with The Melvins

The Royal Theatre, Canberra, Australia • April 29, 2002

“Thank you all for sharing this moment with us,” Maynard James Keenan told the audience with his back to them. The moment in question was, of course, the two-hour rollercoaster that is Tool live. The fact that Maynard wouldn’t even look at us when he spoke epitomises the kind of contact he and the band made with the crowd. Open physical communication has never been Tool’s draw card. Apparently, though, it was never meant to be. “It’s about individuality and knowing where they’re coming from,” a friend told me afterwards, grinning fiercely.

The night opened with moody, subsonic beats that hinted at the slightly overpowering musical experience that was to come. By the time Tool took the stage the sound levels were well and truly clipping and chests were starting to hurt. “Tool’s sound engineers rock,” the same friend enthused. I was inclined to disagree: the sound was tailored to a vast stadium, not Canberra’s petite Royal Theatre.

The Melvins took over when the electronica subsided, delivering a spine tingling set of tight, energetic songs with complex undercurrents and catchy hooks that pitifully few people actually bothered to watch (perhaps everyone was still outside being frisked by security guards?). Bearing the eleven o’clock curfew in mind, they were out of sight by nine, when Tool descended upon us. The foursome held their performance together with stunning visuals (rigged up to match the live beats of the band) and naked contortionists. Musically, they were impeccable. Maynard sung from the shadows of a video screen, peeling off layers of clothing as the show progressed, and the other band members kept heads down and hands gliding off their respective instruments. The electricity was tangible.

Afterwards, driving home with the aforementioned companion, I wondered what I’d done wrong. He was glowing with satisfaction and profound fulfilment; I was tired and my ears hurt. I loved the show, and the little I’d heard of Tool beforehand was superb. I realised then that I’d missed much of what had passed between the audience and band that night. I wasn’t versed in the school of Tool, and the group simply weren’t prepared to bring me up to speed. It was my fault that I was ignorant. Shame.

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