Prior to last August, it had been 4,872 days since Tool released 10,000 Days. That’s more days than most middle school-aged humans have under their belts. That period encompasses the entire Obama presidency and quite a bit on either side. It’s longer than the period from when Ringo joined The Beatles to when The Beatles were no longer a thing. It’s a significant chunk of time!
When you take 13-plus years to bake some new music, there will likely be some unrealistic expectations about what the result will sound like. Playing styles evolve, some musical tropes get stale, addiction (or recovery) poaches band members, people tend to mellow out (or become grumpy) as they age... a Kardashian turns a reproduction tour T-shirt into a fashion statement, and next thing you know, your favorite rocker is on Twitter picking fights with millenials (aka: “Would you all get off my lawn?!”).
The good news is Tool has largely avoided all those things. Fear Inoculum is actually pretty great. It’s recognizably Tool but moves in some interesting, newish directions. (They’ll probably never make anything as angry as 1996’s Ænima again, but we can’t win ’em all, I suppose.) It has a couple bangers on it. Danny Carey (drums) and Justin Chancellor (bass) are still doing badass, jazzy time signature things and fiddling around in strange tempos. Adam Jones is still mishmashing guitar styles together in interesting prog rock ways. Maynard James Keenan is still writing mostly inscrutable lyrics and coming across as a smart, paranoid weirdo. As far as I know, only Keenan is on Twitter and seems to limit his tweet game to wine and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Okay, great: But can Tool still put on a show? On March 10 at the Moda Center—despite the world collectively losing its damn mind and canceling everything to stop Covid-19—it was a full house. Tool alternately ripped through new material (“Fear Inoculum,” “Pneuma,” “7empest” and “Descending”) and classics (“Ænima,” “Schism,” “Jambi,” “Forty Six & 2” and “Stinkfist”) with a 30-foot video backdrop and projector screen curtains doused in borderline disturbing Tool visuals (see previous links and more below). Carey rocked a Rip City (Trail Blazers) jersey. Keenan stayed in character as a weird stage goblin in the shadows, including absconding with someone’s amp in the midst of one of the long instrumental stretches. The fine ladies and gents all around me were screaming every lyric and losing their cool. “Fucking TOOL, am I right? Bump it out bro!” About the only thing missing from the set was “The Grudge.” (Or as my brother-in-law referred to it: “Still one of the best composed rock songs ever.” Hi Jarett!) I loved it.
If this was the last large musical event Oregon sees for a while (as the Eugene show the following night was canceled, along with basketball games, high school marching band, the Oregon Symphony, and basically everything else), that was a hell of a note to end on.