There are really only a handful of bands that have been able to sustain a cult-like following. There are the obvious ones like The Grateful Dead, but I would say that, in the past 30 years Tool have firmly rooted themselves near the top of that list. And this was no less evident at the first stop in the band’s winter tour in Baltimore.
Two hours before the doors opened at the CFG Bank Arena, fans stood in line in the cold to take in the merch in hopes of getting, among other things, a unique poster designed for the show. Since this leg of the tour is relatively short — 10 East Coast dates and 10 Central and West Coast dates before the band heads to Europe — many fans had traveled quite a distance (I overheard one person in line say they had driven 500 miles, though maybe not entirely for Tool) for the opening tour stop on Jan. 10.
The band had just wrapped up the Fear Inoculum Tour in November when it announced the new tour. Following that announcement were interviews that hinted at new music on the horizon. Tool released their most recent album, Fear Inoculum, in 2019 but prior to that the last album, 10,000 Days, was out on shelves in 2006. So, the possibility of new music added to the excitement.
Prior to the start of the show, concert goers were told this was a “no cell phone” performance, and it was clear, at least in part, why this was the case. The focus on the visuals and the spectacle complemented the incredible sounds coming from the stage. Looking over the crowd, not being distracted by screens and the glare of cell phone flashlights was refreshing. This is a band that is built for a large audience — big sound, huge stage set up, lasers that bounce around the arena — so removing that distracting element only helps. I mean, you really didn’t pay all that money to watch a sea of phone screens.
I hadn’t heard opener, Elder, before, but the Massachusetts-based band were incredibly tight. Songs were heavy but melodic and definitely had me wanting to hear more.
Boom ba-boom, boom ba-boom came the intro before chimes from Danny Carey signaled the start of the set and the first song, “Fear Inoculum.” Carey was soon joined by Adam Jones on guitar on one side and bassist, Justin Chancellor, on the other side as they slinking rhythm propelled the song. Appearing on a riser next to the drum riser, Maynard James Keenan sang silhouetted by the enormous visual display that filled the entire stage and beyond.
“Jambi,” a personal favorite, came on heavy. Perhaps the best example of the four piece’s individual strengths. Lyrically potent, polyrhythmic, with a creeping sludginess that sticks with you.
Maynard James Keenan swung back and forth, keeping to two raised platforms near the rear of the stage. Staying more or less out of the direct lights, his shape contrasted with the brilliantly skating lasers flashing across the room.
Each album over the years have incorporated longer and more complex arrangements. Most of the evening’s set came from 2019’s Fear Inoculum, the title track having the distinction of being the longest song to ever debut on the Billboard Hot 100. The longer compositions, though, kept the momentum strong — each one like a short feature with those hypnotic visuals (both on the arena wide screens and the smoke and lights that encompassed the arena).
After a brief intermission, Danny Carey came out to the stage to perform the drum solo, “Chocolate Chip Trip.” Beginning at the huge gong at the side of the stage, he made his way over the massive drum kit to continue until joined by Justin Chancellor and Adam Jones.
Throughout the evening, Tool’s sound was physically heavy, but by contrast the heaviest emotional number was “Culling Voices” — the quietist song of the night. As Chancellor and Jones took chairs at the front of the stage, Carey and then Keenan also took spots near the front. As they played, silvery confetti showered the crowd.
Tool ended their set with “Stinkfist,” as Keenan came down to give each of the other band members fist bumps. An incredible start to their tour.
Watch the official music video for “Stinkfist” by Tool on YouTube:
The current leg of the tour runs through the US through mid-February with more dates in the UK and Europe.
The set list included:
Rosetta Stoned (Lost Keys intro)
Chocolate Chip Trip
Here are more photos of Tool performing at the CFG Bank Arena on Jan. 10, 2024. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.
And here are photos of Elder opening at the CFG Bank Arena.