Stimulus Maximus: Tool plays monumental concert in San Bernardino with Primus, Clutch & more

By Andrew Bansal
(photos by Brad Worsham)

June 24th 2017, Glen Helen Amphitheater, San Bernardino CA: Prog legends Tool concluded their recent run of U.S. dates with a massive concert in San Bernardino last Saturday, not only making a rare Los Angeles area appearance in the process, but also stacking the bill with one great band after another, giving concertgoers from Southern California and beyond, several valid reasons to venture out to the desert in searing heat. For most rock and metal loving folks based in the LA area, attending shows at the Glen Helen Amphitheater is nothing new, but this one turned out to be a one-of-a-kind event, cerebrally stimulating like no other, and one to be remembered for a very long time.

More often than not, concerts at this venue tend to be festival-like events that run all day, but this was not one of them and it featured just five bands, all playing on the main stage. The show was not scheduled to start until 3:45 PM, which was a refreshing change from the norm here, giving ticket holders more time to make the long drive and arrive at the venue to catch all the bands. Yes, food and drinks were only available at premium prices, but drinking water fountains were easily accessible, misting fans were placed at various points throughout the vending area, and with 30-minute changeovers between bands, there were plenty of incentives to stay hydrated and conscious without having to spend a fortune. Attending an outdoor concert in the California summer can sound like a daunting task to some, but as the 50,000-plus people that trekked to San Bernardino for this one would testify, it was really not that bad, and certainly worth the effort.

Melvins started proceedings with a short 6-song set of doing what they do best. The trio of Buzz Osborne (guitar/vocals), Dale Crover (drums) and Steven Shane McDonald (bass) wasted no time and laid into some righteous jams. It is nearly impossible to fully represent and cover the entire gamut of the Melvins’ musical spectrum in a 30-minute set, so on this occasion the band focused more on their doomy/sludgy side, with a set comprising ‘Euthanasia’, ‘#2 Pencil’, ‘Hag Me’ and ‘AMAZON’. They also played a King Buzzo cover, as well as the best cover you’ll ever hear of The Beatles’ ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. For some Melvins fans it was perhaps a bit strange to watch the band in broad daylight with the blazing sun still overhead, and on a stage draped in black, with band members also dressed in black, Buz Osborne’s hair may have been the only thing visible to people in the distance. In front of a more than half-full venue, the Melvins provided a great start to the show and set the standard early.

Melvins photos:

Melvins set list:
1. Dark Brown Teeth (King Buzzo cover)
2. Euthanasia
4. Hag Me
5. I Want to Hold Your Hand (The Beatles cover)
6. #2 Pencil

Next up at close to 5 PM, Fantômas took the stage for a much hyped, sudden, rare one-off appearance which came out of nowhere. Billed as a “reunion” show but not quite so with drummer Dave Lombardo missing due to Suicidal Tendencies commitments, this version of Fantômas featured Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn, Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover, and it was the band’s first U.S. show since 2008. Fantômas was getting into their groove and beginning to entertain the audience with their glorious sonic weirdness, complete with Patton’s sarcasm and humor when addressing the crowd. But a major portion of the set was marred by technical problems, as Mike Patton’s vocals were completely inaudible, even as he could be clearly seen (from our seats in the Orchestra section) belting out his parts with full fury and fervor. This put an obvious dampener on what was supposed to be a special performance, and anyone in attendance would need to see them some other time, some place else, to truly claim that they saw Fantômas live, because this one should not really count.

Fantômas photos:

Longstanding Maryland hard rockers Clutch were next to hit the stage at 6:15, and hit it they did, as in all honesty they were the first band of the show to exude an energetic vibe on stage, and consequently, the first band the entire audience really paid undivided attention to. Neil Fallon’s exemplary vocal delivery and charismatic frontmanship got the crowd involved and garnered warm applause, but Clutch is a band of four great musicians, and they stamped their class all over Glen Helen. Their 10-song set heavily revolved around their two most recent albums, ‘Psychic Warfare’ (2015), and ‘Earth Rocker’ (2013), with as many as five songs from the latter and rightly so, as it is arguably their best album till date. They did throw in two older songs, ‘Profits of Doom’ and ‘Electric Worry’, but the strength of their new material was clear from this high-impact, all-killer, no-filler set. Their continuing ability to come up with good new music is why they are relevant in the year 2017 and will never be a nostalgia act. Clutch’s performance was enjoyed by one and all, and they most certainly proved themselves as worthy of their spot on this bill. No amount of praise heaped on Clutch is excessive, such is their unwavering excellence, in the studio and on stage. Clutch is a national treasure, a band this country should be proud of.

