Tool/ Primus/ Clutch/ Fantômas/ Melvins at Glen Helen Amphitheatre - live revie

Enigmatic art rockers lead a parade of 90s rock maverick

Art for Tool/ Primus/ Clutch/ Fantómas/ Melvins live at Glen Helen Amphitheatre, San Bernardino

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Life is hard for Tool fans. For a band who enjoy the sort of twitchy-eyed, reverential status typically reserved for spiritual icons and doctors who end plagues, the band have repaid such devotion with a paltry four studio albums. Fans would dutifully point out the heroic depth and mesmerising precision of each, but even their noisiest defender would privately confess to soul-crushing disappointment that they haven’t released a sliver of new music for 11 agonising years. Occasionally, however, Tool throw their fans a bone, such as their recent tour, which comes to a close tonight at the San Manuel Amphitheater, a sprawling outdoor venue couched in the arid, crumbling hills of San Bernardino, California. Or ‘San Berdoo’ to locals and members of outlaw motorcycle clubs. The band have stacked tonight’s support slots with an eccentric gang of convention-dodging rule-breakers from those halcyon days of the 90s. In view of tonight’s line-up, the venue should have hung a sign above the turnstiles saying, ‘Abandon all hope of boring, 44 rock’n’roll, all ye who enter here’.

First up are MELVINS [7], who get right down to business, ripping through new material like Euthanasia alongside 1993’s Hag Me. Although it’s barely four o’clock and the blinding California sun angrily sears the thin crowd beneath, they carry on imperviously, treating the early birds to a sludgy, hard-grooving 30-minute set that includes a spiralling, psyched-out reimagination of the Beatles’ I softwareuiphraseguid=“74e1b2d6-7c3f-40f2-b006-ea5964b1dc90”>Wanna Hold Your Hand.

Art rock supergroup FANTÔMAS [5], one of Mike Patton’s multitudinous side-projects, follow with their first live show in nine years, and the extent to which you might enjoy tonight’s set depends entirely on your appetite for eardrum-shattering noise-rock experimentalism. Covering creepy scores from music and television, each song follows an increasingly predictable pattern of screamyblastbeats followed by campy, old-timey singing. At one point Mike unsuccessfully attempts to get a “Tool!” chant started and when his efforts fail to find purchase, he quips, “Alright, then you’re going to get more of this shit.” Between acts, the Crystal Method spin pulsating sets of rock and electronica and when they kick off Def Leppard’s Rock Of Ages, the house just about loses its mind. The sun mercifully begins its descent as CLUTCH [8] take the stage and launch into an absolutely filthy version of Crucial Velocity. Each pounding and absurdly hooky song beams a bright, flashing, neon reminder of why Clutch are the best goddamned rock’n’roll band on the planet. Neil Fallon blows into a harmonica and howls, “Hear that? That’s the ‘Fuck Yeah Express!’” as they wrap up an absolutely banging campaign with Electric Worry and X-Ray Visions.

Just after 7:30, PRIMUS [8] take the stage to a siege of euphoric howls, piling straight into Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers. Funky as hell and erupting with titanic metal choruses, they sound more vital than ever, led by Les Claypool and his utterly transfixing bass-playing virtuosity. Stopping mid-song to admire the ‘Twisted Taters’ sign at the back of the lawn, Les dedicates the remainder of the opener to Tool and the potato vendor. Their electric 45-minute set unfolds as a tapestry of wildly percussive jamming, with Les slapping, picking and strumming his way through fan faves like Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver, Mr. softwareuiphraseguid=“00fe6a96-6364-427b-8555-9a8ff8560177”>Krinkle and Jerry Was A Race Car Driver.

If you’ve ever seen a TOOL [9] show, then you know exactly what you’re going to get and yet still, they always seem to eviscerate expectations. Tonight is no exception. Taking the stage just after 9pm, the band lead off with The Grudge. Decked out in futuristic RoboCop-style armour, frontman Maynard James Keenan shouts, “San Berdoo! Hot balls!” before leading the band through Parabol, Parabola and a taut, grinding version of Schism. As usual, Maynard remains in his perch beside the drumkit, facing drummer Danny Carey and interspersing his vocals with a weird array of choppy poses that fall in somewhere between miming, interpretive dance and karate. The band are tight and relentlessly heavy as they plow through a marauding two-hour, 15-song set that also includes Aenema, a thundering, teased out Jambi and Forty-Six & 2. Amplifying the prismatic psychedelic undertones of the music, video montages featuring the metaphysically rooted art of Alex Grey play out on 20-foot screens behind the band in a collision of the mundane, the peculiar and the deeply disturbing. Initiating the encores, Danny’s prolonged drum solo thrills with every roll of the toms and by the time the band reach closer Stinkfist, the crowd are sweating and hoarse, though baying for more. Recently, bassist Justin Chancellor revealed that Tool’s forthcoming album is 90% done and yet with no release date or details in sight, new Tool music remains as remote as the first Starbucks on Saturn. Life is indeed hard for Tool fans but tonight is a reminder that their faith is eventually rewarded.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.