The Adventures of
Captain Zero
and his trusty sidekick Numba Wan
Posted Sunday, July 28, 2002
21 July2002 – Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

In our first concert in months, we accompanied a Bohemian-looking Buddhist and his wife to Denver’s Pepsi Center to see Tool. Our seats in the first row of the third level gave us excellent views of the stage and general admission area below, which look like a massive riot zone. Several times during the night, half a dozen security people would eagerly dash into the crowd with their flashlights and haul out troublemakers like the Gestapo going after Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The only things missing were dogs and guns, and the music of Tool proved an oddly appropriate soundtrack to the whole spectacle.

The stage was flanked by two large screens that in a normal arena shows would be used to project massive images of the band so the people in the nosebleed sections could see the action on stage. But Tool is a band that consciously shuns tradition in favor of a novel concept in popular music today: a message. Here is a band that through its career of videos has developed several unique styles of imagery that combines dark and oppressive animated allegory with Alex Grey's mystical spiritual anatomy to perfectly accent their music, and those images were the ones projected on the screen. The musicians were downplayed so their music and message could be fully portrayed. What a weird concept in modern rock! The weirdness didn’t stop there. Two guitarists stood in the front on extreme ends, with the drummer in the central rear of the stage. For the first few minutes I could hear the singer but couldn't see him. Where could he be? I wondered, scanning the stage. The Rock n Roll handbook clearly stipulates that the lead singer should be front and center, in the spotlight as the focal point of a band's live performance. After the first song, I realized singer Maynard James Keenan was there, to the drummer's right on the rear of the stage, hiding in a intentionally dark void between the lights illuminating the guitarists. He was on a slightly raised platform that turned out to be an additional screen, upon which was to be projected some of the same grotesque images showing on the main screens. But for now, the only hint of Maynard was the vague figure lurching around in his madness there in the dark space on stage. He introduced one of the songs as a song about “assets”, which he said all the others were about as well. He’d checked the itinerary and was told he was in Denver, but this couldn’t be Denver, he said between songs, because the last time he was in Denver, the people were naked. He seemed to portray a lunatic, and I could have sworn at one point a person in a white laboratory jacket approached him on his platform, and when the “doctor” left, Maynard was jumping around like a monkey. Truly bizarre, but quite a show.

The audience was rabid, and their electric enthusiasm could be felt the moment we entered the lobby of the arena. Most were drinking something, or smoking something, and seemed to have a special connection to the music. I could hear them singing the words to songs I was only vaguely familiar with. A pretty young woman with long blond hair and bare midriff danced like a stripper in the aisle, and the normally serious Bohemian Buddhist was letting himself get possessed by the music, only to get puked on several times by the stoner sitting next to him. While very well executed, and rabidly consumed, there was little spontaneity, as the band was synched with the images on the screens, and on Maynard’s platform. I thought they lost momentum slightly near the end, as they indulged in another long digression, but the climax of the show during the long last song was breathtaking. When the song ended, they embraced triumphantly in the middle of the stage. Bizarrely, Maynard, now that he emerged from his dark stage hole, appeared to be painted blue and nearly naked. After all that it was only a mild shock to hear him preaching positivity before they exited to voracious applause.

Tool is a band that consciously shuns the modern rock band archetype. They simply speak a different language than mainstream rock acts like Creed. Their music always carries a message, and their message has progressed from a dark and depressing (thus primitive) image of society-crushing-the-individual to one of ultimate spiritual transcendence, ably assisted by the art of Alex Gray. That such a band could sell out arenas across the land brings a smile to my face.