“You can now use your phones,” says Maynard James Keenan, tonight’s keynote speaker, cult leader, powerhouse singer and missionary man rolled into one.
“Security, stand down,” the mohawked Tool front man continues. “You can check your Facebook. Check your Instagram.”
Considering the stern warnings issued ahead of Tool’s Friday night Auckland show, you couldn’t help but wonder if Keenan’s declaration that the night’s cellphone ban had been lifted was a joke.
After all, Keenan is known as a man who likes to toy with his fans. In 2010, he told this reviewer the band’s next album was due out within 12 months. It took nine more years.
Besides, tonight’s cellphone ban was certainly nothing to laugh about.
It’s hard to remember any other visiting international act being this stern about a no-camera concert policy.
Messages on Spark Arena’s website, on the Facebook event page, on foyer signs, and even in a text sent hours before the show, all informed punters they faced being evicted, with no chance of re-entry or a refund, if they were caught trying to take a sneaky photo of Tool’s first performance here in seven years.
Even with Keenan’s blessing, whipping out your phone and taking a few snaps during Stinkfist, the night’s stunning closer, certainly felt naughty after two device-free hours.
But what a two hours they were. You could tell Tool meant business right from the opening moments of Fear Inoculum‘s title track, as Justin Chancellor hammered away at his bass, Danny Carey’s intricate drum patterns thundered through the venue, Adam Jones delivered those shimmering riffs of his and Keenan crouched and screamed while lurching back and forwards on his heels.
If you were after trippy visuals, Tool bought enough to send you into a bad mushroom trip.
In front of them, spooky faces were beamed onto a curtain surrounding the band. Behind them, apocalyptic images of fire and lava cascaded around them, ending with what appeared to be the eye of Sauron hovering above them.
If it really was Sauron, then this was one Tool show to rule them all.
On previous trips here, they’ve almost always delivered something special. In 1997 on their Aenema tour, Keenan emerged at the North Shore Events Centre in his underwear while covered in reflective dots, effectively turning him into a human mirror ball.
In 2002, they bought contortion artists who performed on ropes that hung across the stage.
At the Big Day Out in 2007 and 2011 they had freaky visuals and lasers fanning out across the crowd.
And while they might have been on a greatest hits tour when they visited in 2013, Tool’s metal muscles still felt flexed, the band felt like it was alive and well.
But this was something else. This was something special. It just sounded immense.
Those new songs from Fear Inoculum feel like they’ve been carefully integrated into the show, giving the band’s rhythm section something to really push their limits.
Almost all of it got a working over. Pneuma twisted and turned like a knot being undone. All 13 minutes of Descending was given a workout. Then there was 7empest, which felt like the kind of song music students would gasp at and declare, how are they doing this?
Sure, some of Tool’s older songs were the night’s fan favourites. Schism was a singalong highlight that reached right up to the back rows of the sold out show. Forty Six & 2 was delivered like the precision anthem it’s supposed to be. Vicarious gave the 55-year-old Keenan a chance to prove he can still deliver those piercing howls of his.
And phone in hand or not, Stinkfist was one final chance to jump around and shout out the song’s lyrics just like you did at all their other shows, a pilgrimage to the church of Tool, if you like.
After all that intensity, it was easy to forget you hadn’t checked your phone for a couple of hours.
When a concert’s this good, who needs bung old Instagram anyway?
Tool perform at Spark Arena again on Saturday night.