In some ways I think it’s better to walk into a gig with zero expectations, and that’s exactly what I did when I went to see Tool at Qudos Bank Arena.
My original plan was to wait and see if any nosebleed seats went on sale because I’d just bought my tickets to Graspop and Tuska in Europe so funds were a little low. But a dear friend bought seats during the pre-sale and then was able to get her hands on standing tickets and asked if I’d buy her seats. So I said ‘sure’, mostly because I wanted her to enjoy herself more than I wanted to see them live (again).
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Tool as a teenager. I bought the 10,000 days digipak with the lense thingys in it from Utopia Records on the day it came out and I’ve seen them live a handful of times over the years, but unlike a lot of other people it seems, I’d just stopped listening to them. Everyone on Facebook lost their shit when their catalogue was available on Spotify and then again when the new album was released. But…I’m stubborn and that kind of hype generally deters me from doing something, so I didn’t go out of my way to listen to them prior to the concert.
A few days before the show, I opened the event page for the tour to check out set times and noticed that Author & Punisher were opening the show. All of a sudden I was much more excited for the trip out to Olympic Park on a Monday night.
Through friends and exes I’ve been lucky enough to witness a number of bands live that I’d have never heard of otherwise. Some I liked and some I didn’t but either way I’m richer for the experience. One of those bands was Author & Punisher who I saw back in January 2016 at DB’s in Utrecht, a small venue (by Dutch standards) not far from where I lived in my year abroad.
Even though it was winter I remember the room was small, packed and sweaty. Being able to see his equipment and instruments up close was part of what made the show so interesting to me. A detail that was lost on the vast stage at Qudos Bank Arena. Unfortunately I think the greatness of Author & Punisher and the fact that one human can create such a depth of sound with machinery he’s made himself was lost upon a number of people who didn’t know anything about the project or the artist’s background as a mechanical engineer, artist and sculptor.
I think the performance called for a camera above his station so that the crowd could see how he was producing the music they heard and feel like they were part of the immersive experience he was creating for them. The advantage of him performing in such a large venue was the quality of sound assaulting everyone in the venue which definitely outshone the PA in the small sweatbox in Utrecht. I was completely entranced during his set, and lucky that my seats were so close to the stage that I could see the effort and creativity that goes into the music he produces.
The room began to fill after his set had ended and there were a number of reminders over the PA that photos and videos were prohibited and people would be removed from the venue if caught using them. The presence of security was far greater than any show I’d been to in a long time, so I was curious to see just how strict they would be.
A tassel curtain slowly encircled the stage for the band to hide behind, definitely a one up from the screen Maynard stood behind the first time I ever saw him perform with A Perfect Circle at the Hordern Pavilion. But thankfully it didn’t stay closed for the whole set.
They opened with a new song and the crowd seemed rather mild, just standing there. Possibly in awe of hearing a new song live for the very first time and just soaking it all in or maybe not knowing what to do with themselves because they couldn’t film it. Who knows, but as soon as Ænema kicked it was like the click of a finger, or the whisper of a ‘hey’ and the room exploded with energy and a full mosh but the time the chorus hit.
It was around this point in time that the rebels of the audience put the warnings to test and snuck their phones out for a cheeky snap. Some more covert than others and only moments later the security had swarmed to one spot along the barrier, flashlights on and pointed at an offender. Was it a warning? Would they get a second chance?
I was captivated, no longer paying attention to the band. I watched as one security guard hopped the barricade and went in after him, and then another and they grabbed the perpetrator by the scruff of his neck and dragged him out kicking and screaming! Ok maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but he was escorted very unwillingly out of the venue, just like that. No refunds, no second chances, two songs in and a couple of hundred dollars down the drain.
It got to the point that it almost became a game, I sat there watching for people with phones, then looking over to the security to see if they had caught them, and if they had, witness them scale the barricades and drag people from the concert. There were at least 4 or 5 incidents that I saw throughout the concert. I understand why a band would want to ban phones, it was nice to sit and watch a concert the good old fashioned way, but for me it had the opposite effect.
The security staff were even more brutal towards the crowd surfers. The person first I saw go over the barricade was treated like a criminal and the poor guy walked out with his hands up in innocence as he was forcefully shoved back into the audience. I couldn’t see if they had kicked him out or not, but this was not the show to test the patience of security. They were taking the full law of Tool in their stride and abusing that power.
I knew the next handful of songs, so I sat back, tried to relax, sang along and enjoyed the show. By now I think the fringed tassel curtain had been drawn and the visuals on the screen behind them were the only thing keeping my eyes off the crowd. It was also a bit of a game of hide and seek to try and find Maynard at times too, he had a few dedicated podiums which he could perform from with his spiked mohawk, manson-esque face paint, leather jacket and red tartan pants.
The statement he was making from his choice of clothing, spouting the freedom and ideologies that sit within the punk subculture just seemed so far away from the current reality of heavy handed force from the security and strict rules imposed by the band.
After Forty Six & 2 the house lights came up and a timer appeared on the screen. Counting down from 15 minutes. It was time for a stretch and a scroll on social. There were a number of stage crew scurrying about which saw a giant gong appear and amendments made to Danny’s kit, which could only mean one thing. Drum solo.
The countdown ended and the solo ensued, but I’ve since been informed that it’s actually a song from the new album. I mean it looked like a drum solo and sounded like a drum solo… so as far as I’m concerned it was definitely a drum solo with a delicious name, Chocolate Chip Trip. Either way it was pretty damn good but that was to be expected. I think the only three drummers I can stand solos from are Danny Carey, Mario Duplantier and Mike Portnoy. I also think Danny had a custom Sydney Kings basketball jersey and shorts on, also pretty cool with Qudos being the home of the Kings (yes I’ve seen a number of games there, no i’m not a huge basketball fan).
The band returned to the stage to play another new track. Maynard made a small speech before the final song, he even cracked a few jokes throughout the set, including that the audience could whip it out, their phone that is. And all I could think of was those poor fools who couldn’t keep it in their pants until the end of the show. Yes, still talking about phones.
It was almost like the crowd let out a collective sigh of relief, they could once more be united with their beloved phone and capture a blurry photo or recording of the band so that they could treasure forever. Oh and probably annoy everyone on the train ride home by blaring a distorted recording through their $2k phone.
I know this whole review has been incredibly cynical, but all in all what else can I say? We all know they are incredible musicians and the masters of what they do. No one else compares to them, though many have tried to replicate their sound. Maynard’s voice is so precise and powerful and the complexities and rhythms of the guitar, bass and drums are flawlessly reproduced live, every single time you see them. They’ve certainly aged like a fine Merkin wine.
Check out the full setlist here via setlist.fm.
Ps – Check out Soen, they are Tool-esque in nature at times, but so damn good!