Saturday night, tens of thousands of people filled San Bernardino’s Glen Helen Amphitheater to hear Tool play a song about California sinking to the sea. While the band has not released a note of new music in 11 years, their audience has just snowballed, and the team used a date in their current tour to play their biggest non-festival headlining show.
The Melvins played with a cubist metallic version of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” with disorienting held notes. Screeching and jabbering and crooning vocalist Mike Patton of Fantômas performed an ADD ballet biking between two vocal mics before enjoying a demented version of Henry Mancini’s music to the 1963 film Charade.
Primus tweaked their astonishing art-metal using the cosmic Floydisms and Deadisms of pioneer Les Claypool’s late-career plunge into the jam band scene. You could argue they played it the safest by sticking to the strikes, but those strikes are about a pet beaver and a baseball bat murder.
Whether because of the insular sense of a spotlight shunning band or the muso complexities of the prog-metal, the four members of Tool don’t strut around the stage like U2 or the Stones. Singer Maynard James Keenan actually performs at the rear by Danny Carey’s drums, spending the whole show for a shadow: His silhouette during the night was a part insect, part battle training video, part Weeble and part organizer with a megaphone.
Tool’s visuals needed to do lots of the heavy lifting, and, luckily, they just get better as the band’s popularity catches up to their tune duration’s. Blue lights shot to the night skies for “The Grudge,” lasers scattered to madness for “Ænema,” kaleidoscopic animations throbbed in time to the screams and auto alarm guitar of “Third Eye.”
The art of Alex Grey, which contemplates the physical and metaphysical, was blown up on displays that must have been 25 or 30 feet high. The most ambitious day of songs from one of arena rock’s toughest bands wasn’t above smoke and confetti either.
And, musically, the band provided plenty of outsized moments to match the outsized visuals: The riff to “Jambi” was crushing, they burned through a version of “Third Eye” (over 13 minutes in documented form), and Carey even got a three-minute drum solo that went out from techno-fried 7/8 to nimble tumble.