“I needed to destroy”: Watch video footage of the first-ever Tool concert in 1991

Maynard James Keenan singing onstage with Tool in 1991
(Image credit: Ricky Oliphant/YouTube)

Polyrhythms, existentialism and dick jokes – that’s the Tool we all know and love! With a snarl of tongue-in-cheek cynicism and a flourish of prog-infused sonics, the group have become the face of daringly dissonant metal. But every legend has to start somewhere: Maynard James Keenan certainly didn’t exit the womb intending to rumble out Satanic German cookie recipes or piece together Fibonacci-inspired time signatures. Luckily for us, we can witness the night that started it all. Tool’s first show was captured on film, and it’s a thing of raw, reckless beauty. 

Tool would first cross paths thanks to Bill Manspeaker’s satirical shitstorm of a band, Green Jellö. Keenan had just got over a creative slump after fronting the flop that was C.A.D., dipping his toe back into the music scene in 1990 by entering the lineup, while Tool drummer Danny Carey would also eventually join. Guitarist Adam Jones offered his creative talents to Green Jellö to help Manspeaker create some daft new onstage costumes. 

Despite having a promising VFX career ahead of him – working on sculptures for Jurassic Park, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Predator 2 – Jones was immediately interested in working with Keenan. In a 2008 interview, the player recalled thinking, “Here’s my job working on special effects for movies, and there’s my hobby playing guitar.” But, Tool quickly became his priority. The pair would eventually drag Carey into the mix, as well as Keenan’s pal Paul D’Amour to round things off on bass.

The glorious Tool showcase took place in Hollywood’s The Club With No Name on October 7, 1991, and the set is a rip-roaring whirl of carnal fury. As the monolithic wall of metal builds around him, Keenan is consumed: the crowd is confronted with an uncaged animal, Keenan’s shirtless form primal as he howls and convulses onstage like a wounded beast. 

Enraptured, the crowd rejoice in the spectacle of metal anguish. The quartet don’t even have an EP out yet, but the set is bursting with bangers. The iconic Sober packs a particularly poignant punch, the frazzled recording unable to detract from the stunning intensity of Keenan’s performance.

In his 2016 memoir, A Perfect Union Of Contrary Things, the singer reflected on the frustration he felt in these early days. “I’d had good friends in Boston and I’d been successful at the pet store and I believed I was on the right path… Then I lose everything and I’m living on $400 a month,” he recalled. “I needed to destroy.”

He continued: “I needed to primal scream and I needed to be loud enough to make people go, ‘What the fuck was that?!’ It was that tipping point where you either become a serial killer or a rock star.”

And, watching this performance, the desperation is evident. With each track, another blood vessel seems to appear on Keenan’s snarling face, every ounce of desperation on full display.

33 years on from their first gig, it’s fair to say that Tool answered Keenan’s prayers. His ‘primal scream’ of a project has gone on to bag four Grammys and lure in an intimidatingly diehard fanbase. The band’s shows have also grown exponentially, transforming into immense, psychedelic experiences – yet that earnest desperation to be loud, to be heard, remains.

Tool have well and truly cemented their position as prog metal royalty, so we’re very glad Keenan decided to pursue metal instead of becoming a serial killer.

Emily Swingle

Full-time freelancer, part-time music festival gremlin, Emily first cut her journalistic teeth when she co-founded Bittersweet Press in 2019. After asserting herself as a home-grown, emo-loving, nu-metal apologist, Clash Magazine would eventually invite Emily to join their Editorial team in 2022. In the following year, she would pen her first piece for Metal Hammer - unfortunately for the team, Emily has since become a regular fixture. When she’s not blasting metal for Hammer, she also scribbles for Rock Sound, Why Now and Guitar and more.