On a cold and wet night in Orlando, Florida on February 8th, nearly 20,000 fans crammed into the Amway Center for one of the loudest and most unique rock bands around. Fellow 1990s alternative rockers Blonde Redhead opened the show with a 45-minute set of mostly mid-tempo pop rock. Multi-instrumentalists Amedeo Pace (guitar, bass) and Kazu Makino (guitar, bass, keyboards) shared lead vocal duties throughout the set. The New York band closed the set with its liveliest song, a vibrant rendition of “23.”
A half-hour later, members of Tool took the stage and played the first few songs partially obscured by a curtain. With scarce lighting and the band members mostly seen in silhouette, the emphasis was placed not on them but on the music and the visuals behind them. Throughout the concert, images that ranged from psychedelic to abstract to downright creepy were projected onto the huge screens.
Tool began the set with the slow-burning “Fear Inoculum,” built around a Middle Eastern rhythm and dense melodies, the song gradually swelling from soft and soothing to a shockingly powerful climax in its ten-plus minutes.
Throughout the set, singer Maynard James Keenan prowled the raised platform at the back of the stage like a caged predator. He mostly stuck to the shadows, singing from the corners and without any spotlight, while his bandmates played on the lower stage in front of him.
Four songs into the set, during a crowd-pleasing performance of “Pushit,” the curtain was removed, giving an unobstructed view of the band for the rest of the show. From that point on, the stage visuals, produced by guitarist Adam Jones, were dialed up to eleven, with lights that alternated between subdued, ethereal, and bombastic, and even the occasional lasers and confetti.
Songs from 2019’s Fear Inoculum made up half of the set, with no more than two from any other album and zero songs from Undertow. Keenan’s voice was a soft croon with occasional violent outbursts, though for most of the show his vocals were overpowered in the mix by Danny Carey’s bone-rattling drums. Carey was a highlight of the show, laying down punishing polyrhythms with odd time signatures on his massive drum kit.
Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor meshed together well. Chancellor often riffed on his bass like a guitarist while Jones made heavy use of his trademark staccato arpeggios, palm muting, and delay-drenched circular rhythms.
The show’s biggest weakness was Tool’s biggest weakness. Though each of the songs was complex, highly technical, and exciting in its on right, there are so many similarities, so many times the band employed the same tricks, that after a while the lengthy songs started to sound repetitive. But even so, the musical mastery was enough to keep the set interesting despite nearly every song being long and drawn out.
Most of the set featured complex grooves with short bursts of ferocity, the dynamic shifts making those explosions more impactful. To close out the regular set, though, the band went with one of its straightforward headbangers, the aggressive “Hooker With a Penis,” Keenan riling up the fans with appropriately obscene hand gestures.
After a twelve-minute countdown to the end of intermission, Carey returned to the stage to play a drum solo and “Chocolate Chip Trip” on synthesizers. The rest of the band then joined him onstage. Keenan went to the front of the stage for the first time and sat on a chair next to the seated Jones and Chancellor for a soft, soulful rendition of “Culling Voices. Tool then closed the show with the dynamic epic “Invincible,” the only song of the show that fans were allowed to record on their phones.
With complex songs that frequently shifted in time, rhythm, and intensity and Keenan’s purposeful ignoring of the crowd, the show had a strangely impersonal aspect. It was less like watching a band perform onstage and more of an immersive experience of the songs, which just so happened to be played by a live band.