Photo by Jacob Boavista on Unsplash

Respirators, LSD & VIP: One Human’s Tool Concert Experience at Coronavirus Ground Zero

One of the most profound experiences of a human’s life.

Just one week before gatherings over 250 people are banned and schools are closed, I am in an arena in Spokane, Wa with thousands of people in very close proximity.

So, how does this really start?

SARS-CoV-2?

Mass psychology?

The experience of wearing a respirator in a crowd while absolutely grilling on LSD?

Or does this start by asking how much detail can be crafted into just a few minutes of otherwise empty space and time?

Right, I guess this is going to be a review of the Tool VIP experience and a review of humanity, all contained within an LSD story.

There really is something divine about the entertainer. We all observe the entertainer and the entertainer observes all of us, but we can never really know the entertainer through their work. On the other hand, the entertainer gets the opportunity to stare back at all of us and watch, getting to know our collective identity and nature. It’s a great, experiential, self-referential feedback loop.

It begs the question, who is really the audience in this relationship?

But there is sometimes something much more to it than that, especially when it comes to music and a band like Tool.

I’ve seen Tool more times than I can recall, but this was my first time buying VIP tickets. I was fortunate to land front row seats with my purchase and as it would happen, I ended up directly in front of Adam Jones. Perfect.

One thing I observed was that these aren’t just artists, these are craftsmen and It’s very different seeing them up close. As a musician, myself, of course I had an appreciation for how dialed in their live performances are. Of course. But I never really grasped that what they are doing is far more than a hobby that makes money or simply promoting album sales. These truly are craftsmen, hard at work. They are professional experience givers.

Photo by Kaytie Blandin

In contrast to other live bands I’ve seen, Tool continues to get better and better at playing live. Their songs have evolved to the point that one can absolutely lose themselves in the tiniest of transitions. Something rather profound emerges when considering all of this: How much detail can a few minutes contain? Because that is what they are doing; These craftsmen are pushing the limits of how much detail and perfection can be contained within a given moment.

Tool have taken really great songs and filled them out, over time, turning them into perfectly honed machines in which every component is absolutely nominal and perfect, down to the tiniest detail, demonstrating the infinitude of the present moment.

So, let’s go over the experience, yeah?

It was intense.

Seeing my favorite band was expected to be a great experience, but given the circumstances, it ended up being far more profound than I ever expected.

First of all, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the virus situation, but I suspected the odds of there not being someone at the event, carrying this new Coronavirus, were not good if I wanted to avoid it.

So, I brought a full-face respirator from work.

To say the least, I was a bit surprised to see not a single person covering themselves or having taken any apparent measures in consideration of the current pandemic, the epicenter of which we were all basically gathered. Well, the US epicenter.

I firmly believe that if enough people were wearing masks, everyone would have been wearing masks. I am sure that many people considered this, but since enough people were basically raw-dogging a vast crowd during a pandemic, virtually everyone decided there was no concern. There is no doubt in my mind that many individual decisions to take no precautions, were based on the observation of others doing the same. There was probably a social factor.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that the behavior of large groups of people is not a reference point for rational decision making.

Photo by Tiffany McWilliams

So, I suppose the VIP experience starts with myself and a close friend, standing in line around 1pm. The VIP thing starts a few hours before the doors open to everyone else.

My first concern was that security would hassle me about carrying a respirator. Someone in line had even said to me that they would likely not allow that. Fortunately, bringing a respirator to a concert just a week before the state government begins banning gatherings of more than 250 people, was evidently not unreasonable to security and nothing was said. There was no issue.

So, I get into the building and immediately walk to a table where I provide my identification. In turn, I am given two tickets (one for my friend) and just to my left, there is a man ready with two sweaters and two backpacks. Items included with the VIP purchase. “Awesome”. I’d forgot about the backpack. This will be perfect to hold my mask, drugs, and merch.

From there, we proceed to the merchandise stand. Thereafter, we immediately line up at one of the stadium’s interior entrances. You know, the alphanumeric corridors that lead down to seat sections?

We begin hearing music. At first, I think it’s the instrument techs, but it soon becomes clear that it might actually be the band warming up. They are each kind of off, playing riffs on their own and then come together to pickup 7empest about 3 minutes into the song. Then Maynard’s voice comes in just when it should have and sure enough, it’s them.

Evidently, we are waiting for Maynard to finish warming up. Apparently, he doesn’t like doing meet and greets. I can understand why.

