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Tool showcases fury, finesse

Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan leaned hard into his mic stand, strangling it in his grip, as if he were bracing himself in the face of some terrible force: an oncoming funnel cloud, an approaching typhoon, a charging yeti, perhaps.

Or, as was the case at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Sunday night, a storm front of heavy-metal thunder and lightning, equally posited on brawn and brains, chest hair and cerebellums.

The show began as many of Tool’s songs do: with a squelch of noise, a dissonant throb, primarily denoted by guitarist Adam Jones’ instrument squawking like a seagull getting stomped to death.

And then things started to take shape, gradually, with bass lines rising to the surface like bubbles ascending in a vat of boiling water, rhythms becoming more insistent, a meditative lull hardening into something much more dense and firm, like wet cement slowly drying into concrete.

Tool songs are like stereograms, the computer-generated art you have to stare at, relaxing the eyes, until familiar patterns emerge and a picture is formed. Concentrate hard enough on the band’s sonically amorphous, lyrically opaque catalog and some recognizable forms become apparent and it all starts to make sense.

Sort of.


One of the band’s greatest assets is the ability to juggle fury and finesse.

On Sunday, Tool opened with the former, a rude snarl via the sharp-tongued "Hooker with a Penis," a bristling kiss-off dunked in stomach bile, which the band hasn’t played on tour since the late ’90s.

But from there, things took a decidedly less linear turn.

Though Tool can fire off catchy, concise modern-rock radio hits as evidenced by their storming through staples such as "Stinkfist" and "Schism," the band is also fond of lengthy explorations of texture, atmosphere and mood set against a pulsating backdrop of laser lights and flaming 3-D eyeballs.

On the caustic, curled-lip "Ticks & Leeches," a plaintive guitar strum and tribal drumming gradually built into a cataclysmic climax that conjured up such a rumble, it was as if the band were attempting to open the earth and be swallowed whole, the song in question doubling as theme music for plunging down said abyss.

"I hope you choke," Keenan bellowed at the end of it all, sounding like he meant it.

Similarly labyrinthine was "Lateralus," where the band was joined onstage by singer/guitarist Buzz Osbourne and drummer Dale Crover of The Melvins, who added still more torque and bombast to the 10-minute tune, which fanned out with both elegance and ferocity, like a bird of prey spreading its wings.

"I embrace my desire to feel the rhythm," sang Keenan, dressed as a police officer, complete with badge and baton. "To feel inspired, to fathom the power, to witness the beauty."

That sentiment, one that hints at infinite possibility, lies at the center of this band.

They seem to believe that they can get away with anything, indulge in any flight of fancy, and who’s to argue with them?

After all, their success doesn’t follow any conventional record industry logic: They take years to deliver new material (their most recent disc, "10,000 Days," came out in 2006), their songs often lack clear, easy entry points, and they’re fond of thematic obfuscation and half-truths.

And yet, they still sell out arenas and go platinum when they do get around to releasing an album.

Live, you begin to develop a clearer understanding of why this is: The band simply overpowers most others, operating on a visceral, physical level as much as a cognitive one.

"Overthinking, overanalyzing, separates the body from the mind," Keenan sang at one point.

Best just to leave them as one, then.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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