TOOL, The Point Theatre, Dublin, 22/11/06, approx 8000 spectators

Tool are touring again, and two weeks after 2 gigs in Belgium and 1 in Holland, the Californian fourpiece made the trip to the British Isles with their only Irish date in Dublin.

In fact it’s already a success to have them in Ireland. Tool are considered the top of the world when it comes to metal music, and are more used to play festivals for 40000 people. The Los Angeles-based fourpiece launched their first album in the early nineties and since then every of their albums has been considered ‘perfection’ by music critics and metal fans worldwide. Tool have gained a status which is far above the rest of the metal world, and are considered the most intelligent and most creative force in the world of metal. Their status is clear when you see the amount of money their record company is prepared to sacrifice to obey the band’s wishes: all videos are high-tech artsy movies, during their concerts a quite impressing (and expensive!) laser show and video screen images are used, and the CD cover of their new album contains a 3D image which is quite unique (it is one of the most expensive CD covers ever produced in music history, but the fact that the record company obeyed their wishes despite the costs, clearly shows the high status of the band). This new album is named “10000 Days”. 10000 days, or 27 years, which is the amount of time singer Maynard James Keenan’s mother spent living as a paralysed woman, before eventually dying shortly before the album was recorded. Judith Marie Keenan’s stroke and the consequent paralysis, has been the topic of several Tool and A Perfect Circle songs so far, and also on the new album there’s a few songs dedicated to the subject.

I must say I am still not really into Tool. I am still discovering their work and know far from their entire discography. I mainly fell in love with A Perfect Circle quite a while ago, APC who also have Maynard as vocalist. The spark for A Perfect Circle has risen higher and higher the more I listened to them, and by now I am a true APC fan. Maynard’s presence in Tool, plus the fact that APC are on a hiatus (without knowing if they’ll ever re-unite), got me interested in Tool as well. Most people first got into Tool and then embraced A Perfect Circle as well, though with me it was the other way around: I fell for the mysterious and complex sound of APC, and only after being an APC fan for a while, only then I also got the interest to discover Maynard’s other band. Tool and APC share more than just the presence of Maynard James Keenan though: both bands have very complex music (Tool being the more complex of both sonically) and complex lyrics, it’s like a puzzle where you need a lot of efford to get the final picture: the first times you hear a record by APC or Tool, you won’t really ‘get it’, you need to listen to it multiple times and really use your intellect to analyse the lyrics, like a complex puzzle, but once you finally made the effort to analyse the music you hear something very very beautiful. Tool and APC do share that complexity, however they have a different kind of complexity: APC are more mysterious and lyrically abstract, while Tool are more dark and musically difficult (most Tool songs last 8 to 10 minutes and have several very unexpected changes of rhythm, almost like hearing three totally different songs that were mixed to form 1 very long song). However, this is where the similarities stop, A Perfect Circle and Tool remain two totally different bands, APC being the more introvert and mysterious band, Tool being the more agressive and darker band.

Anyway, I would much rather see APC unite again, but while waiting for that to happen, I do of course take the chance to see Maynard live with his other band. So off to Dublin, where the whole city was crowded with Tool fans. Walking through Temple Bar I noticed several Tool shirts in every pub. Unusual, but it does show the popularity of the band. Due to the bad weather I had opted for a warm sweater instead of the A Perfect Circle shirt I own (but it remains safely aside for hopefully an APC reunion soon!). The B&B also contained several others who travelled to Dublin especially for this gig, some coming from abroad. The gig was close to sold out, meaning approx. 8000 people would attend the concert.

The Point constitutes of a large standing area in front of the stage and a balcony on the first floor. Unable to get a standing ticket, I accepted an offer for the balcony, and to my surprise it was the best possible place in the hall: very close to the stage, not really high above ground floor so nothing to really disturb the sight, and safely away from the moshpit. Although moshing was explicitly forbidden, the crowd did ignore that ban, so luckily I had a seated ticket. Moshing, the most annoying thing possible in concert halls in my personal opinion, totally distracting from the music. The seated area had a bit of a cinema feeling with even people eating popcorn during the concert, but the sight on stage was excellent so no complaints there.

Opening act was Mastodon. A sort of death metal band, playing very very loud and with a singer opting to scream. I didn’t like it at all. The guitars were very good and full of energy, but the voice was beyond irritating. The crowd did seem to appreciate it though, but it was not my cup of tea at all.

