Tool brought a heavyweight bounty of friends out to play for their tour closer at San Bernardino’s Glen Helen Amphitheater on Saturday, inviting tens of thousands along for the ride. The Melvins, Fantomas, Clutch, The Crystal Method and Primus wove a highly flavored avant garde rock tapestry on which the headliners would deliver the goods to tens of thousands of their time-signature decoder-ring-wearing devotees.
As the blazing midday sun threatened triple digits, Melvins welcomed arrivals with an awesomely oddball show not unlike Saturday morning cartoons for metalheads. Clearly in their element among legions of extended-family rock acolytes, Buzz & friends dabbled in the new with material from their upcoming A Walk With Love & Death, before taking liberties with an angular metal version of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Soon after, Fantômas – led by maniac-savant vocalist Mike Patton – delivered a dose of wild sonic epilepsy in their first U.S. show since 2008. Melvins’ Dale Crover sat in for Dave Lombardo on drums, shifting the dynamic with just enough unpredictability to add an exciting new spice.
Between acts, The Crystal Method – now the solitary operation of Scott Kirkland after Ken Jordan recently retired – delivered far more than a retro-dance nostalgia trip with a hybridization of familiar hits such as “Busy Child” and a slew of live creations.
Then there was Clutch, kings of the mountain in high-energy heavy music for the thinking man. Their ability to hone a set to a razor-sharp edge of pure rock fury is unparalleled, never more potent than on their latest album Psychic Warfare. Led by the stampeding giant voice of Neil Fallon, the Maryland rockers ripped through ten piston-pumping juggernaut uppercuts of devastating excellence including “Profits of Doom,” “D.C. Sound Attack” and blasting closer “X-Ray Visions”.
As the sun made its way behind the jagged peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, Primus got the low-end funk-metal juices flowing. Les Claypool has fluidly integrated his jam band dabbling over the last decade, giving a more radiant energy to the band’s angular sonic struts. This allowed an enormously-celebrated “Too Many Puppies” to seamlessly flow into “Sgt. Baker” and back again, and provided a revitalizing expansion to old gems including closer “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”.
It’s been 11 long years since prog-rock deities Tool last released an album, false hopes torturing diehards with increasing regularity. But the potency and depth of their output defies the trends of waning interest. With a 65,000 venue capacity, Saturday’s tour closer also marked their largest non-festival headlining show ever. Rising to the challenge of a grande finale, Maynard James Keenan, Justin Chancellor, Adam Jones and Danny Carey delivered a two-hour, 15-song set (their longest of the tour) of meticulously crafted rock obliteration that was equal parts hypnotically enchanting and cathartically transcendent.
Surrounded by a kaleidoscope of abstract visual symbolism and the trippiest of metaphysical complexities on LCD screens behind them, the band largely kept out of the spotlight – none moreso than Keenan, who operated entirely in the shadows, dressed in full riot-gear regalia.
The San Andreas fault line running just outside the border of the Glen Helen Pavillion proved to be a little too close to home for those paying attention during “Ænema,” an ode to half of California breaking off into the ocean to create the new Arizona Bay. And where would that break be? On a fault line, of course. As Danny Carey, Tool‘s demonically polyrhythmic drummer, laid a thunderous framework to the outdo, the closing riff cut like a saw blade tearing into the earth behind the ampitheatre.
For even the most scrutinizing fan, there was no shortage of fresh excitement to be found in the sound. The newish instrumental “Descending” is a vast, haunting journey to the apex of an unexplored ominous mystery. An extended ending to psychedelic birth ritual “Third Eye” took the transcendent sonic storm to entirely new heights, more than two decades after its first arrival.
Where Tool goes from here is beyond anyone – we’ve heard enough rumors to start a new religion. With Maynard now turning his attention to A Perfect Circle (whose next big-ticket show is at Aftershock in Sacramento this fall) the future of rock’s most highly worshipped and elusive outfit remains uncertain. But if we’ve learned anything after all these years, it’s that Tool operate best in the darkness.
Photos: Johnny Firecloud
Forty-Six & 2