The case for Tool

Friday, May 4, 2007

For some of us, the excitement is palpable. A day we've been waiting on for years is finally here -- big rock is set to return to the Show Me Center.

At least we hope. Scratch that. I do more than hope; I know (I hope).

Earlier this week I was surprised by some rather pleasant news -- prog-metal band Tool has booked June 16 at the Show Me Center. Finally, a real rock concert after years of nothing even resembling rock, except for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is only sort of rock.

Before that the last rock concert to visit us was 3 Doors Down in 2004, but no matter what anybody says, Three Doors Down is pop, not real rock 'n' roll. You won't convince me otherwise.

Yes, it's been quite a drought, one that has elicited a chorus of complaints from people like me, Southeast Missouri's rock 'n' roll minority. At least we seem like a minority, when Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley can almost sell-out our only local major-label concert venue, but even Nickelback, about as pop as you can get in the "rock" world, only sold 4,000 seats in one of the last rock shows to hit the venue in 2004.

Now my comrades and I have stopped complaining upon hearing the news of Tool's intent to play Cape Girardeau -- most of us, anyway. Others say Tool is a band well past its prime, even though Tool is still at the top of the touring heap. And still others wonder if Tool can sell many tickets. Fact is, Tool isn't as popular as, say, the above-mentioned Nickelback, because Tool's sound isn't the slick, pop-factory, radio-friendly junk put out by Nickelback and their clones (a sound Radiohead's Thom Yorke once described as "fridge buzz").

Nor is Tool friendly to the conservative, religious values most Southeast Missouri residents, and the country artists they love, hold dear. Tool even put out an album called "Opiate," with a song of the same name, a reference to Karl Marx's statement of religion. Oh, and they're into numerology and other "dark arts."

Very un-Southeast Missouri.

So, why would Tool's ticket sales be any better than the aforementioned rock artists, and why does it matter? The simple fact is, 4,000 tickets sold is not enough to count as a big success with a band like Tool, ranked as the world's No. 4 concert band on Pollstar at the moment. They need a sell-out.

I think the band will have no problem getting that sell-out. Here's why:

Look at the history of rock 'n' roll concerts at the Show Me Center. The most convenient way to do this is to find a rock fan who's lived in Cape Girardeau for about 20 years, and they can tell you all about the glory days when big rock acts used to sell the place out on a regular basis. Some bands that have done well in the past: ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Motley Crue, Poison, Aerosmith and Guns 'n' Roses, Kiss -- those are only a few. ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd even appeared in 2000, well past their respective primes.

So what separates Tool from 3 Doors Down and Nickelback, who made fair showings but didn't sell out? Audience, my friends.

Tool was one of the bands that hit big in the 1990s, one of the many bands who were part of the mainstreaming of alternative rock. That means most Tool fans are in my demographic, mid-20s to mid-30s. Sure, there are some teenage fans who've joined on in recent years, without doubt, but most of Tool's fans were hooked long ago and remain loyal to this day. And people in my age group simply have more money to slap down $54 a ticket to see a band.

Guess what? The same thing applies for those bands I mentioned above. These are bands who appeal to adults, not teenagers.

Another point: Tool fans are a different ilk than Nickelback and 3 Doors Down fans. Tool fans are loyal, not attaching themselves like parasites to a fad, in the case of Nickelback and 3 Doors Down, the pop-rock that sprung up in the wake of grunge's demise. Tool's fans are true music fans. Pop fans would never listen to a Tool album because their heads would explode.

Those loyal Tool fans in the area -- I bet they're more numerous than you think -- will almost surely do anything they can to see this concert. Luckily, it's on a weekend. For Tool fans, the concert-going experience is the absolute pinnacle -- the most important part of Tool's art. I can tell you from experience, Tool concerts are a spectacle like you've probably never seen.

Of course, I could be all wrong. My faith that local rock music fans are that discerning, that they can tell the difference between Tool and 3 Doors Down, could be misplaced.

If so, I guess "they" were right all along. That can't be; it won't be. We need this show, or else we can expect another long rock 'n' roll drought. The time for complaining is over, the time for action is now.

Matt Sanders is the Arts & Leisure editor for the Southeast Missourian and the editor of OFF Magazine.

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