Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tool, September 23, Toronto: Review

Last night Tool played the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, marking the third time I’ve had an opportunity to see them perform live. And as I’m usually reminded at their shows, there are rock bands out there, and then there’s Tool. It’s truly an experience to seem live.

I went to the show with 5 other friends, all of us die-hard fans. Our seats were in the front of the 300 section and off to the side, which is still closer to the stage than half way. Having seen many concerts at the outdoor Molson Amphitheatre, I knew not to expect anything acoustically; the PA system there is often mediocre. All considered, however, Tool sounded great last night.

As is so often the case, the quality of the show is not always in the sound quality but in the precision of the performances, the amount of energy the band is willing to give out and the vibe given out by the crowd. Last night had all of these things in spades.

Maynard, who is battling an illness, came out wearing a Leaf’s jersey. They opened with “Stinkfist,” “The Pot,” and “46&2.” Maynard was very animated and established a physical presence on stage that I’d never seen before. He would crouch over and spread his legs in characteristic fashion, lean into the mic, and then prowl around on stage. Maynard would often shift between singing duty and playing the keyboards.

The set was quite minimal with two small video screens off the side displaying their usual artistic eye candy and clips from their videos. Above the band was a large black backdrop which was lit up with lights that created dynamic patterns. The floor could be lit up like a disco floor, as could a 6' wall that stood behind the band. These were used to brilliant effect. One specific moment comes to mind when they were playing “Lateralus” and the set was ablaze in fiery washes of orange and red.

And then there were the lasers. As fog rose up near stage area, beams of green lasers would shoot up and sweep up and down. Individual beams were used to spectacular effect during “10,000 Days.”

Musically the band was intense and creative, performing alternative intros and outros, constantly keeping the fans guessing as to what they were going to do next. As my friend noted during the concert, “Tool does whatever the hell Tool wants to do.” And that pretty much sums up what this band is all about. There’s very little that they do that can be considered cliché or run-of-the-mill. Even the way they position themselves on stage is unique; Maynard, the lead vocalist, stands far at the back next to Danny Carey, the drummer, while the two guitarists, Justin Chancellor and Adam Jones, stand out front.

The highlight of the concert for me, oddly enough, was not a musical moment, but rather a moment when the audience took over to show their appreciation for the band. Late into the show Tool decided to take a break onstage. Danny moved himself away from his kit and sat on the stairs beside Justin and Adam. Maynard was lying down on his back next to them. After a few seconds the audience started to hold up their lighters en masse.

Now, let me tell you, I’ve been to a fair share of concerts and I’ve seen the lighters go up time and time again – but nothing compared to last night. It was like looking into a sea of tiny flames as far as the eye could see. And this went on for what seemed an eternity. Even the members of Tool held up their lighters. It was truly a magical moment. Goosebumps.

As for a musical highlight, it was “Lateralus” that moved me the most. Other strong songs included “Schism” and “10,000 Days.” They did not play any songs from Undertow, which for me was a disappointment.

This was the most fun I’ve had yet at a Tool concert, and I can only hope they’ll come back to Toronto soon. Here’s the entire setlist:

The Pot
46 & 2
Lost Keys / Rosetta Stoned
Wings / 10,000 Days

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Roger Waters and the Dark Side of the Moon tour

I'm a huge Pink Floyd fan, so it was with great anticipation and excitement that I went to see Roger Waters in concert last night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. It was my first opportunity to see a former member of Pink Floyd perform live. Suffice it to say this concert was a big deal for me.

Tickets for this show were larcenously expensive at $110 a pop. My seat was virtually dead centre stage, but back about 60 rows from where the far goal-line would be. I've had worse. The live production offered extravagant visuals, so no mater where you sat there was plenty of eye candy -- including explosions, fireworks, three video screens, a flying pig (of course), a floating astronaut, and plenty of fog effects. The lighting was for the most part low and understated, a reflection of the Dark Side of the Moon theme.

The visuals were so good, actually, that it was at times distracting. I often found myself lost in the images, which included spacescapes, psychedelic imagery, and even comic-book style story boards; it was easy to forget that you were at a music concert.

The show was divided into 3 major sections. During the first part Waters played a number of Floyd songs that are mostly associated with him, while adding some material from his solo efforts. The opening set list went like this:

- In The Flesh
- Mother
- Set The Controls For the Heart Of The Sun
- Shine On You Crazy Diamond
- Have A Cigar, Wish You Were Here
- Southampton Dock
- The Fletcher Memorial Home
- Perfect Sense parts 1 and 2
- Leaving Beirut
- Sheep

These first 10 songs were performed so well and were arguably superior in quality and punch than the Dark Side of the Moon (DSOFTM) section and the encore. Waters’s band consisted of 11 performers including himself and they played wonderfully (i.e. they did a great job emulating the absent Pink Floyd members, including the virtuoso guitar playing of David Gilmour). Considering that the concert was in a hockey arena, I can't complain too much about the sound, although there were at times some suspicious mixing decisions for the vocals. Personal highlights for me included "Set the Controls," "Sheep" and "Have a Cigar."

Waters was, as usual, very political. He is known for his left-wing views and his pacificism, and in this time of geopolitical stress, Waters let it be known that he is not a happy camper. The trademark floating pig flew above us and was covered with messages, including one that read, "Don't be lead to the slaughter." Waters took several shots at George W. Bush, including a snide remark about his 'Texas education' and his comment about war actually being peace. He also had some nasty things to say about the religious right. Waters also took some jabs at Tony blair and mentioned how he feels the English have become stooges of the United States.

