Concertgoers got a slice of visual euphoria to match their noise hunger at the Palace of Auburn Hills last Friday when progressive-metal act Tool brought their complex rock to the masses.

Morgan Morel
Uh, rock on? (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)

Overlooked by mainstream media in favor of rap and indie rock, Tool has meanwhile been pushing metal from the rack and screw with studio tinkering and freewheeling song structures. Their fans are keeping in step – they sold out their May performance at the Fox Theatre in minutes, and nearly filled the Palace of Auburn Hills on this night. Tool is the front-runner of today’s progressive metal, and they’re making their mark city by city.

After taking five years to write and record their latest release, 10,000 Days, the group stuck to their newer material for a large portion of the set. New tracks like “The Pot” gave the set intriguing rhythmic breakdowns and let the band roar out of low moments with percussive force – with difficult-to-perform time signatures and unnatural chord progressions, there’s very little room for error.

Guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor maintain their musical composure even during the intricately complex solos of “Jambi.” Frontman Maynard James Keenan’s synthesized keyboard work, along with effects coating the distorted guitar and bass, gave the group a distinct and recognizable sound. Drummer Danny Carey’s digital drum pads change from song to song and mimick percussion from around the world. Tool is as electric as they are metal.

A wide, white, square stage was positioned at one end of the arena and suddenly went from a bland structure to media canvas when the band took the stage. Six large LCD panels lined the back and 12 projectors hung above the stage using the white floor as a screen. Clips from their warped, biologically-inhuman video artwork reflected down onto the stage along with swirling and converging lines reminiscent of M.C. Escher.

It’s odd that a band with such creative and passionate sound would be as static as they are on stage. Jones and Chancellor stayed on their respective sides of the stage, barely moving from a ten-foot area. The only kinetic member of the band is vocalist Keenan, but he holed himself up on a platform in the back of the stage.

During the song “10,000 Days,” an ode to Keenan’s mother’s battle with paralysis, lasers fired out from behind Carey as well as from the sound board shooting throughout the arena, bouncing off strategically placed mirrors hung on rafters and all around the stage. Colors morphed as the song changed and designs twisted and contorted throughout the 10-minute-plus epic.

Following the song’s finish, the band silently sat down on Keenan’s platform in silence letting the crowds building roar fill the arena. The members sat motionless ingesting the crowds’ appreciation.

For a night filled with more sensory feeling than any drug could produce, it was only fitting. Sometimes silence shows more affection than words ever could.

At the Palace of Auburn Hills

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