Given how long Tool fans have been waiting for new music — it’s been almost a decade since 10,000 Days came out in 2006 — a bit of a frenzy is to be expected when loyal disciples get exposed to a brief flash of fresh material.
It only took a new four-minute instrumental, “Descending,” unveiled during the band’s headlining Halloween show in Arizona (their only proper concert of 2015), to stir up serious speculation about the pending emergence of songs from Tool’s long-awaited fifth studio opus.
Anyone expecting a full-blown preview of the ferociously psychedelic alt-metal quartet’s forthcoming effort on opening night of the band’s first tour since 2014 was likely disappointed. But despite the familiar sonic territory traversed, there was no denying the enthusiasm of the frenzied followers who reveled in the classic tracks the band bashed out at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Wednesday night.
While Tool’s current jaunt pairs the outfit with another maverick heavy-rock band from the Nineties, the Bay Area’s own resident weirdos Primus, Wednesday’s kickoff only featured the headliners and designated tour openers 3TEETH, who dutifully blasted through a 40-minute string of NIN-inspired tracks.
A throaty roar rose from the crowd when Danny Carey’s massive drum kit was finally unveiled during the buildup to Tool’s set. Carey, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor filed onto the stage and gradually unfurled a rendition of the Led Zeppelin classic “No Quarter.”
The whole band made headlines a couple of months ago when it dressed as Zeppelin for the Halloween gig, but on Wednesday, only lead singer Maynard James Keenan indulged in a creative outfit. Whether he was decked out as an armored, Dark Knight–era Batman or a riot cop was difficult to discern, as he stood on his customary shadowy platform stationed toward the back of the stage.
Regardless, Maynard’s signature wail gave urgency to the cover, especially as the band torqued up the tempo to a heavy gallop to close out the set opener. “We believe every single thing we read on Facebook,” the sardonic singer deadpanned at the end of the song. “Hello, San Francisco!”
Tool proceeded to deliver several songs from its seminal 2001 album, Lateralus, churning through the fiery, complex groove of “The Grudge,” fueled by Jones’ squalling wah-wah guitar, before veering into the more hypnotic, bass-driven territory of “Parabol”/”Parabola” and “Schism.” A blazing take on the early fan favorite “Opiate” followed as the crowd filled the Civic with a howling singalong that gave a solid indication of how the rest of the night would progress.
As excited as many probably would have been to hear more new music beyond the brief airing of “Descending” (the atmospheric instrumental fans got to hear Wednesday night before it segued into 10,000 Days track “Jambi”), it wasn’t too surprising that this famously meticulous band opted not to share more songs in progress.
With “Descending” out of the picture, much of the evening’s set list stuck to the band’s better-known tunes. Similarly, most of the imagery projected behind the band hewed to the familiar (if unsettling) animation used for the songs’ videos. But as Tool dealt out such epics as “Forty Six & 2” and the crushing closer “Stinkfist” — powered by Carey’s savage yet sublimely intricate rhythms — the visuals gradually expanded to match the tunes in their scope, filling the backdrop with a fiery widescreen fractal apocalypse.
In the end, the ecstatic crowd seemed too busy reveling in the band’s brutally unique history to be disappointed about not getting more than a brief glimpse into the near future.
“No Quarter” (Led Zeppelin cover)
“Forty Six & 2”
Danny Carey drum solo