The schism between Tool and the Whitworth Choir

I mentioned earlier the blog that disappeared, you know, in that blog about how Jesus saves and I used to be and arguably still am a huge nerd lacking in social skills. Well, here it is, magically raised from the depths of blog purgatory. In actuality, what this means is that I had things I thought were worth saying (mostly criticisms about Tool) and figured that I’d go back through my mental notes and recompose the entry and incorporate new details as there really is no hiding the fact that I’m writing this over a week out from both performances. In doing so, I somehow have expanded the post significantly, so, if you’re dying to know, Whitworth wins.

The Music:
There is no critically acclaimed bass player quite like Justin Chancellor (what a good name that is. In my opinion, any last name that is also a political title gives the name major points.). With no less nine pedal effects and a penchant for playing up more than a dozen frets, he has a unique style. This is illustrated by my experience when “Schism” was released back when I was but a teenager and learning guitar. Distracted and deluded by my new hobby, I hadn’t the slightest clue that the intervals I was listening to were played on a bass and not a guitar. Even in the life show, I found myself listening and watching Adam Jones (not that Adam Jones, you Whitworth kiddos) only to realize that it was not a guitar to which I was listening but a bass. That and something like 70 flying speakers and 18 sub cabinest plus the vocal talents of Maynard Keenan are nothing to be scoffed at. But neither are the dissonant pedal tones of the First Pres organ under the command of Bonnie Robinson.

Thinking about it, the style of Tool’s music and the general style (i.e., not any song sung in Yoruba) of what the Whitworth choir sang have similar strings. No, I’m not talking about the string quartet that accompanied the choir but that does add extra points to Whitworth’s score. Really, I’m a sucker for cellists. Regardless of my attraction to certain types of string players, it really goes without saying that metal has derived quite a bit from music older than say the 1950s and has even been known to mirror certain aspects of the classics. But don’t tell metal heads that–we want to keep it a secret.

The Lyrics:
Come Thanksgiving day, something weird happens. I think it’s related to the post binge-purge-induced depression that comes the Friday after the fourth Thursday of November, but I cannot be sure. At that time, after three or four weeks of adamantly resisting the corporate world’s push towards Christmas, I experience the first letting down of my guard. Sitting in Starbucks or the cavernous monstrosity that is the Service Station, I begin to actually enjoy Christmas music. This year, the transition to Christmas music has been especially easy as the Thanksgiving weekend brought the first substantial snow, efficiently quelching my delusions of summer. Quite unintentionally, I proved this point today by actually digging up Sufjan Steven’s Songs for Christmas and listening to four out of the five discs while driving around today. Weird.

So Christmas music has been a nice compliment and I found myself in one the midsts of the four of the not-the-other-48-weeks-of-the-year where I can enjoy mildly evil lyrics. Maybe I am a skosh traditional. That and the Tool concert seemed to be lacking in their most excellent lyrical pieces. I knew there wasn’t much hope to hear the cookie recipe (Die Eier Von Satan, Aenema), but (Ana, this one’s for you) there was no “monkeys killing monkeys” (“Right in Two,” 10,000 Days).

On the other hand, there were Whitworth choirs. They didn’t sing Christmas songs. No, they led a worship service. No, when it comes to the lyrics, ideally, every song would have been in Latin. But beggars can’t be choosers. I say that as “Christmas Cantata” (or for those of you who speak Latin, “Sinfonia Sacra“) was absolutely breathtaking.

The Ambiance:
It’s in this area that the Whitworth choir and Tool differ to the greatest degree. Suits, ties, dresses. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate high fashion and I do appreciate seeing Kamesh Sankaran in a bow tie as much, no, more than most anybody else. But that says something about the audience as well. Sure, they’re not coming into the stands wearing gothblack makeup, streaming down from their eyes like bat fingers, but the suited, tied, and dressed audience isn’t much for personal self-expression, either. Going along with the formalish attire was the sanctuary itself, dressed in its Christmas best. Quaint, it was, paling in comparison to the choreographed laser and light spectacle in a smoke-filled arena with 10,000 fellow metal connoisseurs.

