SACRAMENTO — Tool is an aberration in the modern music landscape. Every choice the L.A. band makes seems to counter conventional wisdom and trend. Many of the band’s songs cross the 10-minute mark with brooding instrumentals. A decade passed between albums. At concerts, enigmatic frontman Maynard James Keenan spends the majority of his his time masked in shadow next to drummer Danny Carey. Instead of losing interest in Tool, fans’ intrigue grows about what the cryptic band is up to. Rumors swirled for years about the album that became Fear Inoculum. Tool tours, but not extensively. So when the band plays a show, as it did Sunday to headline the final night of Aftershock Festival, it becomes an event.
Tool’s Aftershock set was easily the most buzzed about event of this year’s fest. While Tool has played the festival in the past, this time it meant that the band would play new songs.The palpable nature of the excitement was evident as soon as Korn, playing a set in another area of the park, finished its performance. The lights had yet to dim and a massive roar went up from the sprawling main stage crowd knowing what was to come next.
Keenan, Carey, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor took the stage in front of a massive projection screen emitting tripped-out images as complex as the music itself. The band opened with the new album’s title track, a soaring 10-minute opus with warlike drumming providing the foundation for Keenan’s ethereal vocal prowess.
The momentum grew to a fever pitch as the band moved into the raw metal power of “Ænema,” with the crowd faithfully singing along. Even though much of the performance was spent in the darkness, Keenan still played an integral role in the success of the performance aspect. While he was only illuminated for “Fear Inoculum,” he still poured his soul into the performance, posing and writhing with the rhythm as a dark silhouette. “The Pot” also provided another opportunity for the 35,000 in attendance to sing along.
Keenan barely spoke at all between songs. While the music was intense, it was more akin dissecting the complexities of a fine wine. Taking in the performance was less about the mosh pit and more about the appreciation of technicality and nuance. Everything down to the band’s tone was dialed in to perfection, with the bass and guitar fusing together in perfect synchronicity over the complex drumbeats, while still allowing room for Keenan’s voice. It required an attention span and was most definitely not digestible three-chord rock.
Once Tool hit the midpoint of the set with one-two punch of “Part of Me” and “Parabola,” the lasers emitting from the stage stretched into the heavens, lighting up the sky for miles in every direction. As if on script, a full moon rose about the tree line, making for one of the most stunning backdrops of the evening.
Closing out the main portion of the set with the militaristic “Jambi” and grungy “Forty Six & 2,” Tool continued to roll through a varied cross-section of its catalog.
“Good Night,” Keenan said, before taking a long pause. “Good Night.” Other than acknowledging the hometown crowd earlier in the show, those would be the only four words he spoke. But the band wasn’t quite done.
Tool continued to roll with a soaring version of “Stinkfist” before closing with the live debut of new track “Pneuma.”
The set sealed victory for the Aftershock, concluding the third day of the expanded festival.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.
Due to an editing error this story originally did not say the band is from Los Angeles. We regret the error.