CONCERT REVIEW: TOOL Offers New York a Visually Stunning, Musically Mind-Bending Spectacle – UBS Arena (February 23rd, 2022)

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With the temperature quickly falling back to freezing from the unseasonably warm afternoon, Tool fans arrived at the $1.1 billion UBS Arena in Elmont, Nassau County, New York eager to see the progressive metal titans from Los Angeles amid their first tour in more than two years.  In support of their fifth studio album, and first in 13 years, Fear Inoculum” was released in 2019 to widespread acclaim, deemed to be on the level with their originally established sound nearly 30 years ago. With music’s worst enemy – the COVID-19 pandemic – finally on the decline, the quartet arrived in Long Island eager to present their newest material in a live setting to their legion of diehard supporters.

Formally opened in November 2021, the 19,000 seat UBS Arena was constructed with musical acts as a co-tenant with sporting events, rather than an afterthought. Kudos to the design team who installed hundreds of thousands of feet of fiberglass material on the building’s surfaces to absorb live music-ruining reverberation, which is sure to make the venue a destination stop for any major touring artist.

As throngs of excited fans approached the shiny, new venue from nearby parking lots charging a whopping $50, it was hard not to notice the giant video board messages and bullhorn warnings that “at the request of the performer, no video recording or use of cell phone during this show will be permitted. Once inside, signs plastered on walls and photo-copies taped seats heeded the same bylaw. Point taken, and by my frequent surveys of the crowd throughout the night, not too many souls messed about.

That all aside, the nearly sold-out show drew patrons to UBS Arena early to check out its offerings and navigate throughout the giant concourses in search of a $15 mouth-watering burger, craft beer or band merch. Visible throughout were murals depicting imagery from Long Island’s history, including the world famous thoroughbred racetrack Belmont Park, and of course the building’s main tenant, the New York Islanders of the NHL.

Taking over opening support duties for the remainder of the Fear Inoculum” tour, previously held by alternative rockers Blonde Redhead, The Acid Helps took to the stage at 7:35 pm. Also hailing from Los Angeles, the duo of Tim Dawson (vocals, guitar) and Ryan “Junior” Kittlitz (drums) were handpicked by Keenan himself for this second leg of the U.S. tour. 

The Acid Helps warmed up the steadily increasing crowd filing into the arena in search of their seats with their infectious blend of alternative metal, heavy grunge and stoner rock. Their 9-song set featured a new single, the unhinged “Sink Pisser,” as well as their bass-laden track “This Thing Will Not Die,” courtesy of Jefferson Eben. Although their 45-minute set was impressive, the audience continued to buzz about, becoming more and more anxious as the minutes ticked away until Tool’s triumphant arrival.

THE ACID HELPS Photos

Promptly at 8:45 pm, the house lights went dark as the intro music began to play, accompanied by a video projection of Alex Grey’s “Study for The Great Turn.” Tool’s musical style is droning yet precise, laden with dark, brooding lyrics. Their opening number to Act I of tonight’s performance, the title track Fear Inoculum,” was no exception. The masterful Danny Carey was the first to appear, sporting a New York Knick’s jersey, as he climbed into his spacious drum kit set upon a center riser. Awarded scholarships to play college basketball, we could have lost him to the NBA. Thankfully, music ended up being his ultimate career choice. Next, Justin Chancellor, Tool’s bassist since 1995, moved into position at stage right. The band’s rhythmic leader and frequent cheerleader was soon followed by guitarist Adam Jones at stage left. Armed with a Gibson Les Paul (and later a Flying V), Adam Jones was to deliver searing guitar riffs all night long. Finally, after two minutes into the opener, vocalist Maynard James Keenan was visible skulking in the shadows as he patrolled atop one of two elevated stage risers flanking Carey on either side. Each band member was about to put their heart and soul into every song for the next two and a half hours.

Enveloped within a 5-story transparent curtain that was draped around the stage perimeter for the early portions of the show, the badass nerd Keenan wore pronounced black eye makeup beneath thick black frame glasses that were to eventually be removed mid-song. With his signature color palette spiked mohawk, and a reported fan of the legendary band Kiss, Keegan also rocked a black Ace Frehley T-shirt. Per his usual performance style, and while dwarfed by the massive LED video screen behind him displaying visuals of mind-blowing psychedelic art and sacred geometrical symbols, the enigmatic frontman kept his stage chatting to a bare minimum.

Showcasing a 12-song setlist, Tool explored material from all five of their studio albums. While clutching his microphone stand and writhing back and forth like a lion on the prowl, Keenan and his bandmates unleashed a tour de force performance of “Sober” from 1993’s “Undertow,” which flip-flops in the tour rotation opposite of “Opiate.” A vast majority of fans throughout the venue were witnessed to be standing on their feet for the show’s entirety, completely taken by the infectious energy of Carey, Chancellor, Jones and Keenan.

During one of Tool’s most popular songs, “The Pot,” the crowd religiously chanted the lyrics “You must’ve been so high” in unison, with many fans emphatically punching their fists into the air or headbanging. Other set highlights included “Pushit” from 1996’s “Ænima,” followed by “Pnuema,” at which time the giant curtain was furled and replaced with undulating lighting rigs that fired multi-colored laser beams all over the arena. After the show, a ‘superfan’ pointed out to me that during “The Grudge,” from 2001’s “Lateralus,” “it felt like Maynard’s scream was longer than the original album’s recording.”

Tool concluded Act I of its grand spectacle with another track from “Ænima,” “Hooker with a Penis,” which filled the arena with Keenan’s megaphonic voice and heavy guitar distortion courtesy of Jones. If anyone in attendance was wondering if they had time to use the restroom or grab one more beer, wonder no more. A large digital clock display suddenly appeared on the main video board as the countdown time left in intermission began from 12 minutes.

Act II, a three-song encore, kicked off with Carey’s epic drum solo instrumental “Chocolate Chip Trip.” Another memorable moment of the evening occurred next when all four bandmates sat in chairs formed in an intimate semi-circle to perform “Culling Voices,” before returning to their original stage positions to finish out the song. Tool closed the show with one last offering from 2019’s Fear Inoculum”, “Invincible,” the ironically introspective song about themselves – aging rockers who are all painfully aware of their own mortality.

Tool are amazingly talented musicians that always provide its fanatical base with an incredible visual performance. If there were gaffes at any point during Tool’s two-and-a-half hour set, I certainly did not notice them. The bottom line is that the Fear Inoculum” tour experience is definitely worth attending in person, and you still have the opportunity before it wraps on March 20th in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Following its North American dates, Tool will head overseas to UK and Europe for more shows commencing on April 23rd in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the tour finale on May 24th in Budapest, Hungary.

TOOL Setlist:

Fear Inoculum / Sober / The Pot / Pushit / Pneuma / The Grudge / Right In Two / Descending / Hooker With a Penis / Intermission / Chocolate Chip Trip / Culling Voices / Invincible

TOOL Photos

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: TOOL’s Fear Inoculum Ultra Deluxe Vinyl Arrives April 8 via RCA Records 

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