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Faithful readers of “Olfactarama” -- and I know there are many -- may remember that your pal Olfacta was once a music, um, queenpin. I worked for a legendary punk record label, and my job involved calling indie record stores like the one in “High Fidelity” (which if you haven’t seen you must rent right now) and talking up records, meanwhile gleaning information about bands everywhere. In this way, we broke some and found new ones. I got to be a cultural cattle prod and, honey, it was the best job I ever had.
Now I’m a few, uh, years older. The seeds I plant grow, well, plants. I take much better care of my nose, now that it’s perfume I prefer. Not that I’m all so very settled, or so I thought, but then we went to see Tool.
Tool’s been around for quite awhile, so they’re still a cult band, but the cult is Really Big. Big enough to draw people from multiple states, as I saw from the license plates all around me in the monumental traffic jam outside the parking lot. (Waiting in one of those is something I once said I would never, ever do again but hey, never say never.) Big enough for even me to be searched and wanded at the door. Now that’s big.
If I had to describe this show in one word, the word would be “robotic.” The singer was up on a riser behind the drums, in silhouette the whole time, in front of a long, rectangular screen the width of the stage, on which played amazing images of fire, light, and bizarre films of alienlike figures. (The next day I called my nephew, 26, in California. “Oh, yeah,” he said, all serious. “That’s what he does. No one ever sees him.”) So he wasn’t so much a singer as he was a symbol of a singer.
It was all very Nuremberg-like, with the audience on its feet punching the air from the first second, and LOUD. Assault-like loud. Listen, I’ve been to loud shows before, which is why I have to turn up the TV now when “True Blood” comes on. This one, though, vibrated my whole body. You know that buzzing you get in your chest, when it’s really, really, really loud? It was like that. The. Whole. Time.
The visuals were really the best part, horrifying scary, sometimes just light, lots of veiny things, faceless creatures, visions from a bad trip. I started to analyze, sober as a judge. What kind of future are we leaving these people, this audience, twenty to thirty-fiveish? Not much. So here they are, on their feet, saluting a nightmare.
The music was alternately crashing or dronelike, what they call “noise” now; psychotic prog-rock. Not for me, but who cares?
On the way home I said to the DH, you go to these shows for a transcendent experience; we used to anyway. The right combination of substances paired with the right volume and visual. If you hit it just perfect, you could feel your head explode. Go up like a roman candle. I saw lots of ecstatic dancing at this show, by the boy-men, the worm boys; the guys who grew up with their noses pressed to a screen. More than anything this felt like the best, most blazing video game ever. A simulacrum. Inside that hall, there was no other world.
I didn’t feel so old as I felt apart. This was the first event I’ve ever known to be beyond my experience. It made me realize that I live in a different world than these people do now. The volume was nihilistic; who cares if you can hear when you’re old? Chances are we won’t make it that far. The whole show was. (I can hear voices saying, “Really? Ya think?)
This is where we started; the nihilism of punk has morphed into Tool. There’s no going back.
The torch has been passed.
"Tool" visual image from Treaked at Flicker.com, used without any sort of permission whatsoever.