Tool’s multisensory performance at the quaking Wiltern on Monday, the first of two Koreatown sellouts and the band’s first local show since 1999, was nothing short of spectacular.
With evocative and sometimes disturbing short films and other images swirling and flickering on screens behind the four players, the band played tightly wound, highly dramatic interpretations of songs from its three studio albums, with emphasis on the current “Lateralus” (Volcano) collection.
With a marked attention to detail that Frank Zappa would have been proud of, the players stayed true to the recorded versions (seven new ones, five older) while adding enough live energy and contrast to bring fresh life to each number.
Opener “The Grudge,” the first song on the new album, built slowly from a simmering start and exploded into a wicked climax that drew thunderous response from the crowd, which remained standing throughout the nearly two-hour show. (Meanwhile, outside on Wilshire, desperate fans were offering hundreds of dollars for a single ticket.)
“Stinkfist,” the lead track from Tool’s superior 1996 entry “Aenima,” was accompanied by the song’s jarring, inhuman video. Shadowy singer Maynard Keenan performed the entire show perched, rear stage right, on a platform behind guitarist Adam Jones and directly in front of the smaller of the two video screens, making it nearly impossible to see his face, which was further hidden by a wide dark stripe of black paint down the center.
After an hour, Tool left the stage and guitarist Robert Fripp, from veteran progressive-rock group and opening act King Crimson (a huge influence on Tool’s style), played some atmospheric six-string music for a few minutes while the headliners and the audience caught their breath.
Tool wrapped the awesome show with a crowd-pleasing four-song run: “Sober,” from 1993’s “Undertow,” featured its infamous “eye surgery” video; new song “Parabola” grew from quiet early passages to explosive power-chord fury; “Aenema,” one of many Tool songs with water as lyrical inspiration, envisioned the swallowing of California by the Pacific; and 10-minute prog-rock closer “Lateralis” brought the extraordinary show to an end with a final display of the band’s grace under pressure.