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Tool Pummel Mile High Music Festival With Heavy, Sprawling Set

July 20, 2009 11:47 AM ET

God knows the reason behind anything Maynard James Keenan says onstage. "Good evening, naked people!" the mohawked Tool frontman declared from the shadows after the band opened with "Jambi" Saturday night in Colorado. "This evening's performance is brought to you by the cool, refreshing taste of ... boobies! Everyone likes boobies." But it was tempting to interpret this non sequitur as a comment on the dark, arty metal quartet's unusual position of opening for party-time jam band Widespread Panic at Denver's Mile High Music Festival. Amusingly, as thousands of black-clad Tool fans fled to the parking lot after the band's set of just more than an hour, thousands of tie-dyed Panic-heads were filing in.

Opening a 16-date North American run, which peaks with a Lollapalooza set in Chicago August 8th, Tool lumbered through a nine-song set almost identical to that of its last tour, in 2007. Keenan assumed his usual rock-star pose, his skinny silhouette framed against nonstop videos of skulls, eyeballs, vague scenes of futuristic torture and robotic mannequins. Drummer Danny Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor immediately locked into punishing headbanger riffs, letting up occasionally for Keenan and guitarist Adam Jones to provide the sweet melodies influenced by Alice In Chains and Jane's Addiction.

Tool, which formed almost 19 years ago in Los Angeles, opened on a straightforward note — "Jambi" followed by "Stinkfist" and "Forty Six & 2" were mostly (much louder) recreations from their respective albums. The centerpiece of the set, though, was the segue from the brief "Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)," in which Keenan yammered like an Auto-Tune auctioneer, to the sprawling, profane "Rosetta Stoned." Reproduced from the last of the band's four albums, 2006's 10,000 Days, the songs laid out just about every musical Tool angle, from spacey feedback jams that veered between Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead's "Drums and Space" to snarling, anti-authoritarian Keenan lyrics about bug eyes, gaping jaws, E.T., Isabella Rosellini, Jackie Chan and "the butt end of the banana vessel." Green laser beams soared across the soccer stadium in Commerce City, Colorado, throughout "Rosetta Stoned," reinforcing the psychedelic nature of the 15-minute song.

The rest of the set was pretty much an anticlimax, although Patrick Carney, drummer for the blues-rock duo Black Keys, showed up for a percussion boost on "Lateralus." Keenan left the stage briefly, then returned wearing nothing but tight, black underpants. It was a perverse rock-star touch given the cannibalistic lyrics of the closing "Vicarious": "Blood like rain come down/drum on grave and ground/part vampire, part warrior/carnivore and voyeur." Maybe the singer simply planned to eat Widespread Panic later in the night.

Set list:
"Jambi"
"Stinkfist"
"Forty-Six & 2"
"Schism"
"Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)"
"Rosetta Stoned"
"Flood"
"Lateralus"
"Vicarious"

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