The posters for the sci-fi classic “Alien” warned that “in space, no one can hear you scream.” For the better part of a decade, Tool has been working to disprove that tagline, churning out Alpha Centauri-aimed astro-metal that actually serves to amplify, rather than drown out, the gnashing and wailing of singer Maynard James Keenan.
From the unusual setting — a venue normally used for dance and theater pieces — to the quasi-evil choice of ticket price, portent was the order of the day at this, one of a handful of theater shows preceding Tool’s full-on summer arena tour. As ever, Keenan, who used his high, piercing voice as a sort of coloring agent, refused to play the role of front man, preferring instead to patrol the back reaches of the rostrum, safely out of the glare of the stage lights.
The entire band, in fact, eschewed showmanship to an ascetic extent, poring over their instruments with monastic intensity, avoiding solos and building substantial walls of sound. That approach proved remarkably effective on songs — like the tribal “Jambi” — that aimed to be hypnotic rather than punishing.
Guitarist Adam Jones proved adept at harnessing drones — Eastern-tinged when the mood called for it, steely and feedback-drenched at other times — that imparted a ceremonial vibe to songs such as “Rosetta Stoned” and “Lateralus.” Both of those crept past the 10-minute mark but did so without eliciting undue glances at the clock.
That affinity for bombast extended to the video montages — creepy crawlers and amorphous ugliness reminiscent of vintage Butthole Surfers shows — which were as difficult to look away from as they were to watch.
Oddly enough, when the foursome decided to flex its muscle, a power failure ensued. Apologists might blame City Center’s lofty construction for dulling the impact of “Prison Sex” and “Stinkfist,” but, in point of fact, the ham-fisted constructions were the crux of the problem. At one point, unreconstructed heaviness was about the only thing Tool had going for them. With more evolved weapons at their disposal, it’s time for them to put down the blunt instruments once and for all.