TOOL at Rod Laver Arena. April 27, 2013

Image via theaureview.com.au

Image via theaureview.com.au

Tool, it seems, is one of the few bands today that have mass. The music chugs, swerves, pulls up suddenly, only to spill elsewhere in huge rolling waves. It must be a hard beast to steer, and for many, it is a hard band to listen to. For those who do listen, however, there is only one band that delivers a package like this – conceptual art of elevating brutality and dire sweetness. There are reasons why comparisons to giants like Pink Floyd and King Crimson surround Tool. Pretentious? Perhaps. But you would not want them any other way. Minecraft and Meshuggah shirts rubbed shoulders as Tool’s first Melbourne show at Rod Laver kicked off with a pulverising rendition of Hooker with a Penis, suggesting the band weren’t about to fuck around with things. Yet as the layered, unsettled intro to Vicarious broke into shards of angled lasers trapping sheets of smoke when the full power of the lightshow kicked in, Maynard’s voice practically disappeared from the track as the singer struggled to get some water into him. Despite the band’s de-emphasising of voice as merely another instrument, it is surely missed when it’s not there. It was a temporary aberration, however. Sober saw the juggernaut brought back under control, ending with a sweet jam that segued into a delicate skein of bass, and one of Tool’s most soaring achievements in song, Schism. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about its follow-up, Intension, the watery mysticism of which lends itself far better to a pair of headphones than it does a stadium show. Lateralus, however, very clearly filled the space of the Rod Laver, and seemed to cry out for the roof to be opened so the moon could be seen above us. Pushit saw out the first half of the show, as Intermission landed and tickled the geeks with its projected backdrop of the seminal videogame Asteroids. Others exchanged puzzled glances. Intermission? There was much milling around, a sense of decompression. Then the clock vanished and Danny Carey, who many would credit as the literal wizard master of the group, appeared for an extended thresh on the drums, revealing that perhaps the demon he allegedly conjured into his kit during the recording of Lateralus has yet to be evicted. It also seemed someone thought to turn up the bass during the break, as Jambi bludgeoned forth with a much greater lower register presence than had been felt up to then. The rest of the night clearly benefited from it also, even if it did seem to push Maynard’s vocals back into the mix a little too much. Tool’s signature visual show, a persistently rolling tableaux of tri-headed gods, energy fields, pale emaciated visions of reptilian ancestors/descendants and the spiralling mysteries of genetics, have never been better than what has been accomplished in the projections that background 46 and 2. Another crushing python of a song, it became something else altogether as a giant entity of self-assembled flesh essentially exploded into fields of energy that dissected the stage. With Ænima and Stinkfist, it formed a triune of heavyweight songs from the Tool canon to close out the set. While unquestionably a solid show, with some stunning sequences more than compensating for the odd misstep, it was a setlist very much intended as an all inclusive crowd-pleaser. If the band has anything new under the canvas, they sure aren’t interested in so much as lifting a corner for us to peer under and ask what they’ve been doing the last six years. That may be is their prerogative, but for fans that have seen them a number of times, chances are you’ve already seen this show before. Others may wish that they’d been challenged a little more, or that some of the rarer hotrods in the band’s garage were taken for a spin – perhaps other dates will get lucky and catch some of their more infrequently played tracks, like The Grudge. Make no mistake though – Tool still know how to hit your nervous system. On balance, however, while they still more or less bring their A game, their strategy is starting to feel a little comfortable.

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