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Tool mesmerized and exhilarated in a stadium performance on Halloween

The legendary alt-metal act remains one of the best live bands in the world.
Image by Ethan Lambert
Tool performing the last song of the encore, with three of the members wearing costume masks, in St. Paul on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.

Spoiling their Twin Cities fans by returning to Minnesota a year and a half after their show at Target Center in 2022, Tool kept up their reputation as one of the most formidable forces in arena rock during their St. Paul concert on Oct. 31.

With the same exact band line-up since 1995, Maynard James Keenan (singer), Adam Jones (guitar), Danny Carey (drums) and Justin Chancellor (bass) sounded as strong as ever over the course of their two-hour performance at Xcel Energy Center on Halloween night.

Dominating most of their set were songs from their latest studio album, 2019’s “Fear Inoculum.” The band opened with the title track, “Fear Inoculum.” The 10-minute-long song starts out atmospheric with Jones methodically letting notes ring by controlling his guitar’s volume knob before the song takes the shape of an expected headbangable Tool song as the distorted guitar turns up and Carey’s drumming gets louder.

A staple in Tool’s live set since 2019, “Fear Inoculum” remains a satisfying opener by both setting the mood for the night and building up hype in the audience.

Fourth in the setlist was “Rosetta Stoned,” a fan favorite from the group’s 2006 album “10,000 Days.” The four-piece brought back into their tour setlist for the first time in 14 years. While instrumentally the band was on-point throughout the 11-minute song, Keenan’s vocals could have sounded more emotive live. His vocal performance on the studio version stands as one of his most inventive and menacing to date as he portrays a manic character describing a drug-induced trip through Area 51.

Outside of this song, however, Keenan’s vocals were incredibly strong throughout the band’s performance, especially as he let out epic screams on tracks “The Pot” and “The Grudge.”

While their live rendition of “Rosetta Stoned” this time around did not pack the same punch as the recorded version, it is commendable that Tool has continued to change up their setlist by revisiting songs they have not performed in a while.

Closing out their main set, the band played “The Grudge” the opening track to their 2001 masterpiece “Lateralus.” The band expertly recreated the soundscape present on the studio recording, nailing both the quiet bass-dominant refrains and the iconic breakdown backed by one of Jones’ best guitar riffs midway through the song. The band exerted a high amount of energy and proved they can still play their greatest material decades later with the same ferocity as they did in the studio.

While the album “Fear Inoculum” has its strong tracks, the band allotted too much to the album in their setlist during their St. Paul visit. Songs “Descending” and “Chocolate Chip Trip,” which have been live staples in the band’s setlists since 2016, should be removed to make room for their best songs. The constant inclusion of these “Fear Inoculum” songs is even more questionable considering the band did not play a single song off of their best album, 1996’s “Ænima.”

However, a song on “Fear Inoculum” that translates well to the band’s live show is “Culling Voices.” For the second song of the encore, the entire band sat front-center of the stage each on a chair as they brought the relatively stripped-down song alive with a chilling rendition. “Culling Voices” is up there with the title-track “Fear Inoculum” as the strongest song off their 2019 release, strengthened by their live performance of it.

Closing out the encore was a treat for die-hard fans of the band, as the group performed “Swamp Song,” a deep cut from their 1993 debut album “Undertow.” The song carried a similar power as “The Grudge” did with the whole band sounding as fierce as they do on the studio recording, especially Keenan as he screams the lines “My warning meant nothing. You’re dancing in quicksand.”

“Swamp Song” was an unexpected song to end the show, but it was a satisfactory one given it is a high-energy song from one of their seminal bodies of work.

While the setlist could have been tweaked, the reality is any Tool setlist is a great one, given the band’s decades-proven ability to put on an enticing live show for die-hard fans and casual fans alike. Strengthened by Carey’s herculean power behind the drums, Chancellor’s intricate basslines, Jones’ immaculate guitar-playing and Keenan’s overall top-notch singing, the band gave their Twin Cities fans a night to remember.

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