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Learn to swim: (l-r) Adam Jones, Maynard James Keenan, and Justin Chancellor of Tool.

Photo: Martin Benjamin

Sobering

By David King

Tool, Big Business

Times Union Center, July, 14

The Times Union Center felt like a doctor’s office on Saturday night. Going to a doctor isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is sometimes enjoyable to marvel at their impressive gadgetry and general wealth of knowledge. Then again, there was supposed to be a Tool concert going on.

Tool took the sterile, white stage as roadies in white lab coats scurried about. The band got off to a driving start with “Jambi,” the second track from their latest album, as lead singer Maynard James Keenan posed like an awkward male Madonna in front of a video screen, tipping his cowboy hat and kicking his cowboy boots in the air. It looked as though he was riding the song like a bull.

There was to be none of the legendary Keenan cross-dressing.

When the band jumped quickly into “Stinkfist,” off Aenima, Keenan’s posturing spoke louder than his words, as his vocals barely registered above the thunder of his band.

A powerful run-through of Aenima track “Forty Six and 2” was the last of that album the band would play for the night. Except for “Flood” from the 1993 breakthrough album Undertow, the rest of the set was dominated by some of the band’s long-players from their last two, less-inspired albums, 10,000 Days and Lateralus.

By the end of “Flood,” space-ray-like props had lowered from the ceiling to shine lights at the crowd. It felt like we were being probed.

The oceanic waves of “Wings for Marie” and “10,000 Days” were disorienting and sedating. Not a note was missed, not a beat out of place; in this perfection, everything was glimmering and shiny, and in some ways, completely boring.

Finally the space rays started spraying green lasers overhead that were both pretty and captivating. It felt a little like being a child distracted by a mobile while getting a painful injection.

Halfway through the leviathan span of “Lateralus,” a song menacing and awe-inspiring for both its gaping length and ever-shifting rhythm, Big Business drummer Coady Willis joined the band on stage for the concert’s only true moment of spontaneity: a drum duel with Tool drummer Danny Carey. With his small kit and his bashing-pots-and-pans style, Willis (who slammed it out with Dale Crover of the Melvins during that band’s last tour) upstaged Carey, who employed a massive golden drum kit, flush with a sequencer and gong, to lesser effect.

Meanwhile, the other band members kept themselves busy. Keenan donned a white lab coat and started placing potted plants in front of his microphone stand. It seemed he was trying to play up his insignificance while paying tribute to the drummers, but by walking around the stage in a lab coat with trees in his hands, Keenan ensured that the crowd’s attention would stick with him.

“Vicarious” would be the band’s last song of the night. All it would have taken was an encore to solidify the concert as a solid if not great experience, but none came. There was no “The Pot,” no “Sober,” no “Eulogy”—not even “Prison Sex.” Instead, the house lights came up and the monstrous space rays that had stalked the crowd so menacingly earlier in the night now hung exposed, naked in the air.

I gladly would have traded the light show for just two more songs.


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