Clutch photos:

Clutch set list:
01. Crucial Velocity
02. Cyborg Bette
03. Firebirds!
04. Noble Savage
05. Earth Rocker
06. Profits of Doom
07. The Face
08. D.C. Sound Attack!
09. Electric Worry
10. X-Ray Visions

The sun had finally disappeared behind the Glen Helen stage and the entire audience was under shade, perfectly in time for Primus, who arrived at 7:30. The first indicator of the greatness of their performance was the realization that their one hour on stage flew by very, very quickly, and the crowd loved every moment of it. It is not often that one gets to witness so many musical geniuses on one stage, and following those in Melvins, Fantômas and Clutch before them, it was time for Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and Tim Alexander to shine. Watching a band with bass as the lead instrument is a rarity in itself, and even more rare is to be treated to bass playing of such unmatchable caliber. It was easy to be in awe of Claypool’s exploits on the bass, and he even brought out the upright bass for an excellent rendition of ‘Mr. Krinkle’.  That song, followed by ‘My Name is Mud’ and ‘Jerry Was a Race Car Driver’ brought the set to an end and sent this crowd into delirium. Not many bands can play directly before Tool and still hold their own, but this one surely did. Primus’ blend of rock and funk is truly unique and impossible to replicate in the same manner, and should constitute the very definition of alternative music. Primus never claimed to be a metal band, but the sheer musicianship, eccentricity and entertainment value of their live show is something every reader of this site can and should appreciate, and to that effect, their upcoming summer co-headline tour with Clutch comes as strongly recommended. There’s only one thing left to say. Primus Sucks!

Primus photos:

Primus set list:
1. Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
2. Last Salmon Man
3. Too Many Puppies / Sgt. Baker
4. Frizzle Fry
5. The Toys Go Winding Down / Pudding Time
6. Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver
7. Mr. Krinkle
8. My Name is Mud
9. Jerry Was a Race Car Driver

After an afternoon and evening of stellar support acts, it was time for the headline act. Readying and setting up the stage for an act like Tool is a work of art in itself, and the band’s roadies and techs were fast yet extremely meticulous in every detail. Seeing the multitude of lighting fixtures and laser mirrors being put into place raised anticipation of a highly visual Tool show even further. Promptly at 9 PM, the house lights went out, and the four members of Tool took their positions on stage to begin an epic performance. From the moment they stepped on stage, one got the feeling of experiencing something monumental and special, and that feeling was not unfounded, because Tool went on to orchestrate the most mind-bending two hours of live music the Los Angeles area has hosted in a long, long time. First-timers in attendance here would have only known about Tool’s live show from hearsay, and would have expected an incredible combination of musicianship and visuals, but the actual show itself is far above and beyond anything one can possibly imagine, and no amount of YouTube footage will ever do it justice. Tool is the perfect example of a band you simply have to experience live to “get” the hype perpetually surrounding it.

Dressed in full riot gear from head to toe, not to draw any attention to himself but rather to blend with the background and complete the visual puzzle that is the Tool stage, enigmatic frontman Maynard James Keenan was at the peak of his powers as a vocalist. His persistence to stand in the dark and stay in the background is notorious, but makes perfect artistic sense because the focus shifts onto the music and the light show, and the audience does not have to be fixated on the singer as is mostly the case in rock and metal. More bands should follow Maynard and Tool’s example and try to highlight their music more, with a visual element that is not themselves. Speaking of which, the visual aspect of Tool’s show is second to none, with a spectacular combination of colored lighting, ultra-bright LED panels and roving lasers, accompanied by moving pieces of art designed specifically for every song.

The entire set was a highlight in itself and it’s difficult to pick standout moments,  but ‘The Grudge’ heightened senses right from the outset, ‘Schism’ established the band’s stronghold on a captivated audience, and from then on there was no looking back. ‘Ænema’ was hard-hitting to the maximum, as it should have been, and ‘Third Eye’ was gloriously spellbinding. The band did not relent even for a single moment, and kept the entire Glen Helen gathering mesmerized and stunned till the last rites of the 15-song performance. And make no mistake, it wasn’t just about the visuals and the lights either, as Maynard’s band mates Adam Jones (guitar), Justin Chancellor (bass) and Danny Carey (drums) put forth an absolute masterclass in live musicianship. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that Tool is a mere four-piece yet exhibits more layers than bands with many more members. There are bands, and then there is Tool. It is clear from this firsthand, first-time experience that in the modern rock/metal realm, Tool is without doubt the best live band on the planet.

What a day, what a concert. This five-band, one-stage concept is far better than that of the multi-stage, 100-band festival, because a hodgepodge of bands randomly lumped together cannot beat a lineup of five like-minded bands playing one after another on the same stage. Savor quality, not quantity. Don’t call it a festival, but what Tool did in San Bernardino with this show, whether anything of the kind ever happens again, will be etched in history and memory forever.

Tool photos:

Tool set list:
01. The Grudge
02. Parabol
03. Parabola
04. Schism
05. Opiate
06. Ænema
07. Descending
08. Jambi
09. Third Eye
10. Forty-Six & 2
11. Drum Solo
12. The Pot
13. Vicarious
14. Sweat
15. Stinkfist

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