How Tool Invented the Modern Live Stage and Lighting Design

Better learn to swim

In the current touring market, elaborate laser driven light shows and incorporation of various forms of video screens and projections has become all the rage, from Beyonce to Metallica, every big stadium act is seemingly on board with creating an exceptional visual driven performance to accompany the music. While U2 experimented with such displays in the 90s, it was Tool that originally drove this type of concert experience. Tool has always been known for their district sound and high quality of performances, but it was not until the latter half of their tour in support of 10,000 Days that this element became such an iconic staple of their concerts.

Over the past decade their use of led screens, lighting, lasers, and video screens has turned their shows into a spectacle that rivals any other artist. What makes Tool stand out visually is the use of a massive led screen behind the band that projects their visually stunning music videos.

The band performs along in perfect harmony with the images and lights flashing around the stadium, and they do so with little audience interaction. Frontman Maynard James Keenan stays in the back, cloaked in shadows while guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor stay locked into playing the complex repertoire of songs that merge complex progressive rock with blistering heavy metal. The whole experience becomes more of a transcendent ritual than a concert, thanks in large part to the visual accompaniment, which also includes the work of visionary artist Alex Grey.

A Tool show thus becomes the antithesis of what music fans typically expect at a concert: grand gestures towards the audience and dialogue meant to pump them up and get them moving. For Tool, the concert is a way for them to showcase their stunning visuals and equally stunning music, with those two combining into one unbelievable work of performance art. The lighting plays a huge part as well, with most of the stage being cloaked in darkness while smoke and lasers fill the arena. Large, geometric images are projected on the screen and the walls of the arena. The video and lighting design is different for each song, creating the perfect mood and feel for each track.

and they can make a drum solo look interesting!

Tool’s willingness to push the boundaries and expand their stage show has had an effect on other metal acts such as Metallica and Megadeth, who have recently begun to expand their concerts with similar types of video content specialized to each song. While many artists beyond the metal community now employ this kind of stage design, few can do the medium justice as Tool can.

It helps that the band’s songs are some of the most complex and exciting pieces of music ever created, and they sync up perfectly with the lighting show. One only has to see a performance of the live staple Anemia to understand the mind-bending prowess of the band. While lasers overlaid with a smoke machine may seem cliché, it is anything but that at a Tool show.

While there may be no indications that the band will be releasing any new music anytime soon, fans can still relish and enjoy the innovative and creative shows that Tool continues to put on year after year.