We wait another 10 minutes, quite enthralled by what we are hearing. Soon enough, we are granted permission into the interior of the stadium. I head down the stairs and there they are, on stage. My favorite band, the one’s who’s albums I used to just lay on my bed and listed to when I was a teenager. We fill the first few rows of seating and watch them finish their warm up.

The meet and greet is brief. They come down to the floor, my buddy bumps knuckles with Danny Carey (lucky bastard), but otherwise, there is virtually no conversation, although it’s not for a lack of effort from fellow fans. We all spend a few minutes clumping together to take a group photo behind Justin, Danny, and Adam.

It’s interesting how being physically closer to someone can feel the same as when they were far away. It’s like there isn’t anything really tangibly meaningful in being closer. At least not for me in this scenario. I felt like a cat with catnip. I knew I wanted it, but I didn’t really know what to do with it once I got it. I suppose it all comes back to the philosophical contemplation of solipsism.

I was finally just a few feet from some of the most unintentionally influential people of my life and yet, I was still just an observer on an island, an isolated voice within a personal experience.

Group photo of my VIP group

Anyway, that all gets over with, they escort us to a private room with free food and a not-free bar where we are welcome to hang until 7:30. It’s like 6:00 and my friend and I are dying for a smoke, at this point. So, we eat, drink and find a security guard to bribe. I could have bought a signed poster at this point, but I just felt like $300 was a bit steep for something like that. I was happy with the poster I’d bought earlier. So, we get outside for a quick smoke and head back in to find our seats.

Upon arriving on the floor, I was pleasantly surprised to find we were front row, meaning we could stand right at the railing, just 6 feet or so from the stage. I was bummed that I would miss the visuals, but come to find out, there are basically two different concerts happening between up close and far away. You miss out, either way, but both experiences are so great, one ought to not feel any sense of loss.

So, the opening act, “Author and Punisher” is soon to be taking the stage and people are filling in around us quite rapidly. I don my respirator and prepare the piece of foil containing a somewhat excessive number of LSD tabs.

Despite there being no less than 5 security guards within 20 feet of us, including 2 within just a few feet, my friend and I manage to slip a few tabs into our mouths. Normally, I prefer to swallow one, wait 45 minutes and swallow more. I believe it creates a much smoother come up and the peak seems to hit it’s stride much longer than the more popular sublingual method. However, given we were theoretically less than an hour away from Tool taking the stage, I advised my friend to just swallow all of it. He was happy to do so, as was I.

So, mask is on. Security guards and people around me are kind of chuckling. Author and Punisher takes the stage. The following 45 minute set was literally my body being liquified with bass. Never before have I been so presently aware of my brain inside my skull. I felt like my brain’s blood barrier was being microwaved. The act was probably pretty cool, it looked cool, but my friend and I looked to each other several times just to check in that this was indeed incredibly unpleasant as well as inaudible. Once, I glanced over to see my friend dozing off which was weird and seemed impossible, but okay. I nudged him and he awoke. We don’t need anymore attention. The vibe was already a bit intense.

Well, that is the bulk of the come up, liquified by bass and beginning to feel slightly paranoid.

Author and Punisher By Grywnn — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58425536

When the set was over, my god was I relieved. Of course, the acid was just about pedal to the metal, at this point. I don’t usually take it all at once.

So, the opening act is over and we got up for some reason, apparently to go somewhere. I can’t quite recall why, but I do remember stopping by the bathroom. This is where things got interesting.

Like, really interesting.

Now, I am not the type of person to like lots of attention. This is particularly true when I’m “high as giraffe pussy” as Joe Rogan once said.

As soon as I stand up, most people are still sitting and the lights are on. Of course, I immediately stand out. Almost everyone is staring at the dude wearing a full-face respirator. Hundreds of people. Maybe thousands. An ocean of people.

As we head towards the edge of the rows and up the walkway toward the stairs, people are staring and making comments, left and right. Some I acknowledge with a thumbs up and an attempt to communicate my “good luck” sentiment. Others, I just keep walking. This is already becoming the craziest acid trip I’ve ever had.

One thing that became immediately apparent, at least within my perception, was that many people seem to give off subtle queues of nervousness and anxiety when they saw me walk by. Some made comments or gave off expressions that seem to communicate an underlying “shit, should I be taking this more seriously?” while others seem to echo a great discomfort as though they felt insulted, as though I was illustrating that I felt I was better than them or more important. Needless to say, my thumbs up was not reciprocated. Whatev’s…

Above all else, one thing was very clear: there was a herd psychology being exhibited.

