Tool are finally back on the road to finish their ‘Fear Inoculum’ tour & it couldn’t come at a more fitting time

ToolBy Josh Herwitt //

Tool with Blonde Redhead //
Viejas Arena – San Diego
January 19th, 2022 //

Did Maynard James Keenan really foresee what most of us didn’t?

When Tool unleashed their long-awaited fifth studio album Fear Inoculum in 2019 less than six months before COVID-19 started to ravage the world, it was quixotic to assume then how much the frontman’s lyrics would resonate with the times we’re living in right now. But that’s exactly the case after everything we have been through for close to two years.

Keenan doesn’t see his recent work whether it be with Tool, A Perfect Circle or Puscifer as prophetic, however, despite surviving two nasty bouts with the virus himself. As he explained during an interview with Zane Lowe at the beginning of the outbreak, “it’s just understanding patterns, and understanding human nature and where we’re going.”

While he might not have a sixth sense like some fans have speculated, Keenan is certainly a lot more perceptive than your average person when it comes to the ever-changing ways of the world. At the not-so-young-anymore age of 57, he continues to find inspiration in the “human experience” more than from any particular event or person, and yet I wouldn’t blame him if he ever dropped an “I told you so” simply based on our current state of affairs.

And when Tool revealed last year after being forced to cancel their remaining 2020 tour dates that they would be hitting the road again in 2022 to “finish what we started” as Keenan succinctly put it, there was no way I was going to miss seeing my favorite band for the past 25 years even with the highly infectious omicron variant sweeping across Planet Earth.

So after catching Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar), Danny Carey (drums, percussion) and Justin Chancellor (bass) pack a sold-out Honda Center in Anaheim with over 18,000 fans the prior evening, I made the 133-mile trek south to Viejas Arena located on the campus of San Diego State University for what would be my 15th Tool show. What was different this time around though was a chance for me to photograph the band, something I had never done but always wanted to check off my bucket list.

Tool

Triple-vaxxed and triple-masked, I entered the 12,200-person indoor venue with my camera equipment knowing full well the risk that I was assuming but also what a unique opportunity this was for me. Every performance by Tool these days feels a little extra special given our present circumstances, but if there was ever a time for firsts, photographing the band’s “Fear Inoculum” tour during a global pandemic felt rather apropos to me. With 90’s alt-rockers Blonde Redhead tapped as support for this leg of Tool’s 55-stop tour across the U.S. and Europe, the New York City trio’s dreamy, shoegaze-tinged set offered an interesting dichotomy ahead of what would follow.

There’s almost a meditative and spiritual-like quality to Tool’s music since 2001’s seminal Lateralus, and although heavy at points, it has only become more palpable with each new LP in spite of how much time has passed. Of course no one would argue in today’s industry that 13 years isn’t a lengthy gap between albums no matter who the artist or group is, but Tool still stand among rare company after forming more than three decades ago in Los Angeles. The prog-metal titans, in fact, have been playing snippets from Fear Inoculum for live audiences dating back to 2012 — it just wasn’t until the record was released that they began opening with the title track, which hears Keenan belt out lines like “Immunity, long overdue / Contagion, I exhale you” and “What you say inoculated / Bless this immunity” to help raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you weren’t already worried about contracting a deadly respiratory disease at a concert in the dead of winter.

The quartet’s song selection for this latest tour has featured a core of 10 highlighted by Ænima deep cuts “Pushit” and “Hooker With a Penis” as well as the epic “Descending” off Fear Inoculum with four older gems — “Opiate”, “Sober”, “The Patient” and “Right in Two” — rotated in and out. On this night, Keenan teased the capacity crowd early on with a comparison to Bakersfield but was kind enough to reward us with “Sober” from Undertow and “Right in Two” on 10,000 Days after hearing “Opiate” and “The Patient” a day earlier. Even if Tool’s sonic rollercoasters often comprised of odd time signatures and abrupt tempo changes while regularly eclipsing the 10-minute mark don’t impress you with all of those twists and turns, at least their stage setup and production should with Jones’ art direction and plenty of modern advances in visual technology you can expect from a band of this stature to employ.

Tool’s material has always showcased top-notch musicianship going back to the Opiate and Undertow days that included former bassist Paul D’Amour, but with Chancellor now leading in spots as essentially a second guitarist to Jones thanks in part to his inventive bass effects and tones, you won’t find a whole lot of drummers who are quite as creative, technically skilled and powerful as Carey. Case in point: his psychedelic drum solo entitled “Chocolate Chip Trip” that he recorded for Fear Inoculum and sees him manipulate a massive modular synthesizer to build its 7/8 groove has become a staple at Tool’s shows in the last five years.

The four-time Grammy winners, meanwhile, have been known to evolve from one tour to the next. This one has been no different, with “Culling Voices” recently solidifying a spot in their setlist for the first time as the four of them started the song by sitting at the front of the stage in a half circle with Carey playing rhythm guitar on Jones’ custom Gibson 1979 Les Paul before returning to his drums and Keenan to his two platforms midway through to complete the 10-minute tune that ends in a flurry of angst. If somehow that wasn’t enough, Carey’s use of his Buchla Marimba Lumina, a marimba-styled MIDI controller, down the final stretch of “Invincible” definitely leaves a lasting impression before you head home wondering if or when you’ll ever get to witness that kind of virtuosity again.

After all, taking the safe or easy route has never been an option for Tool, and regardless of what Keenan might portend down the road, it’s why we keep coming back for more.

TOOL

Setlist:
Fear Inoculum
Sober
The Pot
Pushit
Pneuma
The Grudge
Right in Two
Descending
Hooker With a Penis

Encore:
Chocolate Chip Trip
Culling Voices
Invincible

BLONDE REDHEAD

Setlist:
Falling Man
Bipolar
Spring and by Summer Fall
Elephant Woman
Doll Is Mine
Dr. Strangeluv
(Unknown)
(Unknown)
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