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Tool: Resorts World Arena Birmingham, UK 04/05/2022

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After more than a decade, Progressive Metal demi-gods Tool finally returned to the UK on the second leg of the “Fear Inoculum” album tour. You’d expect them to put the effort in after such a long wait, and you wouldn’t be wrong. This wasn’t just a concert; this was an event.

Let’s deal with the visuals first. In the most basic terms; WOW. I doubt there’s been a show with such overwhelming immersive synergy since NIN’s “Hesitation Marks” tour. Lighting rigs half-way along the auditorium as well as above the stage, lasers/Vari lights front, side and rear, and another set behind the sound desk too. Add in a gauze screen for projecting Images in front of the band on stage as well as onto rear and twin side screens, it is mesmerising, all-consuming, and a genuine fuckload to take in all at once. The opening section of “Culling Voices” sees the lights along either side of the arena holding horizontally opposed, forming an inches-thick layer of violet light above the audience’s heads as the band themselves sit close to the edge of the stage with guitars in almost total darkness. The first note of Adam’s electric lead melody is met with a cascade or tiny reflective strips being fired through the sheet of light above, to slowly glisten and tumble in a way that makes 16,000 people all “whoa” in perfect unison.

So that’s all there to distract from the music then? Well, no. This is Tool’s last major arena tour. Next time we see them will be in halls and theatres, not arenas and stadiums. The colossal production values on this tour are a “last hurrah” for the overscale shows. There’s at least one more album of material pretty much ready to go when this touring cycle is over, and now free from legal disputes and odd contractual ties should see Tool operating as a normal band for the first time in almost 20 years.

And the performance? That is where even more distance is placed between Tool and “normal” bands. What shocks most is how utterly brutal they are live. Adam uses feedback and distortion as a bludgeoning sonic weapon, Justin (loving the home crowd and giving it loads) makes the low frequencies dance and dart around your insides so you feel just as much as you can hear. Danny’s drumming is primal, tribal, and hypnotically insistent; immaculate polyrhythms nestling with double-kick and blast beats like it’s piss-easy and why doesn’t everyone do it like this? He’s in the top five drummers in the world right now without a shadow of a doubt, top three even.

And irrespective of yours’s, mine, or anyone else’s opinion, Maynard can’t half belt out a tune. Barely visible, never under a spotlight; he has two elevated platforms either side of Danny’s drumkit which he patrols like a ninja with a microphone. As always, he’s a man of very few words (unless he’s singing); but his crushing shyness does give way to a little interaction with the crowd, a feeling he’s properly enjoying himself.

Highlights? Support Brass Against were fully ace. (It would be absolutely pointless having another Metal/Prog Metal band on first as they’d be completely forgotten by the end of Tool’s opening bar). Their mix of Rap Metal/Prog Metal cover versions, including some Tool songs, went down really well with the crowd.

From Tool’s headline set, “Right in Two” was a somewhat unexpected long-form treat; played with genuine passion and effortless menace. “Hooker with a Penis” was SO FUCKING HEAVY it almost physically hurt. “Descending” and ”Pneuma” from the latest album took on a whole new life as live pieces, hopefully sometime soon we’ll also get to see that album’s standout track “7empest” as a fixture in the set. Also a highlight in my opinion was the sound; my previous experiences of this venue had not been too great. Tool’s sound guys got it just to the sweet-spot between clear enough for detail, and so loud it would hurt.

Despite my constant and unwavering dislike for this venue (the hideously expensive carparks that take forever to get out of, and the outrageous prices for food and drink) this was a truly outstanding experience. I can’t wait to see them at a “proper” music venue such as Manchester’s Apollo, or Glasgow’s Barrowlands.

"Still getting my head around how immense this was after two days. Tool are outstanding live"
90

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