SNHU Arena November 13 2023 Manchester NH by Sam Simon
I arrived at the SNHU arena shortly after seven o’clock and picked up my ticket at the box office. Knowing that I was going to want Tool merch, I decided to buy a tee shirt while the lines were short on my way to my seat. I placed my jacket on the back of the seat, only 30 feet from stage-right, and went to buy a beer. Returning with tallboy in hand, I settled in to watch the opener, whom I had never heard of. Stagehands and roadies walked around a silver drum kit in the middle of the stage, curiously setting up mannequin heads around the kit. The couple in the seats behind me let me know that the opener was a one-man band named Steel Beans. Soon, the lights dimmed and a man with dark hair strode onto the stage wearing a purple dress shirt and leather jacket, carrying a leaf blower spouting paper flames. He sat down behind the kit and strapped on a guitar.
“What’s up Manch?!!”
He told us a little bit about his time in Manchester, and then launched into his first song, one that he wrote in his dressing room earlier that day. At first, I thought that he was using looping to get the guitar and drums at the same time, but the closer that I looked, I could tell it was much cooler than that. In his right hand, he clutched both a guitar pick AND a drumstick! Much to my surprise (and delight) I saw that he was strumming and striking the drums at the same time. During drum fills, he would take his left hand off the neck of the guitar and hit the drumheads with his bare hands! Throughout his set, he successfully both soloed on guitar while still drumming and soloed on drums while still strumming. Naturally, this took a lot of energy, and did not result in a perfect performance, but I found it unendingly entertaining to watch. To do all of this while singing, and pretty well, sure impressed me. I liked the performance and his attitude well enough to buy a tee shirt from him as well at the end of the night. I will likely seek out a solo Steel Beans show in the future. As an opener for Tool, it was just as weird as I had expected.
Before and after the opener went on stage, an announcement played over the venue speakers informing concertgoers that there would be no photography of any kind (except by press during the first song), and that anyone taking cell phone video or pictures would be escorted out of the venue. Since this was my first Tool show, I didn’t know that they are typically this picky about pictures and that this is a difficulty at most of their shows. Other than taking a few notes for this review, I like to be present in the show and stay off my phone, so this didn’t bother me too much.
The lights came down again, and imposingly tall drummer Danny Carey walked onto stage as he usually does, dressed in a basketball jersey. He was joined by Adam Jones (guitar) and Justin Chancellor (bass) in front of him on the stage. They launched into the long intro of Fear Inoculum, the titular track of their latest album. Behind the drum riser was another level of the stage, rapping around Carey on both sides. Before the first words of the song began, a dimly lit man with a platinum blonde mohawk walked up to one of the microphones on this second level. The crowd recognized Maynard immediately by his hair and gave out a cheer. While sound blasted out of the massive speaker stacks above me, symmetric visions of kaleidoscopic dreamscapes and twisted almost-human biology slid across the massive screens behind the stage. A giant seven-pointed star strung with lights hung above the stage, drifting down over the drums and bathing the cymbals in shifting colored light.
For the duration of the song, and as it would turn out, for the rest of the show, Maynard’s face lay in shadow, his silhouette only ever backlit. When the first song was over, he addressed the crowd, reminding them of the camera rules. He said that they wanted to provide us with an experience, and that we should all be present to experience it, promising that video would be allowed during the final song. I had not forgotten about their camera rule, since standing at the bottom of the stadium rows were members of security shining bright flashlights at anyone that they saw recording. This was not only distracting but at times painful when the bright LED tracked right into my eyes. I wonder if the camera policy was entirely about being present in the moment, or if it didn’t have something to do with Maynard’s infamous stage fright. I saw several people walking out of the venue accompanied by staff. I thought that this policy was over-intense, and that it took away from the experience rather than adding to it.
As much as it slightly bothered me, I was still swept along with the wave of concert excitement as they started playing Jambi, one of my favorite Tool tracks, from their album 10,000 Days. From there, they launched into Rosetta Stoned, with the concert screens playing images of aliens and psychedelic trip-spaces. The rest of the first set included two more songs from their recent album and ended with an incredible performance of The Grudge (from Lateralus). The heavy chugging rhythm sections were accompanied by flashing red and white lights and had me jumping up and down with the rest of the crowd. The Grudge contains an impressively long scream, which Maynard held for over 20 seconds!! Once the last song of the first set came to a close, there was a 12-minute intermission.
When the lights came down again, Danny Carey was the only musician on the stage. Sometime during the intermission, the crew had wheeled out a massive Gong, easily four feet in diameter. Carey stood in front of it holding a drumstick in each hand, his back to the crowd. Beginning the shorter second set, he launched into Chocolate Chip Trip, also from their newest album. This amounted to a drum solo interspersed with electronic noises and synthesized beats, a top-down kaleidoscoped view of Carey at the drums playing the whole time. When this ended, Carey left the drum kit and went to join his bandmates at the front of the stage, where they were now seated. Surprisingly, he was handed a guitar. The seven-pointed star drifted forward to rest above them, descending closer and bathing them in blue light. The four of them sat there together as they played through the wandering ambient intro to Culling Voices. As the intro ended, they dispersed again to their positions and finished the song masterfully. This was followed by the final song they would play from Fear Inoculum, called Invincible. This happens to be my favorite track from that album.
After this came the last song of the night, Stinkfist (from Ænima). Maynard addressed the crowd, letting us know that we could take out our “stupid phones” to record the last track. I tried to record it to post with this review but lost the recording when the guy in front of me, flailing excitedly the whole night, punched my phone out of my hand. I enjoyed the rest of the song as I had the rest of the show, through my own eyes and not my camera. (Tool is onto a little something here, I just disagree with the vehemence and mild condescension of their policy.)
I have wanted to see Tool for years. In Manchester, they delivered. I would have been happy to have the concert last twice as long, as there are a good many songs that they didn’t play which I would have liked to hear. I look forward to seeing them again and hope I get to hear a few of those live.
Chocolate Chip Trip
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