(Live Review) TOOL + STEEL BEANS - Milwaukee, 11/01/23
The Beard & Little Johnny
Greetings Beard and Little Johnny fans. This evening (November 1st, 2023), your dynamic reviewing duo reports from the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as we cover show #63 and bands #276-277 on our 2023 The Reviews Never Stop Tour. This evening we reviewed Los Angeles own Tool With support from Steel Beans.
Steel Beans, aka (Jeremy Debardi), is a one-man act who somehow managed to sing, play guitar and drum simultaneously. Visually he looked rather like a 1970’s version of Ron Jeremy who had decided, in addition to porn, that he would also moonlight as a band. The musicianship was not bad considering he was doing three things at once, and the Beard can barely walk and chew gum at the same time, however, there was nothing “memorable” about any of the songs. While I never felt like it was bad, I also knew right away it was nothing I was going to remember tomorrow, (I mean other than him doing three things at once.)
Overall, as the set progressed, it became increasingly difficult not to nod off during some of his numbers. In selecting this opener, Tool certainly made sure “they” were going to be the only act remembered. Steel Beans is just barely better than the KISS concert when their opening band was an artist who spent 20 minutes drawing us a picture. The Beard is grading 70/100.
Tool have been called everything from industrial, to grunge, to prog, to psychedelic. When discussing what sort of genre Tool music might be with Little Johnny, he stated “It’s kind of all just pretentious art rock anyway isn’t it?” Fair enough little dude.
Tool did get their start in a kind of art protest manner releasing a six song Ep Opiate in 1992. Their first video “Hush” depicted the band naked with (PMRC) stickers on their genitalia and duct tape over their mouths. This rebellion aspect and their style of music allowed them to garner supporting roles with other controversial acts like The Rollins Band, Rage Against the Machine and White Zombie.
In 1993 at the height of the grunge movement, Tool released “Undertow”. The Beard enjoyed that release and its counterculture and oft censored lyrical assault. Since the release went multiplatinum, clearly, I was not the only one. I also felt Tool were doing something a bit different than the standard “Woe is Me. The world is such a bad place and I want to lament about it in an angry manner,” grunge sound. The Beard was also a fan (albeit to a lesser degree) of AEnima, Tool's second full length release. This too went multi-platinum and allowed the band to headline Lollapalooza and appear in a prominent role at Ozzfest making them giants in their genre at the time.
By the release of Lateralus in 2001, I had stopped following Tool although the song “Parabola” did garner my attention as quite the drum work artistry by Danny Carey. I also did not follow 10,000 Days (2006), or Fear Innoculum (2019), so essentially the Beard had not considered Tool in about a quarter century. Still, this is a genre name, and it will be interesting to actually see a live show.
Tool cites as their influences equally eclectic acts King Crimson and The Melvins, but have also stated they are influenced by Pink Floyd and The Sex Pistols as well. Tool, to their credit, are largely the same band they were when they formed over thirty years ago with Maynard Keenan performing vocals, Adam Jones on guitar, and Danny Carrey on drums. Even bassist Justin Chancellor has been in place 28 years since joining in 1995.
One disappointing aspect of the show was the rigid no photos no video rule. This was somewhat unusual and at least initially I felt unnecessary, but the Beard acceded to the artist’s demand as I was not enamored of potentially getting tossed from a hundred-dollar seat just to try and get a Danny Carey drum solo up close.
Coming out to the title track from their latest release Fear Inoculum, the Beard had to immediately observe that Tool had perhaps the best lighting set up of this year. If not the best, certainly right up there.
With their second and third numbers, “Jambi” & “The Pot” both from 10,000 Days, the Beard also had to accept Tool had the best visual backdrops since last year’s Rage Against the Machine concert. With Aliens and Pyramids (that left the image and perception that Danny Carey was drumming from somewhere within the base of the Pyramid and seen via a cutout) along with other vaguely unsettling imagery, there was never a moment where something didn’t capture your eye.
Finally, by the end of “Rosetta Stoned,” and “Pneuma,” the Beard had made the determination that if Danny Carey was not definitively the best living drummer, he had to be, at minimum, in the conversation based on his technique, delivery, showmanship, and what his work allowed the songs to become. The Beard will always have a spot for Neil Peart as the technical wizard, John Bonham as the hardest hitting, and Ginger Baker as the most innovative on the fly, but Danny Carey has pieces of all three and may just be the best total package.
After “Descending,” Tool finally played one the Beard actually knew with “Intolerance” from Undertow before concluding set one with “The Grudge” from Lateralus. Although I only knew one song in the first half, all had the distinctive Tool sound with a slow build and “movements”, more so than any traditional verse/chorus stylings. In their careful choice of using mostly back lighting, in general the other three members (besides Danny Carey) were almost never clearly seen (especially Maynard). This, however, was purposeful and lent to the Tool ambiance.
During the 15-minute break between sets, the Beard reflected that metaphorically although I would never want to marry Tool, I could certainly see dating it for a while. After all, everyone loves a mystery. I mentioned that thought to Little Johnny who merely shook his head and muttered “get help.” (Ed: I always thought the Little One was the smart one of the duo.)
Set two began with a Danny Carey solo piece “Chocolate Chip Trip” that once more pulled memories of Neil Peart as Carrey coaxed sounds out of the drums not normally heard during typical drum solos. Carey is a remarkable talent. Throughout the rest of the set Tool resembled an industrial Pink Floyd with lights and video effects dominating the eyes, while the ears heard practiced musicianship on its own journey to “somewhere.”
“Culling Voices & Invincible,” (both from Fear Inoculum), were not anything with which I was familiar, and once again, I was to only know one song from this second set, (bringing my nights total to two), as Tool finally lifted the No Cell Phones restriction, and closed with “Forty-Six & Two” from AEnima. Although I suspect “knowing” the songs makes it better, I postulate “not knowing” can be quite the mystical adventure all on its own.
As a whole, I enjoyed the set and one firm compliment I can offer is I have an interest now in obtaining a couple more of their CD’s. Little Johnny was likewise satisfied with the output saying, “There was a lot to watch during that show and without all the cellphones lit up all the time it was totally cooler.” “Hmmm…Point taken little dude. Maybe I need to lay off being a grumpy old man about that.”
As we filed out, in thinking about my very favorite sets this year, Tool didn’t hit THAT level for me, but given it WAS a top five for lighting, visual effects, and drumming, the Beard is cracking a cold one and awarding Tool a 95/100 meaning you’ll definitely see them on the can’t miss December best live sets of 2023 countdown coming in just a few weeks.
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Until next time ...