I was introduced to the Undertow album by a roommate when I was a senior in college. He was a sophomore and aspiring bass player, and I was at that point in time still practicing guitar regularly and had a good ear for picking stuff out. So he asked me to come sit down with him and figure out these bass lines for him. At the end of the first afternoon of struggling through the weird time signature of “Intolerance,” I was hooked.
That said, I didn’t really have a good opportunity to go see them live for some time. It was only in the fall of 2001, six months after Lateralus had been released (and during those six months only God knows how many times I played that disc) that they passed through the state where I lived, about two and a half hours away.
Boy was still a toddler then, and Dys wasn’t really interested in going, but a younger guy she worked with was down to go. So I threw him in the car and we went. HOLY HELL did I have my head blown off. The opening act was Tricky, a trip-hop artist that really didn’t match with Tool’s style or audience but wasn’t all that bad himself. (But boy, am I mad that I hit a Tricky date and not one of the dates on the same tour that weren’t opened by Meshuggah or Fantomas. D’oh!) I was so hyped after that show that we drove all the way home, got there about 1:30 or 2am, and proceeded to go close down the nearest bar instead of going to bed – and having left Boy with her mom earlier, Dys joined us. Good times.
I got to make it out again in 2007 after the most recent album’s release to see them perform at a smallish venue in Indiana. This time Dys and I both had tickets, but she was sick at the last minute and encouraged me to go alone. I sold her $80-or-whatever ticket to some bozo outside the arena for $10, and nobody sat in her seat all night. Whatta rip. Anyway, I sat there the entire night with my mouth hanging open – first at the horror of the crappiest opening band I’ve ever seen, Melt Banana, and then at the utter wonder of the Tool show itself. I went home again blown away, and much regretting that Dys hadn’t been with me to see it.
This time, while it ranks 3rd of the 3 Tool shows I’ve seen, was definitely still a great experience. Dys and I left home a bit late, and she actually worked on her laptop for about an hour and 50 minutes of the 2 hour drive, but we made it there in plenty of time and even had time to hit the bathrooms and grab her a weak and overpriced frozen hurricane before heading to our seats in the outdoor venue.
The opening band was someone I’d never heard of before, a two-man band called Tweak Bird – a guitarist and drummer who both occasionally sang, but mostly played heavy, trippy atmospheric tunes. While not exactly my cup of tea, they were talented, creative, and a good match for Tool’s music, which makes them thus far the big winner of Tool opening bands I’ve seen. Good stuff.
It was sometime during Tweak Bird’s set that we met Monica. Monica was a 5’0″ gal, about our age, in a tank top and boob glitter who was obviously one of those people who just have to make friends every time they’re in a public setting. Dys and I are polite enough, but we are not, generally speaking, those people. Hell, it’s hard enough for us to make friends in private settings. (Not on the ‘net, though! You’re welcome. I think.)
Anyhoo, we exchange pleasantries with Monica, who is apparently a HUGE TOOL FAN but attending her first concert. Dys, being less a fan but also attending her first concert, made nice talk for a few. She also made one of the best lines of the night when Monica said “To me this is like waiting for your date with the cute guy at school you’ve always had a crush on,” to which Dys replied, “Well, from what I know, you’re definitely gettin’ laid tonight!!” Heh. Awesome.
We attempted to return our attention to Tweak Bird, but kept getting interrupted for small talk with Monica. Quickly losing my patience, I used my earplugs as a good excuse to ignore her. (After many metal shows, my hearing’s not what it used to be, so I’ve worn earplugs for the last few years to protect what I’ve got. Honestly, I think I hear the show every bit as well if not better with them.) Dys, having the ability to occasionally be more patient with people than me, kept it up.
Finally Monica got up and went to get another drink or something, and we got to enjoy the Tool band members coming out and fucking with Tweak Bird during their last few songs, as this was their last show together. Guys wearing masks chasing around a guy in a big chicken mask and fake wings with “TWEAK BIRD” on the back of his white coat. And pouring packing peanuts over them and onto a fan so they’d blow all over the place. I love to see bands fuck with each other like this.
Tweak Bird left the stage and the place began to fill up. We did things like point out cool t-shirts, interesting hairdos, and particularly the amazing strength of the elastic band that was holding up the strapless top of a VERY well-endowed lady. Until, of course, Monica came back.
She introduced us, somewhat tipsily, to her boyfriend Daniel. Daniel then began to, also tipsily, recount which bands they’ve seen were “badass.” After hearing him talk about Rob Zombie and Slayer and Marilyn Manson, I mentioned a couple of death metal bands. Silence and a blank look before he said “uh, okay” and kept on talking. When I heard “Nickelback” I reactivated my “ignore” feature. I turned my “ignore” on HIGH when Monica started telling everybody nearby that “we snuck in, so we’re going to smoke a little bit, and I hope you’re not offended.” Eesh.
Said feature was working moderately well, except that I’d taken the earplugs out to talk to Dys, who was sitting to my left. When Monica’s newest drink started to kick in, she commenced occasionally screaming to encourage the band to come out. 1) Yeah, that always works, and 2) Monica has an extremely shrill voice. I put my right earplug back in, but unfortunately Monica’s seat was between mine and Dys’s so she was right there where we were trying to talk. Every time she’d scream, I’d whip my head to my right and pretend I was looking for someone the other way. It didn’t help.
I contemplated putting both earplugs in. I contemplated telling her to STFU. I contemplated punching Daniel in the throat as a precautionary measure before backfisting Monica in the face in the same movement. Finally I just shrugged and we dealt as best we could.
It was finally starting to get fully dark when the house lights went out. I’ve been to a lot of concerts before, but I never thought a bass note would just about rattle my dinner out of me. The sound that came out of the PA corrected that impression. Tool took the stage, and started into Jambi. (See MM below.)
The night’s setlist:
Forty-Six & 2
Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)
Interestingly enough, this is the same setlist as from Indiana in 2007, except there they also played “Wings for Marie/10,000 Days” between “Flood” and “Lateralus,” which for me had been the high point of the show. And while the show was great, particularly the laser effects, I wasn’t quite as wowed as last time. Still, Dys seemed to have a decent time despite sweating in the heat and not knowing the songs very well at all. Whether or not she had a good time was one of my main concerns, so that at least made me feel better. The band was fine, the sound was fine, and even though it wasn’t that push-it-over-the-top HOLY SHIT experience from before, it was still pretty damned awesome.
We were somewhat annoyed by a handful of people nearby (not just Monica and Daniel) smoking some really putrid pot, and managed not to strangle Monica in the end, even though through the last two or three songs she kept screaming a request to the band. I hope someday I’ll get her irritating-assed voice screaming “UNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNDER-TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWW!” out of my brain, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Still, all told, there are pretty much no bands left on earth for whom I’d plunk down $100 for a concert ticket, but Tool is still one of them. I’m not sure I’ll drag Dys next time if she’s not really into it, but at least she got to see for herself just once. And hey, we got out by ourselves, which is an end of itself, huh? Screeching boob-glittered pothead bimbettes be damned.