By Casey Rafter
After hours of melting the minds and faces of ecstatic audience members, Danny Carey, drummer for the band Tool, climbed back into his drum kit. Carey — sporting a King’s jersey — was the first band member to return to the crowd for a three-song encore. Though more often than not, the band’s frontman Maynard James Keenan gets the most recognition, Carey earned the biggest response of the night by opening the curtain call with several minutes of live-programming beats and furious jamming.
Over 17,000 voices had rose to chaotic heights as Tool mounted the stage at Golden One Center on Jan. 15. The group was returning to Sacramento for the first time since its 2019 Aftershock performance, joined now by opening act Blonde Redhead. Sacramento was the fourth stop in a tour featuring 54 dates across the U.S. and Europe. That amount of time between Tool’s visits to Sacramento isn’t unusual but for more than two years, the band has had a non-existent performance schedule thanks to the music industry’s greatest foe: COVID-19.
At the start of the night, after breathily charming the crowd with “Spring and by Summer Fall,” Blonde Redhead’s singer Kazu Makino greeted everyone with her arms held up, waving. “It’s huge! It’s huge! I know,” she said as she peered out over the vastness of the stadium. “I’m sure none of you know us. It’s a great opportunity for us. We thank Tool and thank you.”
The New York band — made up of Makino and brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace, guitarist and drummer, respectively — hasn’t set foot in Sacramento since Launchfest 2013.
Tool often shares the spotlight with acts like Blonde Redhead. As the band’s career has progressed, it has built its live show to highlight its own talented members — Keenan, Carey, bassist Justin Chancellor and guitarist Adam Jones — but also the incredible psychedelic art that has become iconic to its image. Jones, who received birthday well-wishes from Keenan during the band’s performance of “Opiate,” is greatly responsible for the art used in most of the band’s album covers and packaging.
In 2019, Tool released “Fear Inoculum,” its first studio album in nearly 13 years. The Golden One Center’s audience was treated to six songs from that collection, including the studio recording of that album’s opening track, “Litanie contre la Peur.” As the band took the stage, the instrumental track played, accompanied by a projection of Alex Grey’s “Study for ‘The Great Turn.’”
Grey mixes sacred geometry and fractals that are found in nature with shimmering colors — a well that Tool returns to often when developing its live-performance visuals.
Nearly drowning out Keenan’s own voice, a virtually sold-out crowd joined him for each word of notable favorites “Pushit,” “The Grudge” and “Hooker with a Penis.” Many superfans remained on their feet for the entire show, thrusting their arms in the air to give a middle finger in solidarity with Keenan or enthusiastic bull horns (because…Tool rocks). The message of anti-establishmentarianism in many of Keenan’s lyrics has moved decades of like-minded rockers.
The band’s Sacramento audience was treated to an exclusive performance when, for the first time live, Tool played “Culling Voices,” a track from its most recent studio effort. At the mid-point of that 10-minute song, millions of pieces of confetti took flight, blown into the crowd from the venue’s rafters. Joy erupted from the crowd, delighting several who reported to be inhibited by more than mere alcohol. Hands grasped in the air in an effort to capture pieces of the colorful matter raining on the crowd.
On the morning of Tool’s Sacramento performance, ocean levels swelled along the California coast due to the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano near Tonga. One member of the crowd joked about the exclusion of the song Ænima from the night’s setlist. In it – a track from Tool’s second album – Keenan chants, “Learn to swim” and confesses to “praying for tidal waves.” The ticket holder couldn’t decide if they’d have found that situation ironic or tasteless, but laughed, admitting, “I think people would have noticed. I love that song, but I’m glad they didn’t play it today.”
People filtering out of the Golden One Center were obviously impressed by the night’s entertainment. One departing fan noted that Keenan’s ability to connect with the audience has improved greatly since they saw the band perform live in 2016.
“He wore a motorcycle helmet that entire night,” the happy attendee recalled for SN&R. “I found myself watching the visuals and not even noticing the band. This is so much better. It’s like they’re back in true form. I much prefer mohawk-Maynard.”