NEWARK, NJ — Tool, who infamously works at a snail’s pace — five albums in 26 years — has a vocalist who doesn’t front the band on stage and bars cellphone photography at its shows, demands a lot of its fans, namely patience and attention. This is understandably too much to ask of some, but for listeners of a certain mentality, it’s a rewarding, immersive experience that transcends the typical album or concert practice.
Nearly 20,000 Tool fans were all in Saturday night at the Prudential Center as the band brought its highly anticipated tour, in support of its mesmerizing new album, “Fear Inoculum.” Opening the show behind a see-through, chain curtain, Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar), Justin Chancellor (bass) and Danny Carey (drums) started off with its hypnotic, 10-minute-plus title track. Eerie percussion and repetitive, knotty guitar phrases pulsed in time with the light show and imagery on the giant screen behind the musicians. “Aenima,” a long-time fan favorite, another lengthy track, continued the theme of exploratory, progressive music, with Keenan singing of praying for a tidal wave to wash away California, the band’s home state.
The band’s visuals were arresting. After a few songs, the curtain opened, and lasers danced on the stage and on the arena’s back wall. Animation, some of it pulled from Tool music videos created by Jones, depicting human and alien anatomy, or others showing mathematical patterns linked to the band’s interest in sacred geometry — and Carey’s live drumming — were the most visually appealing parts of the show.
The throbbing and introspective “Pneuma,” from the new album, was an early highlight, Keenan singing deliberately and clearly from the shadows on one of two risers flanking Carey’s massive drum kit, as he did all evening. He appeared to be sporting spiked hair and face paint, but as he was never spotlit or shown on the screen, you couldn’t tell for sure. Besides saying “Sounds like Jersey” early in the show and allowing fans to use their phones for the final song, he didn’t speak to the audience.
Older songs like “Parabol,” “Parabola” and an extended version of “Schism” were magnificent, but the newer material crackled with visceral energy. While King Crimson, Rush and even Black Sabbath — especially when Jones would sink into primordial guitar riffage — are touchstones, the new songs seek out new directions, with Carey’s percussive assault taking the work of prog forefathers Neil Peart and Bill Bruford to interesting new heights — including adopting their use of synthetic percussion — and Keenan singing in more measured tones. “Descending,” from “Fear Inoculum,” offered a timely wake-up call: “Falling isn’t flying/ Floating isn’t infinite” and “Sound our dire reveille/ Rouse all from our apathy/ Lest we case to be.”
An exactly 12-minute intermission — a countdown clock was displayed on the curtain — broke up the main set and a shorter second set, which served as a kind of extended encore: a lengthy percussion solo, which started on a gong, as a take on the new record’s drum solo, “Chocolate Chip Trip”; “Invincible,” one of the album’s better tunes; and a nod to the band’s earlier days with the cathartic and, by Tool’s standards, straightforward, “Stinkfist,” one of four songs played from 1996’s “Aenima” album.
Photo by Travis Shinn