Somehow, someway the enigmatic prog-rockers who haven’t released new music since 2006 closed out one of America’s biggest festivals in convincing fashion.
Tool was no easy sell on the Governors Ball crowd. Their seven-minute metal excursions in bizarre time signatures have no place on a playlist amongst the fest’s usual menu of hip-hop, EDM and synch-ready alt rock, and their devotees stuck out like sore, black-tee-shirted thumbs amongst the droves of usual attendees. By the time Maynard James Keenan and friends took the main stage for their 9:15 p.m. set, Wiz Khalifa’s dueling closer across the Randall’s Island grounds might as well have been in a different area code.
But, alas, it worked. Out of place as it was, it sure helps when your diehards turn up like Tool’s did last night (June 4). They were often wearing Tool t-shirts, and even when they weren’t, no one was going to mistake them for people there to see Marshmello the previous day. Their numbers were strong and the main stage crowd was a large one. And Tool is a dominant live force, as if they needed reminding.
The quartet stayed true to the evening’s schedule and gifted their fans an hour and forty-five minutes of music. Watching Tool live, it’s hard to believe so much music is coming from just three instrumentalists, particularly the mighty guitar work of one Adam Jones. Together with the panoramic drumming of Danny Carey and the murderous bass work of Justin Chancellor, it’s a formidable unit, well-versed and well-equipped for the numerous left turns, music theory stunts and full-on assaults a Tool set brings.
It’s particularly interesting how Keenan fits into all this. Not only was he positioned — per usual — far from the typical frontman spotlight back, near the drumkit, he was quite literally stationed in a lightless pocket of the stage, left in his accustomed shroud of shadows. He scarcely said a word in between songs, saving most of them for one intriguing moment following “Schism,” the third song in the set. After naming a horde of publications across the political spectrum — Fox News, Huffington Post, Breitbart, and the like — he announced, “None of these things are your enemy. Your enemy is ignorance. That’s the fight. If you disagree, this next song is for you.” That song? “Opiate,” featuring the opening line, “Choices always were a problem for you.”
Keenan, who’s been dressing up in cop gear for concerts lately, appears to herald some quest for truth and togetherness, which, for him, transcends any political allegiance. Playing Boston Calling last weekend, he saluted artists’ role in society as “merchants of emotion” and the need for law enforcement and military to “defend our right to act like whining, entitled snowflake assholes.” Having served in the army some 30 years ago, Keenan has, through all the coarse language and loaded buzzwords, experienced both sides of this bargain.
In the end, Tool’s first New York City-area concert in 11 years did not include any new music; not even “Descending,” a song they’d been playing lately that’s only “new” in the sense it’s never been recorded since it first popped up in a live show in 2012. Dubious as it might’ve looked on in theory, Gov Ball’s decision to go with Tool was a good one. If last year they went with the Strokes and the Killers — bands about a decade past their commercial peak — why not double down on alt-rock cult status and book one of the genre’s most awesomely inactive greats?
Here’s the set list from Tool’s Governors Ball performance (via Setlist.fm):
“Third Eye”?Drum Solo
“Forty-Six & 2”