Date: August, 2001
page: 25 title: Visions of Darkness author: Dan Lander For years Tool have managed to underline every pre- conception about hard rock music, and as Dan Lander found out, today this is more important than ever for today’s thinking man’s metal band. It’s 6:30pm Wednesday 25 July. I’m sitting in the staff cafeteria buried somewhere in the bowels of the Sydney Entertainment Centre. From above, I can hear the massive rumblings of Tool’s Justin Chancellor as he runs his bass through sound check, shaking the walls and rattling the cutlery on the table in front of me. In the other corner of the dining room, a group of serious official looking guys have gathered around the head of Tool’s security, a tall American dressed in black and sporting a mohawk. He speaks quickly and clearly: "If the kids come over the barrier, out them on their feet, pat ‘em on the back and say, ‘That was a nice one, man.’ And send ‘em on their way. Remember, let’s all have fun here." Five minutes later, I’m being lead along the hall to speak to Maynard James Keenan and Danny Carey. I’d seen tool play in Melbourne a few days ago, and the mosh definitely had a nice vibe – people were having fun. In Sydney later that night, it was the same feeling – the Sydney Entertainment Centre has seldom had as much atmosphere, packed to the rafters with people totally amped to be there, buzzing with the excitement of thousands of fans about to see a band that'’ been MIA for years. And yet, despite people moshing in their seats, despite a pit that moved with the energy of a hurricane-whipped ocean, despite the fact the crowd consisted mostly of black-clad heavyweights your mother would cross the street to avoid, it never felt like trouble. The big guy next to you who is normally stomping on your head in some sort of semi-psychotic frenzy, stands at a Tool concert and actually pays attention to what is happening onstage. An the security guards can afford to be nice, because no one is running amok – there’s a band to watch damn it. Danny and Maynard don’t want to talk much. It’s no surprise to anyone. Sitting in their little dressing room, it is clear that they would rather be doing just about anything other then an interview. It’s awkward, a bit uncomfortable, but their reasoning has always been consistent – let the music do the talking. The cynics – myself among them – have liked to suggest this standoffishness us part of some massive ego trip. But maybe it’s not. "This wasn’t an easy record to make," says Maynard of Lateralus, the band’s first new material in four years, an album that has garnered ten out of ten reviews worldwide. "And any kind of master plan we may have in mind, well I don’t know about it, because we’ve just been so caught up in trying to get the damn record down." As we talk, it becomes clear that the only ego-tripping going on here is artistic – all Maynard and Danny care about is their art, and they realize that in a lot of ways the media circus and celebrity circuit aren’t really geared towards that. For instance, the band’s current habit of playing the film clip and recorded version of "Schism" during an intermission break in their set has been labeled everything from a complete wank to a bizarre mockery of the music industry’s obsession with ‘the hit single.’ The truth, however, is a lot simpler. "We can’t really rely on MTV to play our video," says Maynard, "But we still want out fans to be able to see it. And rather than try and sync ourselves up to it, we just thought it would be good to play it there in the middle of the set. It also gives us a break. Like, because we’re not really into doing encores – we’re not going to go like ‘Goodnight’ and then come back out and play three more songs which seems very Barbara Striesand to me – so the film clip gives us a chance for a break in the show." Given the intensity of their show, a break is well warranted. As performers, Tool is without a doubt one of the most intense bands of all time. The current stage formation – which sees guitarist Adam Jones and Justin out in front, with Maynard and Danny on risers behind them, flanked by two projection- screens – is designed to give the whole performance maximum impact. There is no main focal point, no centre of attention, forcing the crowd to absorb everything simultaneously. "That’s the idea, explains Danny. "We want to have it so the crowd doesn’t know where to look, so that they focus on the music, on the feelings and general atmosphere of the thing." "Don’t look at the clown," adds Maynard, mocking the standard frontman role. "Just enjoy the music, because a band is not a person, it is a collision of a group of people." By abandoning the standard stage line up, Tool have created a show that is intensely visual, a sort of dark, extravagant theatre, where the band blend into a background, like twisted puppets writhing at the mercy of some bizarre showman. Tool has long been intensely visual, but it has always been in the sense of a dark expression, not self-indulgent exhibitionism. That band’s film clips have never featured any member of the group, and the same philosophy has been applied to the problem of performing at arena style shows. Tool is simply looking for a way to protect their artistic vision in a world where mass marketing is all too ready to twist things around. "Like when we brought out that DVD thing," laughs Danny, "I heard people saying like, oh we were selling out by putting out a DVD with film clips on it. And it’s like ‘Fuck man, so what you think aural art is the only thing that is genuine or worthy?’ The visual aspect of it is just another element of what we do, and we want that seen. And whether or no Tool is in danger of letting their artistic impulses swallow them, they aren’t about to apologise for it, or run from the truth of what they want to do. As Maynard explains, the band is in this alone, and no matter what they do, some people just aren’t going to understand.
Posted to t.d.n: 12/06/01 18:52:32