With the rising heat index, Friday was a bad day to be pulling out black T-shirts. For the 15,000 fans who packed Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, though, the occasion was well overdue.
Black is what you wear to a Tool concert, and Tool concerts have been scarce over the past decade. Pent-up demand is partly why the stormy, freaky, weedy California prog-metal quartet filled the arena with so many rabid, overheated fans Friday, 11 years after they played the St. Paul arena touring for their last album, “10,000 Days.” Their long-overdue follow-up album has become this decade’s “Chinese Democracy.”
Unlike many stops on the group’s summer tour, the Twin Cities did get Tool shows in the interim in 2010 and 2012. Friday’s 2¼-hour performance wasn’t very different from those conceptually. However, a Tool concert is still like no other.
As he’s done on tour for years now, singer Maynard James Keenan stood at the back of the stage without a spotlight throughout the set. Even drummer Danny Carey was more conspicuous than the “frontman.”
Adding a capital-O to odd, Keenan performed in a full-body police riot-gear uniform, helmet and all. The armor matched the few comments he offered about the dire state of things during a breakdown in the roller-coastery opus “Opiate.”
The world is a huge mess, he said, “but I see a way out. It’s gonna take each of you to work it out. Here’s where I start: I assume I’m wrong about everything.”
Keenan’s bandmates — including guitarist Adam Jones and bass master Justin Chancellor — took up more of the spotlight, but aren’t much to look at. Think: “Big Lebowski” bowling team.
As usual, though, Tool made up for its members’ lack of showiness with a wowee-zowee psychedelic visual production, including a giant video screen wrapped behind the stage and a Pink Floydian array of lasers, smoke and neon stage lighting. The band’s optical illusions are so integral to its show, it virtually disallowed press photographers and had security crews roaming the audience like Bobby Brady hall monitors, threatening to eject fans using cellphones.
Sometimes the sameness of Friday’s show from prior Tool tours was a problem. You can only watch the creepy-alien-doing-chores music video for “Schism” so many times before it loses its fright factor. Keenan’s insistence on sticking to the background has gotten old, too. He doesn’t need to be Springsteen, but he shouldn’t be so predictable.
Tool still hit like a Mack truck filled with Minnesota iron ore in the music department. “Aenima” sounded as manic as ever, and the tight syncopation between Jones and Carey in “Jambi” made for the ultimate in crunchiness. Fans were literally shaking in excitement as “Forty-Six & 2” built and built into a madcap crescendo.
The quartet offered only one new song, a short instrumental called “Descending” that could’ve been renamed “Potty Break.” A formal intermission was offered 90 minutes into the set, after which came the drum solo and then the one-two finale punch of “Sweat” and “Stinkfist.” By then, those black T-shirts paid off by hiding all the sweat soaked into them.
Here's Friday's full set list:
- The Grudge
- Third Eye
- Forty-Six & Two
- (intermission, then drum solo)
- (-) Ions
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658