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By now, seemingly every band has written, recorded, produced — and even released — their “COVID album.” It just so happens that Tool made theirs before the pandemic actually started.
On Thursday night in Idaho, America’s finest prog-rock band finally unveiled selections from Fear Inoculum to a packed arena on the third night of their long-awaited tour behind the record of the same name. Released in August 2019, the eerily prescient album’s themes include immunizing against contagious respiratory diseases (the title track), summoning the fortitude to stave off physical deterioration (“Invincible”) and widespread havoc wreaked by an uncontrollable force, such as a disease … or maybe a former president (“7empest”).
Most attendees at the nearly sold-out show originally intended to witness Tool roll out selections from their 13-years-in-the-waiting album on March 14, 2020, when the band previously planned to play the same venue. But that turned out to be the second show canceled on the remainder of Tool’s tour schedule at the time, after singer Maynard James Keenan become one of the first rock stars to contract COVID-19.
Ironically, Thursday’s show — which technically wasn’t a make-up concert, as tickets for the 2020 gig weren’t honored — took place hours after Idaho recorded its highest-ever number of COVID cases in one day (2,821). (Two days later, the state surpassed more than 3,200 cases … on a Saturday, even.)
It being Idaho, the reddest state in the U.S. with the possible exception of Mississippi, masks were few and far between among concertgoers. Many members of the “Tool Army,” who subscribe to their idols’ unwavering iconoclasm and social-misfit behavior, have apparently dismissed Keenan’s well-publicized warnings about the gravity of the pandemic. (Most fans, however, did observe Tool’s request not to take pictures or video of their performance.)
Proving his victory over two bouts with COVID, the 57-year-old Keenan — sporting a red mohawk and clad in black attire — joined his bandmates as they delivered the most rousing concert in Idaho since Foo Fighters rocked the same stage for three hours in December 2017.
After sorrowful art-rock trio Blonde Redhead handled opening duties, Tool played 13 songs during a set that stretched almost two and a half hours. The setlist resembled what they most commonly played at their early 2020 shows, with the notable exception of Tool’s Grammy-winning epic from that year, “7empest,” getting tabled in favor of older classics like “The Grudge” and “Pushit.”
It was midway through the latter song that the only major hiccup of the night occurred. In a rare deviation from one of Tool’s meticulously executed performances, an onstage power shortage at the Ford Idaho Center left the four band members befuddled and turning to look at each other for ideas on how to handle it.
The unscripted moment led to some solid improvisation on the part of Tool (most of whom made cameos in Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ classic “Mr. Show” sketch-comedy HBO program in the 1990s). British bassist Justin Chancellor did an English dance jig on the left side of the stage. Danny Carey demonstrated exasperation and perhaps exhaustion by stepping away from his massive percussion rig to lie down on the stage. Keenan ran toward Carey, faking an elbow drop.
(Keenan added his wry levity on two other occasions during the show, ribbing Idaho over how out-of-staters confuse it with Iowa; and asking if anyone wanted to buy a 6-foot-in-diameter Millennium Falcon he made out of Legos during the lockdown.)
Beyond the minutes-long snafu — which probably resulted in Tool’s longest-ever rendition of “Pushit” — the only other aberration from perfection was the rhythm section of Carey and Chancellor occasionally falling out of sync. Chalk it up to COVID, the extended tour break, the early part of the tour or age.
At 60 years old, Carey is Tool’s eldest member. But what’s often overlooked in discussions involving him as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time is the sheer physicality required by the 6-foot-5-inch sports enthusiast. One of the few songs in Tool’s mighty, warrior-like setlist that didn’t find the whole band playing together at maximum volume was “Chocolate Chip Trip,” an opportunity for Carey to take the crowd on a 10-minute excursion in percussion (as opposed to a typical, showy drum solo).
That song and part of another Fear Inoculum cut, “Descending,” actually surfaced during Tool’s previous concert in Idaho, at the same venue in June 2017. The evolution of both tracks in the almost five years between gigs proved that, even when Tool take one of their notoriously lengthy breaks from recording new music, their creative juices are still flowing.
Also on display Thursday night was — well, it being a Tool show and all, light displays. Laser beams streamed from stage to crowd during each of the Fear Inoculum selections that Tool played, while copious amounts of red and purple lights drenched stage and arena alike during every song. Projected onto a massive screen behind the stage was the ubiquitous heptagram that Tool uses to galvanize its Army, as well as creatures often resembling Gollum, after whom Keenan seems to model his crouched, metronome-like habit of rocking back and forth.
While Keenan tends to draw the most attention during Tool shows, even if he is often unidentifiable in costume and lurking in the dark, the untouchable Adam Jones maintained flawless command of his post on the right side of the stage. Tool’s often-overlooked but indispensable guitarist missed nary a note during the entire show.
The inestimable hard-rock band brought the evening to a close with “The Patient” and its lead-in instrumental, “Eon Blue Apocalypse”; along with “Invincible,” which appears tied with “Pneuma” as the most crowd-friendly Fear Inoculum song. The muscular “Invincible” seems to fittingly sum up a band that is more than 30 years old but, like Keenan’s friend Joe Rogan (say what you will about him), is showing no signs of throwing in the towel.
Keenan may sing about how the aging warrior depicted in “Invincible” is trying to remain consequential, but with Thursday night’s concert, Tool proved they always will be — even after the house lights come on.
• “Fear Inoculum”
• “The Pot”
• “The Grudge”
• “Right in Two”
• “Hooker With a Penis”
• “Chocolate Chip Trip”
• “Eon Blue Apocalypse”
• “The Patient”