Tool in California - live review

Tool and Primus go head-to-head in a battle of the proggiest in San Bernardino

Maynard James Keenan on a red stage in a Robocop suit
(Image: © Stephanie Cabral)

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It’s a curious thing when you’re sure you’re witnessing one of the performances of your lifetime, but still feel as though the band are holding back. That’s the vibe during Tool’s largest headline performance ever. Playing to tens of thousands more than usual, the quartet made the usual promises of ‘Best Show Ever’ coming into this desert grandstand, so no matter how much they deliver (and they do deliver), on some level they also disappoint.

The lack of new material is a complaint here. Just one newish song, Descending – one they’ve been playing for over two years – features in the setlist. A recent interview with bassist Justin Chancellor revealed the new album is 90 per cent complete, and after 11 years, this means we should expect it in September 2018.

Regardless, if we focus on this gig purely as a delivery of music, it’s phenomenal. Fifteen songs make this the longest setlist of this mini-tour, with highlights being The Pot and Vicarious in the same set. Maynard James Keenan, loitering reluctantly at the back, dressed in riot gear and resembling a giant ant, changes up the lyrics of LA-oriented diatribe Ænema to point ire at Washington DC tonight. And was that another new song being jammed during an extended version of Opiate? The fear is that we might never know.

The imagery is splendid. The ambition of this band has always been paramount, and the technology and visuals have brilliantly caught up.

Primus support and play a set jam-packed with their left-field greatest hits. Les Claypool cracks out his customary pig mask on Mr Krinkle and at this point it becomes clear just how good Primus are. They’ve been playing for nigh on 45 minutes, in front of black curtains in 35°C heat, and everyone’s still whooping and dancing around to My Name Is Mud with that funky, funky bass. There is no substitute for Primus.

Back to Tool playing their now classic prog metal. Adam Jones has the look of a disinterested genius about him but then stands up straight and makes his guitar sound as though there are three of him, and Danny Carey is such a talented drummer that he needs a five-minute, mind‑boggling drum solo just to get today’s dose of creativity physically out of him.

The static nature of the band members means that the visuals have to elevate this from a simple rock concert to a beautiful extravaganza, and they do. The 20-metre-high screens show the imagery that’s always accompanied Tool’s records, but it’s displayed here – with lasers and a confetti cannon finale – in ultimate splendour. The ambition of this band has always been paramount, and the technology and visuals have brilliantly caught up.

Tool are talked about with such anticipation and fervour that they’ve attracted a whole new generation of fans. Tonight will leave them waiting for that new album as impatiently as everyone else.