The house lights drop, and the crowd erupts. A looping kick-drum line fades up, sounding like a beating heart. Blue and purple lights pulse their way across the curtain behind the stage, backlighting the members of Tool as they find their marks.
Guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor stride to lighted spots on either end of the stage while Maynard James Keenan skulks to a dark section of the large riser he shares with drummer Danny Carrey. The lead singer will stay there all night, in the half-shadows. Never directly lit, and always surrounded by lasers, smoke, gobos, and a massive, cascading four-panel video screen, Keenan will often drop out of sight completely, leaving nothing to focus on but the visuals and his iconic wail, which, in the acoustics of this place, seems to come from all directions.
Jones’ guitar begins a low drone, and the arena seems to hold its breath.
At a bar before Tuesday night’s fete in Spokane, Wash., a hodgepodge of fans around a long table placed bets on what the first song from Tool’s first show of 2014 would be. One thought it might be “Forty Six & 2,” while another thought it would be “something off of Lateralus,” but a man in a camouflage shirt with a Guy Fieri blowout shook his head. He told the group he had been to 52 Tool shows all over the country, following them the way people follow the Grateful Dead. He said was pretty sure he knew what the band would lead with: “It’s gonna be ‘Hooker with a Penis.'”
The doors opened at 7. Within a half-hour, three separate lines coil around the building until the end of one nearly touches the beginning of another. They move at a glacial pace as every single one of the 10,000-plus patrons is checked for cameras and recording devices. It’s a strange sight in an era when recordings are treated as marketing materials and entire musical brands are built on social media, but it fits perfectly in the context of Tool. You can’t buy their music on iTunes, let alone stream it on Spotify.
That seems to be one of the reasons people love Tool: You have to work for it. And then, when the love is returned — when Keenan, who almost never banters with the crowd, says simply, “Thank you very much for coming out” in the midst of tonight’s two-hour set — people lose their minds.
Aside from the searches, Tool will do several other unorthodox things tonight. They’ll play nothing from their iconic debut album, Undertow. They’ll play no new material from an album they’ve been hinting about for almost a year. They’ll pause after an hour to treat the audience to a 13-minute intermission. They’ll forego an encore entirely.
But they’ll also do some things you’d expect a band of 24 years to do: They return from intermission with Carrey doing his best Neal Peart on an extended drum solo. And they end strong and decisively with back-to-back-to-back crowd favorites: “Forty Six & Two,” Aenima,” then “Stinkfist.”
Back at the beginning, though, everyone has clued into the drone of Jones’ guitar, trying to decipher what shape it will take. A few pockets of people begin to scream, thinking they’ve got it. When Carrey’s drums drop in as staccato pops, more people join in.
And finally, Keenan begins his deep-knee-bend growls, giving shape to those iconic, evenly spaced words about what it means to sell out, and the whole place explodes.
It’s “Hooker with a Penis.” The dude in camouflage was right.