When exactly does a band graduate from generational talent to icon status? When was it that Pink Floyd, or Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones went from the most popular bands of their era to the landmark names we know them as today? Tool have just about exhausted the generational label - a fact Maynard James Kenan reminded fans of during last week’s concert at TD Garden by announcing that anyone under 30 in the building “weren’t even sperm when this song was written” when introducing the song “Intolerance” off the band’s 1993 debut record Undertow. However, unlike most of their contemporaries, as they approach their 30th year together, Tool are still only five studio albums into their career. The most recent of their efforts, this year’s Fear Inoculum was thirteen years in the making, perhaps proving that absence does in fact make the heart grow fonder.
Fear Inoculum’s release was among the most celebrated music related events this year, in fact, were this 25 years ago there probably would have been lines outside every Strawberries in New England awaiting the midnight release of the album. But not only did the album sell incredibly well, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, but their tour followed suit as most dates sold out with the first hour. Resale tickets for the Boston show were tipping $300 just for the get in the door price by show time on Thursday night and the atmosphere around the venue was buzzing like before a playoff Bruins or Celtics game.
Anyone in attendance at the show will tell you that one standout from the show was the band’s strict no photography or video rule that included all phones. Save for during the final song of the show, “Stinkfist” all accounts of Tool’s performance were to be strictly of the verbal and written variety. The lack of a sea of raised iPhones taping bits and pieces of the concert certainly added to the mystique of the atmosphere, the visual components from the show however provided enough mystique of their own cycling between things such as lasers, lights and videos of insects and faceless humanoid creatures.
Tool’s production elements have always spared no expense, and this tour is no different with the surround sound system installed by the band for the night, opting to move away from the traditional speakers only at the front of the stage turned up to 11. The new rigging ensured that the folks in the last row would hear the show equally as well as those in the first row. Setlist wise, there were few if any surprises and it was built leaning heavily on the new album for 4 out of the 14 songs played throughout the two hour set.
Tool take a non-traditional approach to their fame, while most bands embrace the spotlight, Tool elect to darken it. Maynard James Keenan is the anti-rockstar, taking his place on stage in the back on an elevated platform in the dark next to drummer Danny Carey instead of front and center where most vocalists find themselves.
Online, it is much of the same for the band and its members who keep a low social media profile, something almost unprecedented in today’s constant content based world. Those in part contribute do the demand for more Tool, as does the frequency at which they release new music. How long Tool will continue to tour and make music is anyone’s guess at this point, but it’s probably unlikely they will be performing into their 70’s, so not for decades longer. But when they do decide to lay their instruments down they will take their place in rock history among the greats, one day to become another one of those mystical bands immortalized by tattoos and artwork tributes for decades to come.