Tool: The O2 Arena, London – live reviewTool
The O2 Arena
London
9th May 2022

Tool’s first UK tour in 15 years boasts the most accomplished, unique, twisted, and majestic arena rock show of the past decade. (Read Tool album review here)

“I’m going to be honest,” singer Maynard James Keenan says before the final song of Tool’s first O2 Arena show. “I’m fucking tired. Being 58, thinking you’re 48, pretending you’re 28, it’s fucking hard work.”

The thing is, he doesn’t seem tired. And he doesn’t make it look like hard work ⁠— although even an 18-year-old would struggle to make it through the two-hour performance Tool’s just given. Sure, the band members aren’t exactly running around the stage, leaping off amps, or diving into the audience. But they’re not playing three-minute three-chord pop hits either. These songs are physically demanding. Drummer Danny Carey’s arms and legs never seem to stop moving. Justin Chancellor appears to play the bass with his whole body. Keenan’s voice is either soaring (as in the beautifully aggressive Pushit) or roaring (as in Ticks & Leeches, his ragged vocals distorted by what looks through the distance like a megaphone). Only guitarist Adam Jones seems to have it easy, although his fingers should probably be bleeding (…he’s too far away to be sure.).

Tool: The O2 Arena, London – live review

These songs are also incredibly complex. Consider, briefly, how hard you need to concentrate just to hear all the nuances in a 10-minute track like alternately brooding and explosive set opener Fear Inoculum. Then imagine actually having to perform it — and 11 others just as intricate and epic — with magnificent precision.

Fittingly, the same attention to detail and sheer scale are applied to the visuals. There are lasers, as you’d expect. The lighting rig’s more than capable of servicing Heathrow’s runways and intelligent enough to be put to work in an automated car manufacturing plant. During the angelic first half of Culling Voices, before it turns to the dark side, silver confetti falls from the ceiling, but lit with such elegance that the soulless concrete arena briefly transforms into a glittering snowglobe.

The gargantuan screens behind the band are almost a given, but the overwhelming graphics and their sheer impact are not: three-dimensional patterns spin; album covers come to life; body parts transform; lava flows; planets rise; a giant pyramid survives the end of days; and so many, many eyes burn, blink, and stare. During the instrumental Chocolate Chip Trip, which revitalises ye olde drum solo by having Carey play along to loops he creates on modular synths, the musician’s filmed from above and the footage displayed as a kaleidoscope.

Tool: The O2 Arena, London – live review

Yet most impressive is the effect created by the transparent curtain surrounding the stage during the first four songs. When the animations are projected onto it, the band look like they’re playing inside the images, which is mesmerising and disorienting and mind-bending in equal measure.

Complementing — never distracting from — the music, the visuals serve another purpose: they allow Keenan to (literally and figuratively) stay out of the spotlight. The singer prefers to be in the shadows, performing from raised platforms on either side of Carey’s gargantuan kit. But, while you can’t see his face, every lithe movement of his silhouette is visible: prowling in and out of the darkness, crouching like a mohawked gargoyle, hanging on to the microphone stand as if weathering a storm during Opiate, throwing his entire frame into every lyric, using his hands to pat out rhythms on his torso, sometimes even swaying his body to the music.

Tool: The O2 Arena, London – live review

And Keenan’s certainly not the only person in the sold-out venue compelled to move. As complicated and dense and mathematical as these songs are, they have a swing and groove that are undeniable. Add the fact that Tool are on their first UK tour since 2007, performing more than half of their first album in 13 years (2019’s momentous and eagerly received Fear Inoculum), and it’s no surprise that most of the seats on the arena floor aren’t being used, the fans up on their feet instead. This is an arena rock show after all, albeit the most visually and sonically spectacular, unique, twisted, and majestic of the past decade.

Keenan’s hard work has certainly paid off tonight.

You can find Tool on their website as well as FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

~

Words by Nils van der Linden. You can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden and his website is www.nilsvanderlinden.com. He hosts the weekly Mood Swings show on Louder Than War Radio, live every Wednesday from 8-9pm here, and available on Mixcloud afterwards.

All photos © Paul Grace. For more of Paul’s writing and photos go to his archive. Paul is on FacebookTwitterInstagram and his websites are www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk & www.pgrace.co.uk.

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Once upon a time, in Cape Town, South Africa, Nils was a full-time entertainment journalist. Now, in London, he's just a wannabe.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Saw them in 2007, and Download, and saw them in Manchester last week.. it was long awaited but they just don’t disappoint. This band uses the arena so well, the visual effects are amazing. It’s the best band I’ve ever seen in an arena.
    Carey rightfully took centre stage, when Pneuma played I was mesmerised.

  2. The gig was great – what I could hear of it.

    Sadly, up in block 418, high above the stalls and despite huge expectations given the length of time since their last UK tour, the O2’s acoustics ruined Tool’s sound for me.

    The music turned into an almost undifferentiated mush: bass notes became an indistinct rumble, Maynard’s lyrics, stripped of their consonants, were incomprehensible, while the beauty and intricacies of Danny’s percussion became distant thuds.

    So disappointed. I will never go to a gig at the O2 again – or until they fix the horrible reverb.

  3. I was up in 423 and the sound quality was like listening through a soggy toilet roll. Hopefully next time they will point some of the speakers upwards towards the 50% of the crowd above the floor.

    Sweet relief came when they lifted the curtain and I thought I might glimpse the band, only to realise I had left my telescope at home.

    After a while of squinting I identified the elusive Maynard as the singer at the back behind the curtain rail. Sadly Maynard was drowned out by the gentlemen in the seat in front of me soiling his trousers while being carried away by no less than 5 event staff. While a mildly entertaining interruption I had hoped not to see the downsides of recreational substances quite so early in the evening.

    The best part of the gig was looking down at the people in the centre who were clearly having a wonderful time. I’m glad I read this review as now I know the show was as amazing as I imagined. Had I not bought the cheap £80 tickets and spent more on the immediately unavailable ones on ticketmaster I might have know what it was really like.

    Next time I go to the O2, I’ll take some headphones and watch some cool visuals on my phone, and hope someone from the decent seats sends me a video of the last song from their phone.

    I give the gig 4.8 out of 10 fractal polygons.

  4. In Paris, Accor Arena, we lived an awfull experience despite the wonderfull show : security men were at their climax, pointing you when you was not right at your seat, chasing everybody wanting to take a quick picture, with their flashlights like the Gestapo, extracting people from their seat to check their smartphone picture stock …. awfull.

    • Hi René – there was a strict no photo rule in London which was very clearly communicated when you bought tickets plus there were lots of signs around the venue advising this. Was that not the case in Paris?

  5. I saw Tool play in Minneapolis, MN on March 3, 2022…Tool is spectacular. Their songwriting is next-level. Incredibly intricate. All 4 of those guys are playing their asses off.

  6. O2 London should be ashamed of the sound quality it puts out. Having watched Muse quite high up I made sure to have good seats low down for Tool. Sound quality was terrible. I ended up putting in-ear headphones in to try limit the ear splitting distortion. The band play so well together but an expensive show ruined once again by poor sound. Just won’t bother with the O2 again.

  7. Yep, people have said it already; the sound in the O2 is utter shite. Ruined what would have been a great gig. This is not a venue for music.

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