Also, and only because such things are listed in the program, I’m going take note of the poor poster and program design. I appreciated shades of yellow and blue thrown together when I’m in Ikea or pledging allegiance to the Swedish flag but not in posters or programs. There are fives or tens of Whitworth art majors who would be willing to whip up something more visually appealing for the cost of a pizza.

Tool gets this one on all accounts.


The Seating:

As if none of this wasn’t already subjective enough, I need to delve into a subset of the overall ambiance: the seating. In the case of the Tool concert, I shouldn’t have gotten in but at the last minute, was presented an opportunity and by the luck of the draw, had an excellent vantage point. With the choir concert, I was an actual ticket holder and got a seat resembling a restricted view seat at Fenway. I’m going to go out and say it: the seating at both concerts was seriously lacking. My back door method into the Tool concert came as the result of some creative maneuvering on Brent Unruh’s part. He was supposed to help with crowd management but didn’t want to. I wanted to see Tool. I spent the entire time perched at the top of the first level of the stands but only about 50 feet in front and to stage right of the stage. Of course, I had to direct people to their seats. That was no biggie. What became problematic was that my “employer” wanted me to be the ultimate killjoy. By the end of the show, I had told three people to put their camera phones away, one person that “lighting up isn’t cool,” had confiscated a flask of Smirnoff 100, and had stamped out one girl’s cigarette. I became that guy and hated myself for that. Here’s the kicker: two cops, while on their rounds, would often end up at the top of my section and catch a song or two. And they didn’t even do anything about less-than-legal activities going on in the crowd.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a bona fide ticket holder at the Whit choir concert and I was stuck down in a pew. I’ll take the blame for ending up in the back row, but it is most definitely First Pres’ fault for having one structural post obstructing my view plus a half dozen other posts topped with ribbons lining each side of the hallway.

Overall Performance:
Saving my only substantial bit of criticism for last I need to consider the exuberance of the performers. I mentioned that I have tried reconciling the fact that sometimes artists are on and sometimes they are not. Obviously Spokane is not a money city. When you hear anything about the size of the “Spokane Metro Area,” you need to realize that that includes Eastern Washington and that Idaho panhandle from Canada down to Pullman and Moscow. Such stats that come from those figures and won’t impress tour promoters or managers. Additionally, the Spokesman Review and The Inlander are not SPIN Magazine and there are probably no press photographers anywhere withing the confines of the concert. But that should mean you give a sub-par show. No, I’m not criticizing the fact that Maynard hangs to the back of the stage, never leaving the security of his platform shared with the drum set. That is a personal preference and an intentional statement about the music. What most concerns me is how the concert felt canned. It wasn’t special. Of course it was forceful. It was epic. If I were an announcer on any rock station, I would say in a low, rumbling voice, “Tool, more rock rock rock than a face-full of CONCRETE PIE!!!” By definition, Tool is all that and more. But the band seemed slightly apathetic.

Again, I’m sure the specifics of the concert affected Whitworth choirs’ performances, but fortunately it was for the best. I was lucky enough to attend the final Christmas concert. Keep in mind that for a good number of members, this is not just the final concert of the season but it is their final concert. What I beheld was absolutely astonishing and I cannot rave enough. The performance by the singers and musicians went without missing a step and the entire experience seemes as though it was choreographed.

So on that note, I’ve got to hand it to Whitworth’s music department. Overall, the Whitworth choirs take the cake. Sadly though, it’s Maynard Keenan and his band who can do what they do and live a comfortable life. For the rest of the Whitworth musicians I saw perform, I am reminded of joke which sums up the plight ofprofessional musicians in general: How do you get a professional trombonist off your front patio? Pay him and say “Thanks for the Pizza.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: