Setting the Stage: “Jesus Christ,” Maynard James Keenan exclaimed on Monday night (January 10th). “Two years and 15 pounds of snacking later.”

    The notes of shock, excitement and relief in the singer’s voice as he said those words had already been thick in the air before Tool took the stage at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon for the band’s first live performance since March of 2020 — kicking off an extensive 2022 US tour that will run through late March (tickets available here). The capacity crowd was humming from the moment the doors opened and they formed a half-mile long line around the venue to snag something from the merch table. The audience buzzed all through opener Blonde Redhead’s set and only became more anxious as the minutes ticked toward the headlining band’s arrival.

    Undulating through all of it, though, was a distinct tone of exasperation. Tool’s strict policy barring the use of smartphones for filming, photo taking and even texting was a considerable point of contention. The already exhausted staff at the arena were constantly butting heads with various members of the audience, exhorting them to tuck their devices into their pockets when they weren’t reminding folks to put their masks back on.

    This not-so-small contingent of the audience clearly wanted things to feel normal again at a moment when we’re far from the routine. Just ask all the artists who, two hours north in Portland, have been forced to cancel their gigs in the wake of rising infection numbers and hospitalizations. The first Tool show in nearly 700 days — taking place at the very arena where Tool were set to play next when the concert industry was shut down in 2020 — was certainly not a return to a pre-pandemic atmosphere, even if it did offer a momentary escape from reality.