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Tool: Fear Inoculum in Las Vegas

As a music photographer, Tool has been on my bucket list, and I learned a few days prior to the show that I was going to get the opportunity to cover the Las Vegas show at the TMobile Arena. As a fan of their music, I have had the opportunity to see them perform live several times, dating back to my first live Tool experience at the inaugural Coachella Festival in 1999. I had followed Tool for years prior to that, but could never manage getting to a live performance, until they announced their co-headlining show with Rage Against The Machine, at a festival no one had ever heard of, out in the middle of the Southern California desert. While every performance has been memorable, that one has always remained my favorite… until now.

Very little has changed with Tool since those days. Bassist Paul D’Amour left the band in 1995 and was replaced by current bassist Justin Chancellor. The other three members, Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar) and Danny Carey (drums/percussion) have remained with the band since their inception in 1990. Even their live performances remain similar to their early days, with dim lighting on the band members themselves, while a massive screen behind them projects images from their music videos, which often feature creepy claymation characters, as well as psychedelic graphics (much of it album art created by Adam Jones and renowned artist Alex Grey). Their goal is to for fans to focus on the art and the music, as opposed to focusing on the individuals playing the instruments.

Maynard is notorious for hiding toward the back of the stage and wearing some sort of outlandish costume. For this show he has his hair in a spiked mohawk, is wearing bright yellow plaid pants, a black leather jacket, his eyes and lips are painted black, and a thin smile has been drawn up his cheeks. It’s a bit Joker-esque and befitting his behavior, as he creeps around in the shadows during vocal breaks. There are platforms on either side of the drum riser from which Maynard sings, and it enables him to make use of both sides of the stage. At times he squats at the edge of the platform, leering out at the audience and grimacing, and I’ve never seen Maynard move as much as he did on this night.

Did I mention that the screen behind the stage is massive? I would guess it to be about 40 feet high and nearly double that in width, truly a spectacle to behold. From anywhere in the arena it is clearly visible, and the tour made full use of it for an array of video art and light. There were absolutely no cell phones or cameras allowed, and the stadium was pure dark other than the exit tunnels. It made the stage lights and screen stand out even more. The performance was spectacular, and the sound was outstanding from anywhere in the arena, from the front row, to the very far back, as well as at my seat which was just above the floor level and about ten rows in front of the soundboard. The mix was perfect!

The set list has varied slightly throughout the tour, some nights the third song is "Eon Blue Apocalypse", followed by "The Patient", but for Vegas, they did "The Pot" instead. Also, "Part of Me" was substituted for "Swamp Song" later in the set, which surprisingly meant that they did not do a single song from Undertow. Much of the set came from their recent 2019 release, Fear Inoculum , with the rest being well spread amongst their remaining discography (sans Undertow). Even their 1992 EP Opiate got a nod with the hard-hitting "Part of Me". For the encore finale of "Stinkfist", Maynard told security to “stand down” and then told the crowd to “go ahead and whip out your gear! You’re going to want to film this. It will look great on those cell phones!”

Overall, this was my favorite live performance by Tool. The band has always been known for their near perfect technicality, both in the studio and in their live performances., and with over 30 years of experience they have only gotten better with time. It may have taken them 13 years to produce a new album, but it was worth the wait and this Fear Inoculum Tour is one that you do not want to miss!

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