“Beyond this flesh”: Prog-rock immortals Tool play the Tacoma Dome

Tool is a band that prefers to let their music and their esoteric and sometimes disturbing visuals speak for them, and this sets them apart from other live rock and metal bands.

Not to be hyperbolic, but going to a Tool show is a healing experience — mentally, emotionally, spiritually and, yes, physically. Let me tell you how: in the winter of 2007, my friend and I were making the trek from Enumclaw to Spokane for Tool’s show. Tickets were obscenely expensive and difficult to come by. And by divinity, we were able to snag some tickets into the pit, elated and excited to have our lives literally changed by one of our favorite bands.

Before officially getting on the road the morning of the concert, we were running errands, and when we were making a turn, a car came up behind us and clipped the back of my friend’s little red car, hitting us and causing us to jolt and spin. We were increasingly sore and worried about whiplash, but determined to “cowgirl up” (as we in the rodeo world say) and get to the show — nothing was going to stop us from seeing Tool live.

Several hours and a couple hundred miles later, the music began. The bodies surrounding us were moshing and our adrenaline kicked in — as singer Maynard James Keenan once wrote: “All this pain is an illusion.”

The morning of Oct. 20, when Tool played the Tacoma Dome, I wondered if this same effect would help me with a nasty cold I was trying to get over. I wondered if the music would help melt away my migraine instead of intensifying it. For a moment, I actually considered staying home sick … but only for a moment.

Armed with a KN95 mask, my trusty denim jacket and a camera, I made it to the venue and lived to tell this truth: even after more than 30 years and unbearably long waits between albums, Tool has not lost their prog-metal live edge or their alchemistic musicality.

Adam Jones of Tool.

Adam Jones of Tool.

They are still one of the best live music acts of all time.

After a wonderfully fun and impressive set by opening act Steel Beans, Tool kicked things off with “Fear Inoculum,” the titular song from their 2019 album, a song that builds and builds in a special Tool kind of way, spiraling out as each band member made their way to the stage.

Tool is a band that prefers to let their music and their esoteric and sometimes disturbing visuals speak for them, and this sets them apart from other live rock and metal bands. With Adam Jones on guitar and synth, Danny Carey on drums, Justin Chancellor on bass guitar, and Maynard James Keenan on vocals, the lights, visuals and sheer volume of the music set everything into place. Tool is not a band that will make it easy for you to necessarily see what they are generating on stage, but they will make you feel it in your soul and hear it in your body.

As the show unfurled, songs from 2006’s “10,000 Days” album like “Jambi,” “The Pot” and “Rosetta Stoned” — a song about getting probed by an alien — were intermixed with their newer music like “Pneuma,” “Descending,” “Chocolate Chip Trip,” “Culling Voices” and “Invincible.” Interestingly, the band decided to play only the opening tracks from their first three full albums: “Intolerance” from 1993’s “Undertow,” “The Grudge” from 2001’s “Lateralus,” and “Stinkfist” from 1996’s “Ænima.”

Danny Carey of Tool.

Danny Carey of Tool.

As with most live shows, the biggest response from the crowd came from the older songs, but even with the newer music, the people in the crowd were as invested in them — even if the lyrics weren’t yet etched into their marrow, the energy from the band and the feel of the music left no room for the trance to be lifted from the crowd.

Comparing the show to the one I experienced in 2007, it was interesting to see how the Gen X folks and elder Millennials interacted with the music and with each other. There were no mosh pits this time, and the fans who were swaying and grooving to the music (it can be tough to dance to songs with long talk-box guitar solos and unusual polyrhythms) turned inward, with their heads down and their hands up, needing to find their own spiritual core within in order to make the sonic ritual work.

What stayed the same, however, was the sheer talent and ability of each member of the band. Like a well-oiled machine, they worked together beautifully, elevating each other in a way that still feels as earth-shattering and mind-warping as their early days. A special shout-out must be made to Maynard’s vocals, which are still as gorgeous and primordial as ever and to the pure Olympian athleticism and talent of Danny, who is held up as a god in the drumming world. After an eleven-minute intermission toward the end of the night, Danny alone returned to the stage to give his own John Bonham “Moby Dick” performance with “Chocolate Chip Trip,” where he performed solo on the drums and on a special synthesizer, working his literal magic.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing
Justin Chancellor of Tool.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing Justin Chancellor of Tool.

One of the stand-out moments from the show was “Culling Voices,” which brought the band to the center of the stage and sitting in chairs, MTV Unplugged-style. With Adam and Danny on electric guitars, Justin on bass and Maynard bent over his microphone, the band gifted the crowd with something more subdued, but still hypnotic. That’s the thing about a Tool show, man — these guys are going to take you places you’ve never been before.

And the places I went were evergreen. I barely noticed my intermittent coughs, my headache was banished, and my sore throat was only perpetuated by whoops and shouts as my favorite songs played. For Tool fans, there are few places that bring peace and connection quite like the decibel-blistering experience of a Tool show — as I said, their music is healing. “Contagion, I exhale you.”