Concert review: Tool w/ Elder | 01.23.24, Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, TN) (with photo gallery)

The five-hour commute to Music City from St. Louis brings you through the main arteries of the Midwest, with interstate roads weaving through valleys and farmland ripe with their lovely aromas before reaching the birthplace of many modern musical hits. While St. Louis often offers a diverse repertoire of entertainment options, Nashville’s venues and arenas often grab artists on tight tour schedules as they strategically attempt to reach their targeted audiences crossing coast to coast. After Tool announced their winter tour without a St. Louis show, the most ardent fans in the Gateway City took to the skies for a short flight or endured the agricultural odors and rural landscapes Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee had to offer in their personal vehicles to catch the nearest show on this tour.  

With the much anticipated release of the band’s fifth studio album, Fear Inoculum, in 2019, Tool reemerged from the shadows, spiraling out tours both stateside and abroad. With over three decades of commercial success, Tool is a band that many popular artists would jump through fire for an opportunity to accompany on a tour. Whether it be a vicarious glance at the pinnacle of fame, or the desire to acquire new fans among the droves of the Tool Army, the honor of opening for the foursome is revered among artists. While the band could market on larger bands as openers, they have chosen instead to use their platform to bring attention to less mainstream artists such as Brass Against and Author+Punisher. For the Tool Winter 2024 Tour, that honor was bestowed on the Massachusetts native four-piece band Elder.

Unlike Tool’s other recent tourmates, Elder offers instrumentals and vocals more closely resembling Tool’s progressive rock/metal sound. Often described as “psychedelic” or “stoner rock,” the band has several lengthy tracks over an impressive six studio albums focused on repetitive riffs and nuanced progressions building into thundering choruses and turbulent guitar solos. Many of Elder’s songs are lighter on vocals than most other modern rock groups as they lean into their heavy and complex instrumental talent. Vocalist Nick Disalvo’s voice sounded ostensibly of the late ‘70s yet was complimented by Tool-esque distortion, rhythms, and chord progressions that are interrupted occasionally by intricate and melodic guitar licks and solos. Elder performed three extensive tracks for fans to sample their own unique take on progressive stoner rock, acquiring new supporters of their art and setting the stage for the infamous foursome to follow. 

A live Tool show is a journey through decades of each of the four members’ creative evolution that synchronizes and coalesces in a harmony unlike any other rock band in modern history. Every member of Tool harnesses unique and coveted talents in their respective roles, admired and envied by millions of musicians and fans around the globe. Few rock and metal artists today can hope to fill stadiums wherever they visit like Tool consistently does. The complexities in their music both lyrically and instrumentally are the key element to their success throughout the years, maintaining a cult-like following that persisted through the painfully long silence between their 2006 record 10,000 Daysand the 2019 release of Fear Inoculum.

It would be dishonest to say that no single Tool show resembles the last. It would, however, be foolish to believe those similarities could deter any of their fans from attending every live show that they can. Maynard James Keenan has earned a reputation as an iconic lyricist and vocalist as well as a front man with unpredictable behaviors that keep audiences on their toes, hoping to witness any of his antics. Whether it be simple terse statements between songs, or watching his bizarre, silhouetted dance moves from his shadows at the back of the stage, fans remain engrossed in the performance awaiting his next move. If you’re hoping to snag a video of Keenan’s odd behaviors, you will be disappointed as Tool does not permit the use of cellphones in any capacity during their performances, a rule strictly enforced by the security staff at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night. A pointed disclaimer reminds the crowd once more over the PA system prior to the band taking to the stage, while Keenan himself often admonishes our unhealthy infatuation with mobile devices. The band challenges their audience to disconnect from their digital dependencies and wishes for their fans to be not only present but immersed in their music. This rule usually comes at the cost of a handful of stubborn audience members being escorted out of arenas each show.  

As the lights dimmed and the crowd roared, the four-piece were slowly illuminated by their signature three-section digital video wall that transitions through colorful abstract patterns, ebbing and flowing while they perform Fear Inocolum’s title track. Keenan immediately pestered the crowd to return some noise and energy, comparing them to Knoxville in dad-joke fashion. The band followed with “Forty Six & 2,” another hit song from their 1996 studio release Ænima, the first record after Tool acquired the now lauded Justin Chancellor on bass guitar. Chancellor’s punchy and complex bass riffs in “Forty Six & 2,” as well as many other Tool songs, have earned him notoriety amongst not only fellow bass guitarists but across the entire music industry. Chancellor exhibited intense and sometimes goofy energy during the concert while he exaggerated gyrating motions and rocked back and forth, making faces at closer members of the crowd. 

Tool is nothing but consistent with their set lists, which feature few changes over recent years. The amount of choreography for such elaborate song production and rehearsal has possibly been a factor in what some unpleasable fans have complained about as stagnant variations between tours. Winter 2024 Tour, however, has delighted concert goers as the band has added the lesser known “Rosetta Stoned” from their 2006 release 10,000 Days. “Rosetta Stoned” is a heavy psychedelic prog-metal song that can loosely be interpreted lyrically as a terrible acid trip, or perhaps the story of a severe psychotic break. During this song, Keenan alternated singing between his standard microphone and a megaphone attached to his belt while he paced across his platform at the back of the stage.  

The band continued through the set covering other hits from their latest album including “Pneuma” and “Descending,” as well as reaching back over thirty years and performing “Intolerance” from their debut album Undertow. “The Grudge” came later in the set, a hit from their infamous 2001 record Lateralus featuring Keenan’s impressive 25-second scream. During the song, in true Nashville fashion, surprise guest star Billy Strings appeared onstage armed with his own guitar as he played alongside Adam Jones in an extended, unique rendition of the guitar solo. Strings is a Grammy Award-winning bluegrass musician renowned for his improvised southern Americana style. Strings proved himself a Tool fan as he knowledgeably played alongside the legendary Jones. 

After a brief intermission, Tool returned to wrap up their night at Bridgestone Arena with drummer Danny Carey’s track from Fear Inoculum, “Chocolate Chip Trip,” showcasing his technical percussive abilities fused with frantic looping synth melodies. The encore followed with the nearly 13-minute-long “Invincible.” Keenan addressed the crowd and allowed cellphone photos and video before the band ended the evening with the Lateralus track “Schism,”the song nabbing them a 2002 Grammy award for “Best Metal Performance.” As the last song of the night progressed, confetti rained from the ceiling, each piece adorned with graphics. Aptly choreographed with the lyrics of the song, astute audience members who collected the right shards could piece them together to form their own Tool poster as memorabilia.

Members of the band, as well as Billy Strings, joined centerstage to graciously bow and wave to a thoroughly satisfied crowd following the conclusion of the night. Tool is an extremely rare combination of four of the most talented rock/metal artists in our generation. The music this band has created has inspired thousands of other musicians over the last three decades and is cited as the pinnacle of modern rock music, transcending genres and reaching listeners all over the world. Keenan’s lyrics are poetic and thought-provoking while accentuated by technically brilliant progressive rhythms and melodies. Bassist Chancellor and drummer Carey have recently alluded to potential studio time this year to carry over and extrapolate on unused material from the last album, leaving Tool fans anxiously awaiting what comes next. | Colin Williams

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