When you think of a band still touring and releasing new music nearly 30 years since their debut, you might think there is a lengthy discography behind them. That is not the case for Tool, who have just released their fifth studio and first new album in 13 years, Fear Inoculum. When asked by BBC Radio 1 why it took so long for Tool to follow-up 10,000 Days, Maynard James Keenan cited “crippling self-doubt” about living up to the expectations placed on the band and “paranoia” that the album would not be as good as it could be. After all, their four preceding albums make up one of the most highly regarded discographies in metal.
On Tuesday night, the Fear Inoculum tour hit Barclays Center in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn for a sold out and much anticipated show. Tool have been touring steadily the past five years (this was the first stop in NYC since their headlining Governor’s Ball set back in 2017), but for the first time in more than a decade, the band was directly supporting a new LP.
UK post-punk band Killing Joke provided the support, playing to less than a half-filled room when the took the stage, but by the time the opening set finished, the arena was packed and the buzz in the room had hit a fever pitch.
Fans were made well aware of the band’s strict “No Camera” policy via notices taped to seats and security guards carrying signs echoing the rules. The intention was to prevent fans from distracting from the live experience and forcing us to live in the moment; a sentiment that should be more commonplace at modern shows. The policy was heavily enforced by security as a steady stream of fans were ejected throughout the night and flashlights constantly scanning rows of seats for phones. The enforcement in some sections turned out to be more of a nuisance than its intention, and was ultimately undermined during the last song of the night, “Stinkfist” as Maynard told security to “stand down” to allow fans take some photos.
As far as shows at Barclays Center, the sound tends to be an issue. Much like the NY Islanders had great trouble adapting the arena to a hockey stadium, sound engineers frequently struggle with the mix, especially in the upper bowls. This was not the case whatsoever for Tool on Tuesday. The engineers came up with a perfect mix that was crisp and had a lot of depth, even in the upper bowl. Every element of Dan Carey’s massive drum set was as clear as it could be, and the deep, boomy bass filled the air. I have never experienced better sound in that arena, and with Tool’s detailed and complex music, it was certainly necessary to achieve perfection.
Drummer Dan Carey is one of the more influential drummers in modern music. His vast drum set is the centerpiece of the stage and he plays with an ease and style that is mesmerizing. Tool are known for odd and complex time signatures, all of which are glued together by the percussionist. The encore began with Carey commanding the stage all by himself. A long gong solo served as a prelude, followed by Carey layering the frenetic and dystopian electronic loops of “Chocolate Chip Trip” before sitting back at the drum kit and ripping off a tight solo. This small part of the show by itself was an intense prog journey that reflects the complex history of Tool.
It was also abundantly clear that the band was very happy to be touring and playing new music again. During “Jambi,” guitarist Adam Jones crossed the stage to give bassist Justin Chancellor a big hug and a quick laugh and during new song “Invincible” the two leaned against each other as they jammed away. Maynard, who is known to dress in concealing costume and hide in the shadows behind the drum kit, was now on well-lit and elevated platforms; still keeping towards the back but in plain view the whole time. At one point, he went over to Adam Jones’ set-up, unplugged one of the Marshall amps, and carried it across the stage and up the stairs to his platform to be used as a stool.
Tool delivered a career spanning set, playing songs from all of their releases except Undertow (which was represented at other stops nearby). Before playing “Part of Me” off the 1992 EP Opiate, Maynard told the crowd that the song was written before anyone 30 years old and younger “were even sperm yet.” The new songs off Fear Inocolum seamlessly mixed with their classics and it cannot be understated how full and crisp everything sounded. The light show was also impressive, with massive LED screens showing imagery from their groundbreaking music videos, and well timed lasers to amplify the experience. A curtain made of long individual threads was at times in front of the band while a secondary light show was projected onto it. This added another layer of depth to the staging, but also cast interesting shadows onto the band members.
Before playing “Stinkfist” to end the night, Maynard welcomed longtime collaborator and artist Alex Grey onto the stage to received a warm ovation from the crowd. Alex designed Tool’s iconic album covers and his art is a fundamental part of the live stage show.
The Fear Inoculum tour continues through the New Year, with west coast dates in January and Australia/New Zealand dates in February. This show should not be missed. A band that many thought would not release another album have proven again that they are still one of the most formidable bands in the world.
Setlist: Fear Inoculum, Ænema, The Pot, Parabol, Parabola, Pneuma, Schism, Jambi, Vicarious, Part of Me, 46 & 2.
Encore: Chocolate Chip Trip, Invincible, (-)Ions, Stinkfist