In a few weeks, we will know the outcome of that massive gathering, just a few hours East of the West coast Coronavirus epicenter. We will know when people begin to experience flu symptoms and I have been imagining it being on the news. In that moment, I was shocked at the collective, total disregard for the situation. I think there was a lot of blatant denial, a lot of “it won’t happen to me” mentality that is so just the paradigm of 1st world, Western culture. A total incomprehensibility of catastrophe and real suffering. Like I said above, I don’t think the behavior of large groups is at all a reference point for coherent, rational decision making and yet, that is precisely the reference point that possibly every single person in that stadium was relying on.

Being an outlier, it’s almost as though I was perceived as a threat. That’s how it felt, anyway.

So, we get up to the mezzanine where the bathrooms are. I’m still not totally aware of where exactly we are going. Standing at the urinal stall between two other guys was a bit funny. They never broke the gentlemanly code of pretending neither of us is there despite the circumstance.

My friend is holding my stuff in the middle of the bathroom and according to a later conversation, his recollection leads me to believe this was not the most comfortable experience for him. He was also very high and not necessarily pleased with the vicarious experience of accompanying the lone respirator guy, let alone holding his things while he urinates.

Anyway, we carry on with what I can only recall as an insane social experiment wherein the administers are high on LSD, the subjects totally insane. We head back to our seats and nearly traumatized by the experience I had just gone through, I definitely let out a sigh of relief as I sat back into my seat. At least I’m in the front row, so nobody can really see me.

No more than a few moments later, the lights dim. A curtain of stringy stuff surrounds the stage. I know from previous shows that this becomes like a transparent screen, creating a 3D effect. In this moment, it’s obscuring the members of Tool as they man their stations.

They open with Fear Inoculum which, given the metaphorical language and meaning in the song, I find to be almost vindicating, as the guy wearing the respirator.

Next song is Ænima. Nice. I think I liked it better when they always ended the show with it, but I guess it’s kind of a way of moving forward to play it early in the set.

It gets weird again.

The song was just about half way through when a security guard on the other side of the railing stands directly in front of me and gestures to remove the mask.

“Huh??”. I return the gesture with confused signals. Finally, I shake my head side to side and make the breaking a stick in half gesture to communicate “I’m not breaking any rules”.

I’m wearing a respirator for my protection and he sees this as some threat? It’s sometimes difficult to understand the insanity of other people, but unfortunately, we sometimes find ourselves in a position where that insanity must be navigated. I do my best, given the circumstances, to navigate it.

So, the guy just storms off, clearly pissed. I see him talk to someone over to the side, just slightly out of view.

A moment later, an older woman approaches me and attempts to explain that I need to remove the respirator. I lift it up, so that she can hear me say “this is for my protection". Unsure if I made myself clear, I followed up with “CORONAVIRUS".

She clearly did not want to be bothering me like this, by the way. It almost seemed like she was very upset at having been commanded this task to harass me.

I don’t know what happened to that lady. I did her a favor and just kind of ignored her after that. I turned back to face the show.

Right, so, that’s not where it ended. Of course not.

No, Ænima still has about a minute left. It’s at like, the best part, the climax. A big security guy approaches me and we futily yell at each other until I yell in his ear “wait until the song is over, so I can hear you!”. He nods and we wait. Damn it. I missed the heavy part.

The Song ends. Captain America says to me that I have to give my respirator to Guest Services.

“Are you fucking serious?”.

And no, he wasn’t asking me to give it to him, he was saying I need to personally take it there.

He says “I will escort you, follow me".

By the way, my buddy is like freaking out while this is happening. He actually grabbed my arm and didn’t want to let them take me. I told him “it’s fine, I’ll be right back".

So, absolutely baked, slipping in and out of even having a sense of self, I follow the security guy as we bare-back the ocean of strange looking, contagious people. I’m NOT wearing my respirator, at this point. I’m completely exposed to the unclean hordes of GA commoners.

We head away from the stage and cut across a walkway to the stairs. Despite appearing to be in his 50’s and substantially over weight, this concert security drone is hauling ass and I’m barely keeping up.

We arrive upstairs and the captain apologizes profusely. Out of breath and continuing to speed walk, he explains “someone is apparently just having an ego trip or something, I’m really sorry about this, man". Empathizing with his situation, suddenly, I was the one feeling bad. Weird.

All this cardio has really kicked my trip into high gear. My eyes must be like black holes and everything is morphing and contorting.

