First time that I've ever been to the Apollo in Manchester. Pretty easy to find, thanks to the queue that seems to stretch the length of the building and beyond. It's been a fair few years since I've seen queues like that. Though to be fair to them, it only took a few minutes to get people in. Inside the place reminds me of Brixton Acadmey. Grand theatre like interior, but all the seating downstairs ripped out, and the slope running from the back to stage meaning that I guess people should have a good view (or at least the chance of a good view) no matter where they are.
Cortizone start proceedings. Like Hundred Reasons the other day supporting Incubus, they're afforded the luxury of being the only support band, meaning they can start that little bit later when they're faced with a reasonably full venue, instead of the normal plight of support bands playing to a few punters, while the rest are in the queue. So they get that luxury, along with the luxury of this tour. It's amazing what connections can do. They just don't hit it off for me. Rather bland and mundane, though I've heard the album is good. "Come on Manchester, it's Saturday night for fucks sake" says the vocalist in an attempt to illicite some enthusiasm. Though as it's said in such a depressed tone, you get the feeling it could equally apply to the man himself. The guitar goes missing for far too much of the set, and although they've got the 2 mikes (one hooked up to some kind of distortion / effects unit) to give some variety, the bottom line is the songs are not grabbing hold. Maybe it's something that you need time to adjust to. Maybe they got a lucky break in this. Justin from Tool however looks on appreciably from the wings ...
A few days ago queuing to see Dog Fashion Disco a face looked at me. In that "you know me" kind of way. Turns out it was Reuben from Blank Canvas records. He was telling me after the gig about Tool at the Ozzfest. He said something along the lines that it was the first time in a long time where he'd been excited about seeing the band, that sense of marvel and mystery. Tonight I understood. It's been years since the anticipation has been like this. Now I understand and appreciate it's only people, humans. But such is the way with this band, that you get excited. There's even a cheer when the cover is removed from the drumkits. I mean come on. You don't hear that very often these days. Hell, I even make my way in towards the middle of where you'd expect a pit to be. A change, I normally hang around the fringes. But I want to see everything. And there's another of those lurking face moments as a face looks at me and grins. It's not until he opens his gob and speaks that I realise it's Karl, erstwhile singer of earthtone9. Didn't recognise him without the hair (the beardonbonce is gone). Looks somewhat different now.
At around 9 the band take the stage. It's set so that Maynard is on a small podium in front of a small projection screen at the rear left of the stage. Rear right is the drum kit. In front of Maynard stands Adam, in front of Danny stands Justin. And there they remain for pretty much the rest of the night.
The Grudge starts thing, there's almost a release from the crowd, and the majority of the song is spent in the midst of people trying to start some kind of pit. Fortunately it doesn't take too long for people to realise that it's not really appropriate or feasible for this music, and things calm down somewhat. Stinkfist and Forty ix &2 are offered up, and again there are some half hearted attempts, but generally, the feeling is just one of people absorbing the music. It's nice to be in where I am again without having to worry about whether someone or some limbs are about to come flying into me.
The giant video screen fails for The Grudge, unless "source not present" was meant to be the video. Methinks though it should have been playing the same scenes as those behind Maynard. Still, it's sorted out early on during Stinkfist, and then continues to dish out videos and imagery for the remainder of the night. I'm sure there's some moral crusader out there that would complain about the nudity portrayed, failing to see that it's done in an artistic rather than a gratuitous manner. The music is faultless, to the extent that a few times I wondered if they were using samples to at least back some of it up. Maynard strapped on a guitar a few times, notably during Schism, but never seemed to play anything. Maybe he did, if not, it appears on the surface to be a fairly pointless gesture. Instead his many reason is to writhe and pace in a small circle on his podium and of course, provide pitch perfect singing. Ah yes, singing. None of the need to try and bring forth demons from hell through the voice. The music is heavy, the vocals offset it all. He doesn't say much. At one point he pauses and mutters, "er, hi". That simple word garners a mass response. I've heard it say that intelligence decreases in numbers, and that you can then say anything and get a cheer.
Everything looks sooooooo easy. Danny is knocking out all kinds of drum patterns with barely no effort. Similarly for Adam on guitars. It's sickening really isn't it, that they can make something complex appears so laid back. I know some people dislike the fact that they aren't exactly expressive on stage, but there again, maybe it's just a challenge. A different way of presenting something familiar. Why the need for all out warfare on stage. Because we're used to it? Maybe this is how music should be presented and we've been wrong all along. Maybe not. It's just different, and you can either accept it for what it is, or complain about it for what you wanted.
Prison Sex and Sober are offered from Undertow, there's nothing from Opiate. But it's the Aenima and Lateralus music that takes the honours. It's taken me a long time to get into Lateralus, I'm not sure I'm there yet, but live it provides another prod along the way. The vocals are louder, more dominant than they are on CD, which I think is a good thing. Lateralus itself is a standout. And there's Disposition / Reflection - though some people get a bit restless towards the end of it. I'm disappointed they didn't play The Patient, but you can't have it all. Pushit is awesome. There's no point in describing it in musical terms, got the CD? That's how they sound pretty much.
The band even challenge with the notion of an encore. They leave the stage, and despite having been played, Schism is played again. This time the video. Heads just stare at the giant screen. It may be self indulgent, but you've got to admit it's different. And it kind of makes a refreshing change from having everyone there should "Tool, Tool, Tool". However some people can be heard to say "get on with it" and "play a song". When they return Maynard speaks "thanks for coming. It's been a trying road, but we've made it. Many of our peers who started out at the same time have gone, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains. But we've learned to communicate, and no-one person leads the show. We'll be back soon." Parabola is played, but the excitement is saved for Aenema itself. What can you say, awesome.
They've kind of redefined the way a gig can be for me, in the same way Faith No More did all those years ago one night in Cardiff Uni. It's indicative that you can actually perform and present music in ways other than meathead city. Not to everyones tastes, I can imagine some people bored to tears. But if you want to challenge yourself, there's none better at the moment.