Waters has introducd a new song during this tour, titled "Leaving Beirut." It's his recollection of being 17 years old and stuck in the Middle East trying to hitch-hike home. He was taken in by an Arab family and was overwhelmed by their generosity and concern. He used this story as a way to expose current misconceptions and issues as they pertain to the current Mid-East crisis.

It's my understanding that much of Waters's anti-bush and anti-war commentary is not going over too well in some parts of the US. He was booed recently in New Jersey. Last night's audience appeared appreciative of Waters's message, but that's unsurprising here in Canada where anti-Americanism has become our national pastime.

After the opening 1.5 hour set the band took a 15 minute break in preparation for performing DSOTM in its entirety. This was the part I was eagerly waiting for -- and Waters didn't disappoint. All 11 band members took part in an outstanding recreation of the entire album. I had goosebumps running down my back during the whole thing. The videos in particular were brilliant, all set inside a circle representing the moon.

The band returned for an encore which consisted of the following tracks:
- The Happiest Days Of Our Lives
- Another Brick In The Wall (Pt 2)
- Vera
- Bring the Boys back Home
- Comfortably Numb

"Bring the Boys..." was particularly poignant given the political messages, as was Dollars and Sense from the opening set.

The only downside of the concert for me was the dearth of Floyd material pre-1973 (a period which I love, but is somewhat obscure). It would have been neat to hear some Syd Barrett era songs, or even something like Grandchester Meadows or Echos. Ah, well – I’ll have to continue suffering from the tyranny of the masses and their fixation on post-DSOTM Floyd.

The entire concert lasted 2.5 hours -- not bad at all and an epic by today’s standards. And even at that length, I didn't want it to end. Awesome, I truly had a blast last night -- a night I'll remember for some time to come.

Now, I've got Tool to go to on Saturday :-) Life is good.

Oh, and Dylan in November……

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Florida's various themeparks now have their fair share of roller coasters. It had been a while since I visited amusement parks, so I was quite surprised to see the next generation of roller coasters -- the so-called 'megacoasters.' These things are truly amazing and even awe inspiring.

There were two in particular that stood out in my mind: SheiKra at Busch Gardens and Kraken at Sea World.

SheiKra is what's referred to as a dive coaster (or diving machine coaster) -- essentially a roller coaster that features a fairly lengthy 90-degree vertical drop. In this case, it has an impressive 200 foot vertical drop and a 138 foot 80-degree drop. It also features a 145 foot tall Immelmann loop.

SheiKra is the first vertical-drop roller coaster in the United States, and the first roller coaster of its kind to include an inversion (in this case, an Immelman Loop) and a true 90 degree vertical drop. The other two coasters of its type are Oblivion at Alton Towers theme park in the United Kingdom and G5/Flying Submarine at Janfusun Fancyworld amusement park in Taiwan.

I have to admit, when I first saw SheiKra, I seriously considered not doing it -- it looked that intimidating. I wasn't sure what was worse, the 90-degree drop or the extreme height. By the end of the day, however, I was determined to go on it, convinced that if I did not I would seriously regret it.

As I waited in line, and as I boarded SheiKra, I was overwhelmed with feelings of surrealness. This was the first roller coaster in quite some time that had me this freaked. Once at the top of the 45 degree climb I could see much of Tampa Bay below me. Then the coaster re-adjusted itself as it prepared for the 200 foot drop. I took a deep breath and down we went. Looking straight ahead and going straight down at extreme speed, the experience seemed to last forever. It was as frightening as it was exhilarating.

Once at the bottom, the coaster smoothly re-joined the world of gravity and we were thrust into the Immelmann loop and given yet another drop. At this point during the ride I started to feel the effects of higher than usual G-forces, including blood loss from the head and my extremities (I felt light headed and my hands were tingling). I actually worried for a brief while that I might lose consciousness. After the ride, I had to fight a bit of dizziness and a mild head-ache, both of which quickly subsided.

Awesome. SheiKra was everything you would want in a roller coaster.

The following day I was at Sea World, which features the excellent Kraken roller coaster. This megacoaster was not nearly as daunting as SheiKra, but it was elegant and thrilling.

It was the first floorless coaster in Florida – but it’s not an inverted coaster; there’s nothing above you or under you, just the rail at the center. It has three tunnels, including one in Kraken's lair. Elements within this coaster include a loop, dive loop, zero-G roll, cobra roll, a second loop, and a corkscrew.

Again, like SheiKra, this coaster pushed the limits of my own biology. I probably don't have the 'right stuff' to be a pilot -- this much I'm sure. But I have to wonder, at what point do the megacoasters start to push the limits of human tolerance? I'm sure the developers are aware of these limits. The trick is to keep pushing the envelope and making novel and exciting rides, but ones that are still human ridable.

Star Wars Gift Shop at Disney's MGM Studios

Having recently visited 6 theme parks in Florida, it's safe to say that I've seen my fair share of gift shops. There was one in particular, however, that stood out: the Star Wars gift shop at Disney's MGM Studios in Orlando.

It was total Star Wars geekdom. I couldn't believe the stuff they had there, so I took the opportunity to snap some pictures. Click here to see all the photos or click here to see the slideshow.