“Better late than never” is a phrase that’s thrown around a lot during the ongoing return to normalcy from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the risk of exhausting that phrase even further, it’s the best way to describe attending Tool’s headlining show in Miami on Thursday night following a two-year pandemic postponement.
Returning to South Florida after a 10-year absence, alternative metal pioneers Tool brought their unique blend of alternative metal and heavy psychedelia to a fervent crowd on Thursday night at Miami’s recently renamed FTX Arena. Besides the curtain covering the back portion of the venue’s upper deck, the show was well-attended and marked SoFla’s first hard-rock event concert since Metallica’s visit to Hard Rock Live last year.
Following an engaging opening set from elusive alt-rockers Blonde Redhead, bassist Justin Chancellor, guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey and frontman Maynard James Keenan took the stage at about 8:45 shrouded by an iron curtain—more on that later—and launched into a performance of the opening and title track from Fear Innoculum.
The show was, more often than not, one of the most visually stunning performances I’ve ever attended, with production tricks like well-timed lasers peppered throughout the evening’s 13 songs and a confetti drop during encore cut “Culling Voices.” Yet the most remarkable moments of the night came early, when the band spent the first four songs behind the aforementioned iron curtain, onto which gorgeous and sinuous visuals were projected. Though the band was visible through the veil, it was hard to focus on anything but the deafening sound and entrancing graphics.
Unsurprisingly for a band known for unsettling music videos, it wasn’t long before the visuals shifted from innocuous psychedelia to something more sinister. This is a band clearly obsessed with anatomy—at points, disembodied limbs, eyes, mouths, and corpses monopolized the graphics on the 30-foot-high screens at the back of the stage.
Though he’s fresh off of an embarrassing news cycle, drummer Danny Carey was already the MVP of the evening before the show-stopping encore-opening “Chocolate Chip Trip,” a song that is, in essence, just an extended drum solo that acted as the night’s major showcase for Carey’s formidable talents. He’s cultivated a well-earned reputation as one of the genre’s most accomplished drummers, and there was nothing to dispel that notion on Thursday night as he powered through two hours of off-kilter time signatures and complex fills.
But, as with any of the handful of bands fronted by iconoclast singer Maynard James Keenan, it was impossible to overlook the group’s singular leader. He spent the show lurking in the shadows towards the back of the stage, alternating between two risers on either side of Carey’s massive drum kit. The only member of the quartet to literally eschew the spotlight for the entirety of the show, Keenan’s presence was no less magnetic for it as he stomped along to the music and contorted his body like a caged animal as he sang.
Thankfully for a show that operated with such high decibel levels, the sound quality was strong throughout the evening and allowed for each individual aspect of the arrangements to shine through when necessary. At points, Tool’s music can border on being meditative before shifting back into emphatic arena-rock mode. It’s in those moments of dynamic contrast that the music truly shines—the interplay between the heavier moments and the more thoughtful ones are what define this band.
As is to be expected from a band touring in support of its first record after a 13-year hiatus, the evening’s setlist leaned heavily on tracks from 2019’s Fear Innoculum—far too heavily, in fact. As with other recent gigs on this leg of Tool’s U.S. tour, nearly half of the songs performed came from the L.A. group’s lukewarmly received comeback LP.
For those who use streaming metrics as a barometer for popularity, only two of the group’s top-ten tracks on Spotify—”The Pot” and “Pnuma”—made it into the setlist on Thursday night, and both were highlights. That’s not to suggest that the 2+ hour set was a slog—far from it—but it was hard not to feel like there was a lot left on the table when the final notes of the show-closing rendition of “Invincible” rang through the venue.
While the show likely didn’t win over any new acolytes for the veteran band—15-minute-long songs are a tough sell for anyone who’s not already bought into Tool’s decades-long shtick—it wasn’t meant to. Each of Tool’s four members is a towering musician in his own right, and after a two-year delay and 10 years away, last night they reminded South Florida what they can accomplish together on stage.
Eon Blue Apocalypse
Hooker With a Penis
Chocolate Chip Trip