So, we proceed in what turns out to be the wrong direction for what felt like a very long time.

I can hear 7empest playing, now.

The drone apologizes once more and as we pass a couple of police officers who, in the corner of my eye, I can see glancing over at me. I’m just hoping they can’t see my 3rd eye popping out and all the mandalas around me.

“It’s okay, man. This song is like 15 minutes long", I reply.

We arrive at guest services, I’m given a ticket in exchange for my PPE.

Going in the correct direction, this time, we try several corridors until we find one that leads to the floor and I’m back to my seat in just a couple of minutes.

Before I can once again sigh in relief, there’s a slight problem. My friend is missing.

Realizing how incredibly high he must be, I imagine the poor bastard wandering around and I’m tempted to panic. I ask the lady security guard from earlier “where is my friend?”. She explains that she tried to tell him I would be back, but he went off looking for me. Apparently, he was very concerned about my well-being. A true friend. Love you, man.

Well, not much I can do, so I just take my position at the railing as 7empest finishes. My buddy comes back into the story, later.

The next song is Pnuema. “Fuck yea!”. One of my favorites off the new album. I feel like I can relax now. “he’ll turn up” I tell myself.

Maynard is like a little Puscifer gremlin sort of disappearing and reemerging around the stage. He occasionally appears to sort of aggressively cheer on Danny’s drumming, crouching near him and slapping his knees in time with the beat. I personally thought this whole act was really cool. It was a fantastic compromise from standing in front of a screen.

Image by Erick Doxey

After several minutes of instrumental-only music, during which I go back and forth, totally losing touch with all sense of self, the song nears the final bit where it goes back into the chorus and Maynard belts out a few more lyrics and I think “wow, this song is incredible”.

My buddy shows up. Fuckin’ sweating bullets and looking absolutely terrified, but clearly very relieved to have found me. I too am very relieved. Fortunately, he didn’t lose our stuff which he had taken with him. Again, all I can think of this is “wow, you’re a really great friend, man”.

There was one point that the music went to a quiet place and it was mostly just Adam softly playing the guitar. It was quiet enough that I didn’t have to yell. To Adam Jones, who was standing about 10 feet away, playing his guitar, I assertively said “great show” at just the right moment. It wasn’t obnoxious and I know he heard me. It really meant a lot to be able to communicate that. “great show”. Maybe it’s some kind of bias, but I really felt like he appreciated that, like it was the perfect, humbling thing to communicate. Much love.

At intermission, I’m totally confused. At first, I think the show is over when the lights come on. Then I notice people are sitting in their seats and we are like the only ones standing and probably the center of attention, once again, as we must have looked very frantic and confused in addition to most people in my vicinity, presumably being well aware of us. I noticed later that there was a big count down on the screen that everyone, but us could see.

My friend who has the look of someone totally out of their mind, looks to me and says “I’m thirsty, like REALLY thirsty". I reassure him that he is just very high and he will be okay. That seemed to calm him. I’m sure I also had the look of someone completely insane and not at all present, so kudos to him for keeping it together.

Chocolate Chip Trip was one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. I wish the album version was like the live version.

Invincible and Descending were just incredible and just before Stinkfist, which would be the final song, Maynard gave the okay for everyone to pull their phones out if they would like to record, on the condition that we wash our hands after.

I didn’t look back to see how many phones there were. I wasn’t pulling mine out. No way. I did not want any more attention and I felt a duty to myself to be present, void of distractions like that. Kinda wish I had, though.

Well, the song ends and it’s time to go find our wives who were sitting some rows back. Oh, yea, our wives were there, too.

Having lived in the West my entire life, I’ve had the luxury of never knowing great panic and mass suffering. However, this experience has provided me with at least a somewhat superficial, extrapolated grasp of what mass psychology and herd behavior looks like. From that, it isn’t difficult to imagine how masses of people can behave in a way that leads to disaster. Never mind this whole toilet paper insanity. That’s only the tip of the prairie dog in regards to the behavior of desperate people. Likewise, I’ve seen the trap of deriving a false sense of security by conforming to the behavior of the herd.

The concert took place on March 9th and I’m finishing this article on March 14th. I am convinced that I will learn of SARS-CoV-2 having been transmitted at this event. This will of course take another week or two before people show symptoms. By then, they will have transmitted it to countless others who will go on to transmit it to countless more and so on. Such is the nature of life and it’s mechanisms to ensure there is as much life as possible by maintaining systemic balance.

Thanks for reading. Please stay safe. Keep your turd cutters clean.

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