading out of town for Thanksgiving week tomorrow -- driving from Texas to North Carolina)
Now Playing: Seal, "System"

1 comment:

M1EK said...

Compare/contrast to the Foo Fighters show (my last major concert) - Grohl ran through the arena giving high fives on an instrumental number (I got one, was at top row of lower bowl).