Tool itself then. As written above, Tool are known for their very complex songs which often last 10 minutes and contain so many complex changes of tune and rhythm that it almost sounds like three seperate songs that collided to form 1 long entity. The band started off with a shorter song, still around 5 minutes though. However, after that it was the typical Tool atmosphere with very long songs, often containing long guitar and/or drum solo’s. It was clear immediately that the band were in very good shape and played the music with a perfection that equals records. For one still getting into Tool however (and more used to A Perfect Circle) the very long songs are something one must adapt to, and it does demand efforts of concentration: the many long instrumental parts sometimes create a feeling of a music that is at the background (unlike when there are clearly different songs in quick succession), the very long songs that form a sharp contrast with the typical short songs with clear chorus and structure. Long and complex songs like this ask a bigger effort to stay focused and to fully absorb the music, it also makes it harder to immediately be ‘caught’ by a song that sticks to the brain: if a song has a very clear tune and lasts 3 minutes, you will remember the whole lot very easily, when a song lasts 10 minutes and has no real structure that is always repeated it is much harder to remember the song as a clear entity, most songs sound not as an entity but as a collage of different shorter songs. So for one not very used to the songs itself, the concert starts somewhat slowly because you don’t have the feeling of listening to a succession of clearly recognisable songs, but the further the concert goes the more you get adapted to their style and the more you begin to appreciate their unique approach to music. In the beginning it feels a bit weird to not hear the standard type of song structures, it is something you don’t easily absorb when you’re not used to it, but as I wrote above: most Tool and APC songs feel a bit strange the first time you hear them and you need to make serious efforts to fully analyse the music, but after a few times the puzzle suddenly forms a clear image and then you hear something very beautiful.

Also, the vocals alone are very much worth the listen. Maynard James Keenan’s voice is completely different from most singers in the metal genre: no screaming or raw vocals, but a crystal-clear voice which is unique in this style of music. As a vocalist, Keenan is easily the best metal singer of them all, miles ahead of the rest. Maybe that’s just my opinion as an A Perfect Circle fan, but one cannot ignore the purity and perfection in the man’s vocals. Powerful yet never sounding like a scream or yell, it remains crystal clear. His charisma is also remarkable, as the man has a very eccentric dancing style which gets the crowd fascinated without really having to communicate with the fans directly. We all knew Maynard is eccentric though, just listen to an interview and it gets very clear (not to mention his women’s outfits, long wigs and oriental clothing he sometimes wears — he likes to dress up in a very eccentric way on-stage, thereby trying to create a distance between Maynard-the-singer and Maynard-the-person, hoping to remain anonymous in daily life and not to get easily recognised off stage).

The further the concert goes, the more Tool’s approach begins to grow on a new listener. One gets used to the complex song structures, and gets used to the length of the songs. Also, the band kept their best songs (as far as someone quite new tot he band can judge) for the last part of the show, such as the very vulnerable “Wings For Marie”, a more calm and almost ballad-esque song (at least, the first 6 minutes of it) in which Maynard brings a last salute to his late mother, with the goodbye line “10000 days in the fire is long enough, you’re going home” (’home’ referring to heaven, as his mother was a very devote Christian — Maynard here sings from her perspective, as he himself is a very clear non-believer). The song is probably the best one from the setlist and forms a turning point in the concert as the music afterwards get heavier and the show becomes more of a total spectacle: from the very beginning the band used very high-tech films which were displayed on screens behind the stage, however once past “Wings For Marie” the images become more complex and more colourful, also the band starts using green laser rays which create a web of rays covering not just the stage but the whole concert arena. It gives the show a little extra, without however using that much effects that the music loses its priority. The projected images and films are, just like Tool’s music, very dark and even eerie: it shows how aliens are dissected for example, not really the nicest idea but it does suit the music perfectly. The last song was the classic “Aenima”, with its 6.30 minutes one of the shortest songs of the set.

Overall the concert was very good, although it does take a while to adapt to the very long songs. Although APC’s songs are complex too, their songs are much shorter than Tool’s songs. It takes some time to really adapt to the Tool approach, especially for someone like me who doesn’t know the band very well yet. But it grows on me quickly enough and especially the second half of the concert was very enjoyable.

Final conclusion however: I have listened to Tool more lately and now also saw them live. I begin to really appreciate them, but I miss something which I adore in A Perfect Circle. Both bands have their qualities for sure and Tool is definitely a band I will keep an eye on with great interest, but the mysteriousness of A Perfect Circle (both in terms of mysterious music and more artsy atmosphere) is something I do miss a little in Tool. I like Tool, I surely do, but I prefer A Perfect Circle. There is a difference between ‘liking’ and ‘loving’ and the latter term for me applies to A Perfect Circle. Maynard said he’d return to Ireland next summer, I secretly hope it will be with APC then, although it’s very unlikely as all APC members have their own projects. If APC never re-unites however (which seems to be realistic unfortunately) I will be very enthousiastically attending a new Tool concert. A Perfect Circle and Tool are very different really so it may be unfair to name both in one sentence, but one cannot really ignore the fact that Maynard can only do one project at the time… and it’d be a very sad thought if I’d never hear the almost surreal beauty of “3 Libras”, “Breña”, “Orestes” or “The Hollow” live sometime.

Oh, and how small can this world be when I meet two people I know after the concert? We’re talking of a crowd of 8000, 300 km from my home town, and still I run into two people I know… Bizarre.