Last night in Cincinnati marked the inaugural event at the newly renamed Heritage Bank Center (formerly US Bank Arena) and what a christening it was as thousands gathered to see TOOL who is currently on tour with their third and final album in a contract with the label Volcano that has spanned over 20 years! TOOL fans welcomed the band home as if they never left and the joy that seemed to exist within each band member proved to reassure everyone in the audience that TOOL is in a good place right now. For many it may have felt like a different band than one of the iterations they met in previous years, but for those like myself who were introduced to TOOL during the release of the angsty Lateralus album in high school it was kind of beautiful to see how that band we once knew has evolved with us into a much more life-experienced group with hope and positivity.
The production as you might expect was simple yet beautiful. The video screen presented imagery from past albums and, as always with TOOL, was truly cohesive with the mood of every song played. Laser lights cut across the ceiling above the crowd illuminating the fog filling the room creating textures that mirrored the swirls of bourbon cutting through ginger ale like the one in my hand for the show. As fans have experienced before, Maynard James Keenan floated mysteriously in the background making every occasional erratic motion made by him a crowd-rousing moment. Despite the physical distance between each band member on stage there was a warm chemistry between them that could not be denied. It really felt as though TOOL was very much in their element playing together again.
When I’ve heard others try to describe TOOL it generally takes the form of a continuous schizophrenic stream of words that do not ever really find their resolve or tell you what you are supposed to think about their music. Comparably, the music itself presents the same dilemma in which TOOL almost enjoys burying themselves in questions and the music continues lamenting in these places, content with exploring in a way where it is as though they don’t wish to ever find the answers to the questions they pose. When at a live TOOL concert there is a clear and defined beginning and end to each song, but the non-conventional time signatures and ambient nature of most tracks allow the band to draw a line between pretty much any two songs within their collection. Similarly, there appears to be no wrong way for your body to react to TOOL. You will see some sway to the lyric, some pop along to the bass, and some thrashing their head back and forth to the drums as if there are three different rhythms being heard at the same time. As unusual and random as the musical decisions appear to be within the music, this band is one of the most technically proficient and intentional bands I have ever heard live.
In closing, I will say my first TOOL concert was in a word, experiential. You can certainly see there is a lot of focus placed on making sure that while non-directional in the destination you arrive, they request that the audience explores their musical journey with them in tandem with the emotions you may currently be sorting through in your own personal journey. I recommend seeing this show whether you are an avid TOOL fan or the occasional “taster” such as myself!