I went to go see Mastodon live tonight at Manchester Academy (on Monday 24th of November, 2014).
This is the 3rd time I’ve seen the band live. I saw them with Trivium/Amon Amarth and Slayer in Wolverhampton, and I saw them with Tool in Dublin. Both were in support of Blood Mountain, but at the Tool gig they played mostly their proggier stuff, and with Slayer they went for the faster harder stuff (well, still not much off Remission or Lifesblood, but the harder side of Blood Mountain and Leviathan.)
As you can tell from all the pictures of me in Leviathan t-shirts, and the picture of a Leviathan vinyl mounted on my wall, and all the glowing Mastodon reviews in the reviews section… these guys were one of my favourite bands. I have to admit, my love affair is waning a bit in the last year or two. 2007-2011 they were unarguably in my top five bands ever, but I’ve kind of forgotten them (through no fault of their own… just me getting distracted by other musical adventure elsewhere), and if I’m honest I’ve fallen out of love with most of the deep cuts off of The Hunter… I just listened to it way too much and only about half of it stayed awesome. Oh, and I’ve also barely watched the Live At Brixton concert because they failed to put it out on Blu Ray and watching it on the computer isn’t an option for me.
All that, and I’ve not gotten Once More Around The Sun yet… I did stream it twice around the time of release and wasn’t blown away (but maybe it’s a grower?) but I do love the latest single “The Motherload” (or specifically, its chorus!), which I’ve heard a lot in music video form or live on tv shows. So going in, I didn’t know what to think. They used to be one of my absolute favourite bands ever, I can remember hearing them for the first time a decade ago, getting my first cd of theirs seven years ago… going nuts for Crack The Skye for a full year and barely listening to anything else… I remember the whole “nothing will ever be better than this… music is therefore officially finished” emotions, but… I dunno I’ve just not been in the mood for them lately. I’ve been off in other directions.
I have however been blown away live by bands I wasn’t in the mood for before. I was out of love with Trivium last time I saw them and they wrenched me violently back to them with an astounding show.
With that in mind, I headed out to the concert on this cold Manchester night.
The support band was called Krokodil, named after that horrible drug in all the documentaries at the moment, and most famous for providing Slipknot with their new bassist. I hadn’t heard their music before going in.
Turns out they’re a sludgy, harsh, abrasive band in the style of early Mastodon, early Baroness and early Black Tusk. Sometimes they went lighter, which was like the heavier side of Red Fang… sometimes it was a bit more Dillinger. It seemed like their bass was their main instrument. There’s also this noisy hardcore aspect to them and a lot of guttural death growls and stuff too. They had a pretty brilliant song that I assume was called “The Tide” and they seemed ok the rest of the time.
Unannounced extra support band Big Business followed. They were a two-man (bassist and drummer, both singers) group, who played more like the light side of Red Fang but very much in that same tent as everyone else I mentioned. The sound mix didn’t help them… it sounded like one big drum solo. I mean… there was a drum solo, but because of the sound, their normal songs were also pretty much a drum solo. Good job they have an incredible drummer. I think their slot was about 10 minutes too long… if I’m totally honest I did start to get bored (and I’m usually very into giving people a fair chance), but otherwise, I wouldn’t criticize them.
Then came Mastodon: One time “I’ll talk your ear off about them, I love them TOO MUCH” band… Current “barely listened to them in the last two years” band.
Would they reignite that passionate love affair with an explosive set of all my favourite songs, played furiously with intense energy and a great sound mix? Or would it be a drab trotting out of new material with lackluster performances and dodgy sound quality?
Well… first up, they seemed to play mostly music off their new album, Once More Around The Sun (it felt like 7 or 8 songs!), which as I’ve explained, I’m not overly familiar with yet, since I haven’t bought it yet.
Otherwise, the setlist was a mix of hits “Oblivion,” “Divinations,” “Crystal Skull,” “Black Tongue” and closing with the immense “Blood And Thunder” with some very surprising moments too, like… they played “Ole Nessie” off of Remission. Did not expect! – Also “Blade Catcher” off of Blood Mountain, which I sometimes think of more as an interlude than a real song (although I’m pretty sure they played that when I saw ‘em with Tool too, in all fairness). It was cool to see “Megalodon” and “Aqua Dementia.” – I saw them both before but I thought they were quiet deep tracks that would get lost once they put more albums out. Luckily not.
Disappointingly, there was no “Curl of the Burl” which I would’ve preferred over almost anything else off the two newest albums, but hey you can’t have everything. Oh; and they’ve returned to their old position of not playing “March of the Fire Ants” anymore, which I think is a mistake, but hey ho… I’m sure lots of people are sick of it. I could do with an Iron Maiden set without “Run To The Hills” and “Number Of The Beast” so I can see why Mastodon would make this choice. Now that I think of it there were quite a few hits missing… no “Iron Tusk,” no “Colony off Birchmen” no “Capillirian Crest.”
At the time I was kind of put off mentally by the whole “lets play a ton of tracks off of the new album” attitude, but really, I think it’s a good thing when bands do that most of the time, so long as the album is good. Me, not being a huge ‘Round The Sun fan yet might not have been best served, but its always a bit rubbish when you go and see someone like Megadeth or Slayer and don’t get to hear your favourite new songs because they kind of don’t let themselves change the setlist too much in case it wrecks a winning formula.
Oh yeah, and you know the most important bit… they absolutely slayed the new album live! It was killer. People went mad for it too. People sang every word to tracks like “Aunt Lisa” and “Halloween.” People ate that right up! (I felt a bit guilty for not knowing the words… was Troy looking into my blank face and feeling disappointed?)
The highlights of the night for me actually included the two new singles “High Road” (despite way too much ironic crowdsurfer action) and “The Motherload.” They just blew the place apart. The biggest, most explosive thing of all though was an absolutely ripping rendition of “Blasteroid” which I never considered an “evening-maker” until now… but boy did it jam! It put a huge grin on my face!
Oh yes, it was a very good show from Mastodon indeed. The cool hand-painted backdrop… all the fancy lazers, the good sound job, it all helped… but what really sold it was Mastodon themselves. They really cared!
Troy would look people in the eye all the time… he’d give people off at the sides a thumbs up, when he noticed someone taking his picture, he’d pull a cool dramatic pose… even in the middle of a song. Brann looked like he was having fun on his new non-Randy Rhodes drum kit… Bill and Brent tore it up like the rock stars they’ve truly become. You just got the sense that everyone was passionate about this… no phoning it in, no boredom… just pure showmanship.
Yeah… you’re damn right its reignited my Mastodon love and you’re damn right I’m getting that new album as soon as my next paycheck lands!
All in all, if you’re wondering whether or not to catch Mastodon on this tour, I strongly advise you do! Just… wear some ear plugs… because the fans bellowed and hollered in my earhole so much it give me really bad headaches afterward and a weird version of ringing-in-the-ears that’s more like an on-off guitar’s killswitch kind of thing… like I’m deaf for one second, normal the next. Not cool.
Yeah, worth it. But dude, earplugs… seriously!