Allegory. That was the word that kept coming to mind during Tool’s recent show in Calgary, it’s first since 2006. The intricate imagery, created by guitarist Adam Jones, was rich in symbolism and danced in symmetry to the bands pulsating, and at times, almost haunting rhythms led by bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey. It’s as if today’s loaded political climate is tailor made for a band like Tool. Its messaging more relevant now than ever.
Throughout the set, enigmatic front man, Maynard James Keenan, was firmly planted near the back of the stage, surrounded in darkness, allowing the musical and entertainment spectacle to command the spotlight. There was a moment when Maynard urged fans to question authority, and think for themselves. Yet, I don’t think the irony of the crowd being told to think for itself, while it moved its head in a lemming like unison, is lost on a band like this; as the cerebral has always been front and centre in its 25+ year lore.
Remember, this is a group whose last album came out in 2006; a time that predates social media and our hyper-active need for self-gratification and validation from others. If you want to listen to a Tool album, well you just have to go locate a physical copy, as digital versions are not readily available. That’s the beauty of a band like Tool, its always done things its own way, on its own terms. From the challenging content matter of many of its songs, to its elaborate music videos, to its sporadic touring schedule (ie: touring after 11 years with no new album.) Aside from the amazing musicality of the band, the best and most refreshing part of the night was that fans were truly engaged. Across the expanse of the crowd, not a cell phone was to be found. Fans actually took in the show, the entertainment, without feeling the compelling need to watch the entire set through the screen of their phones. It was a rare moment of true human interaction, this was a concert that many in the sold out crowd will remember only in their memories, where perhaps it will best be coveted.
Allegory. Again I come back to that word, as the entire concert, perhaps Tool’s entire existence is that of an allegory; a message embedded within its off time signatures, its complex rhythms and its nomadic vocal tendencies. An allegory of the heightened tensions of our time. Where we are all collectively heading, possibly unknown. It might be time for us to “learn to swim.”