Snack Attack! - Tool at the Cox Arena
5.8.07 Keith Boyd
Lord what a nation of snackers the modern day heavy music crowd is! Okay, I'll admit it that it's been awhile since I've been to a BIG ROCK SHOW (I prefer clubs for the close-up and intimate feel) but this was something new under the sun entirely. I suppose that it only stands to reason that if every venue and opportunity that the food industry has to push more of their product our way has been filled, concerts shouldn't be the exception. But it was shocking, shocking I say, to see the pure volume on offer and the whole-hearted buy in from the crowd. So incredibly "in your face" was it that I felt it overshadowing the excellent and darkly spiritual music of Tool.
I've always liked Tool. As the years have gone by they've mutated from a decent hard metal act to one bent on exploring the darker edges of the soul and identity. With each album their music has become more nuanced and complex while still managing to remain head-bangingly heavy. Their last two releases (Lateralus and 10,000 Days) are complete standouts and to my ears qualify as not only musical but artistic masterpieces. One of the things I enjoy about Tool is their lyrical explorations into the nature of the self. The lyrics of Maynard James Keenan deal with tough realms such as addiction ("I don't need it! I just want it! Nothing seems to satisfy!") and the fragmenting of identity ("I know the pieces fit, cause I watched them fall away.") with a brutal and stark honesty. The commitment that comes through in the delivery of these sentiments is so forceful that it can stun you into silence. Then there is the technical aspect of their sound. The players use odd time signatures, exotic effects and volume to propel their dynamic, shifting compositions in and out of your head. They'll start a song slowly with gossamer tendrils of sound floating in the air. These tendrils will suddenly erupt into lashing whips popping and whirling past your head. Then just as quickly the song will lock into a Middle Eastern modal drone with eerie vocals. The great thing was that in the live setting it all worked. The sound was incredible. The visuals were disturbing yet fitting projections of all manner of objects and scenarios. Vaguely Asian corpses writhed and stutter stepped through Twilight Zone meets Monty Python prisonscapes. Pulsing geometric forms mix with images of UFO's and Alex Grey's spiritually anatomical figures. The whole stage pulses like some living mandala or Tibetan tanka painting. The messages seem to be fairly consistent while remaining somewhat opened to interpretation. What are these messages? Good things like: think for yourself, don't deny your whole person, watch out for control, be aware of your potential and your tendencies, have a laugh, don't trust the government, watch out for gluttony and addiction. I'm not trying to say they stood up on stage and preached these ideals; they come at you more obliquely. It's in the sum total package that the message comes across. So in this light I guess there must have been a mismatch in what I felt that Tool was all about and what I thought their fan base would be.
It's probably better to have fewer expectations when encountering a new experience. That way whatever happens is simply what's been presented to you and you can perhaps reserve some of your judgment for the time being to more fully grasp what you are interacting with. Well that's the ideal I guess but in reality our whole mind seems to be set up as some sort of court, judge and jury passing out value statements on every available second. So what was I expecting at Tool? I don't know exactly. A mix of people I guess. Heavy metal kids, alternative rock crazies, vaguely New Age or Tribally inclined folks. Hell maybe some real weirdoes (in the best sense of that word) like astro-physicist grad students dressed in Ren-Faire gowns. Who in fact was there? Well how do I put it? I felt like I was in one of those, "Where's Waldo?" books filled with an assortment of types. Oh, there's Bevis and by God there's Butthead. Look, look it's the past his prime captain of the High School football team circa 1995 and he STILL wants to beat people up. Wow it's 900 DUDES in baggy shorts, skate shirts, backwards baseball hats and tight to the neck pukkashell necklaces! The Tool show was DUDE central. It was "Dude this!" and "Dude that!" everywhere I turned. Occasionally I'd see some survivor of the Rock underground and we'd almost give each other the high sign as if to say, "I know, I know. I don't get it either". Okay, so I'm old. I mean maybe this was the cause of my aghast but come on! I've been to hundreds of rock shows and in almost every instance I had two ideas in my head: get crazy to the music and get loaded by any means necessary. So I kind of thought that some analogous paradigm would be playing itself out at the Cox arena that night. Let's just say that I was in for a quick education. After being frisked and scanned and admonished by loudspeakers that, "THERE WILL BE NO MOSHING! THERE WILL BE NO CROWD SURFING!" I went in to the outer ring hallway that surrounds the Cox arena and approached one of the ubiquitous "Staff Pro" people as to where I could get a cold beer or drink. She looked at me like I was from Mars. "They aren't serving alcohol tonight". Oh great I thought. "But the convenience windows will start opening soon." Well lets' just say that that was an understatement. With every step I made towards the entrance to my seating section metal slatted door flew up and every time one did hideous aromas of junk food wafted out. Now I'm not blaming Cox for this profusion per say as the crowd was entirely complicit in the arrangement. Droves of people lined up to each and every window with a glazed and hungry look in their eyes. I felt repulsed. This was no rock glory. This was no drunken and howling abandon. This was chili cheese nachos, giant pillows of kettle corn, extra-extra large sodas, long whip like beef sticks, huge hot dogs, massive bags of M&M's and Skittles, Starbuck's coffee, Red Bull and just more, more, more. I found myself thinking that here we are for what at most could be a 3 hour show and how much food can one eat in a 3 hour stretch? Watching the masses filter down the many steps to their seats was a comedy of errors. With food and provisions tucked into every available armpit, crack and crevasse people were having a hell of a time keeping upright. Once seated they'd high five each other and then commence wolfing down the snacks. The unhealthy environment was further solidified by the constantly roaming security guards admonishing everyone to sit down and stay in their seats. It was the old couch potato 1-2 punch being enforced with complete control: eat a lot of bad food and don't move around too much. I guess it was a case of cognitive dissonance for me. There was Tool absolutely ROCKING out and singing songs about the horrors of the very same self indulgent excess to be seen up and down the aisles. I began wondering if I'd slipped through some sort of rift in the time space continuum and landed in Bizarro Land .
Well I guess you could sum it up like this: Tool lived up to their vast and powerful potential. The Cox Arena lived up to its role of being a "goes to the highest bidder" product placement and delivery system. And as for the Tool fans? Well all I can really say is, "Snack on Dudes!"