Wrong Pieces: Tool @ Scotiabank Arena

“Two quarters and two Tool fans don’t add up to a dollar,” - Tool, probably.

Only Tool could write an 11-minute progressive metal, stream-of-consciousness epic about taking acid outside Area 51, hearing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial warn you of an incoming apocalypse, then shitting yourself because you forgot to write his prophecy down. Yet, Tool has the ability to make me cry with such a song. Hypnotic frontman Maynard James Keenan bleeds his soul into the mic as he sings, “This is so real, like the time Dave floated away.” That’s “Rosetta Stoned” off their seminal 2006 album 10,000 Days. Tool is an extraordinary band, marrying heady philosophy, advanced music theory, and lyrics about anal fisting. And that’s on one album. 

Tool was my first concert—Scotiabank Arena 2019 shortly after their last album, Fear Inoculum, was released to critical acclaim after a 13-year gap. The show was mesmerizing, like a rebirth. The lights and lasers. How friendly everybody was. They played classic after classic. Even after attending six concerts since then, “Ænema” is still the best song I’ve heard live. I’d never felt more comfortable in my skin than at the show. The first thing I did after getting home past midnight was grab my guitar to stumble through “Schism,” “Stinkfist,” and “The Pot” because I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Someone on the other side of the planet coughed, so I listened to their songs on repeat during those lockdown months. Their primal, brutally honest wisdom comforted me. I’ve grown so much since grade 11, personally, professionally, and artistically. Multiple Tool posters and T-shirts still hang on my walls. When they announced their return to Scotiabank Arena for two nights after four years, I immediately bought a ticket for the second. 

The opener deserves a special shoutout. Steel Beans is a solo musician that simultaneously amazed on guitar, drums, and vocals. Not only was it awe-inspiring, but he sounded great. His cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” was especially electrifying. Definitely check out his stuff, but I digress onto the more pressing matter. I didn’t expect Tool to recapture the heights of my first experience, but I couldn’t have anticipated how underwhelming this show would be. Let me clarify that Fear Inoculum is amazing—the title track is one of my anthems. That said, why did six of their setlist’s eleven songs come from that one album? Except for drumming virtuoso Danny Carrey’s “Chocolate Chip Trip,” each Fear Inoculum song spanned at least 10 minutes. Every member, notably guitarist Adam Jones, showed mastery of their instrument, but longer songs mean fewer songs. The absence of many Tool classics, especially those mentioned, hurt. Those songs were shorter—around six minutes each—and more distinct from each other. Hearing the chugging percussive part of “Descending” before a similar section of “Invincible” felt unnecessarily repetitive for a two-hour concert. Those who dislike Tool often say their songs all sound the same—attending this show wouldn’t help. My running theory is that they were going easy on Maynard’s voice by choosing longer, instrumental songs. The only song they played from their most popular record, Laturalus, was “The Grudge” which lacked the screaming climax. 

A definite highlight was “Culling Voices,” which began with the band sitting at the edge of their stage—Maynard’s vulnerable vocals echoing beautifully through the arena. It's rare to see an intimate moment for a historically elusive and private band. Tool strongly discourages fans from recording or taking videos at shows, except for the last song. In 2019, security kicked those who ignored the warning out of the venue with no refunds. In 2023, it’s an honour system that many Torontonians had no problem breaking. Maynard threatened to kick those who used flash in their vaginas, and if they didn’t have one, he’d install one, then kick it. Though it's not like there was much worth recording— the visuals disappointed were especially disappointing. Tool is famous for disturbing, artful, intricately animated music videos like “Parabola” and “Sober.” Seeing the “Stinkfist” and “Vicarious” videos on the big screen in 2019 was breathtaking. This time, we got abstract screensavers vaguely connected to the songs’ themes, like lungs for “Pneuma.” You wouldn’t have lost much if you ignored the screen, which is insane for a Tool show. 

Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson joined for “Jambi.” He played well. That song’s instrumental peak is a gorgeous talkbox guitar solo. For whatever reason, there was no talkbox last night, flattening the solo’s psychedelic magic. “Intolerance” from Undertow was a pleasant surprise. “Rosetta Stoned” was incredible sonically and visually, though a show shouldn’t peak at the third song. I understand not wanting to play similar songs at every show over a three-decade-long career; however, so many deep cuts deserve the spotlight more than anything off Fear Inoculum. Part of me hoped they’d play “H.” or “Right in Two.” “Opiate2” is beyond relevant today. I walked out of this show entertained enough but empty. For a band that calls themselves Tool because they want to help listeners reach their goals—this wasn’t very helpful.