Combining rock with elements of theater can be risky business. Too often body paint and multimedia embellishments are simply a convenient way of masking musical shortcomings.
Not so with Tool, which certainly doesn't need to augment its riveting live show with any bells and whistles. When the Los Angeles quartet has employed such devices in the past, as when an exotic female dancer did a striptease that revealed her to be a man in a show last spring at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, it has enhanced the presentation.
For a few perplexing moments after the stage lights came up for the band's show Thursday at the Universal Amphitheatre, though, it appeared that Tool--masters of raw, no-frills rock--had plunged into the perilous realm of performance art. Guitarist Adam Jones, painted blue from the waist up, and bassist Justin Chancellor, painted brown, flanked singer Maynard James Keenan, clad only in boxer shorts and painted half blue from head to foot.
But rather than being a distraction, the paint actually enhanced Keenan's visceral stage presence as the show progressed, his frenetic dance movements contrasting with the frozen poses of the three mannequin-like statues that shared the stage with the band.
The music was no less dynamic: Drummer Danny Carey and Chancellor stirred up currents of mesmerizing rhythms as Jones' volatile guitar lines exploded in tandem with Keenan's strident vocals. The piquant desperation of "Sober" and the bitter defiance of "Opiate" came through loud and clear, and the group's rendering of "Eulogy," the standout track from the new "Aenima" album, was incandescent, building from a quiet percussive introduction to a devastating close.
Although the theatrical accents--which also included a satirical animated film--certainly added a vibrant visual dimension to the show, the music would have hit just as hard had it been played behind a screen.