Mastodon @ Saltair

Posted October 18, 2009 in

with Converge, High on Fire

Metal is serious business. After years of derision as the preferred means of entertainment by suburban meatheads and scandinavian church burners, metal has been accepted by everyone from trend-hopping hipsters to college professors to baby boomers to basement dwelling late night TV enthusiasts. The New Yorker recently ran a two-page story on doom metal, Kylesa's newest album received a (rare) rave review from Pitchfork and Adult Swim's Metalocalypse is one of the highest rated shows on television. Hell, even my mom likes Ozzy Osbourne. It is therefore unsurprising that one of the fall's biggest tours is a metal-based affair, co-headlined by a fictional band with some serious chops and one of the most successful metal bands of the new millennium. Even though it seemed most of the audience was in attendance to marvel at the metal spectacle that is Dethklok, they were gonna get an incredible showcase of heavy music, whether they liked it or not.

I must admit upfront that I did not stay to see Dethklok, so if you're looking for a review of their performance, look elsewhere. I have been both scolded and applauded for my decision, but I can't offer any commentary on their live show. Sorry. When I arrived at Saltair (and I'll spare you the standard bullshit rant against the venue), I was surprised to find a healthy crowd already forming outside the doors an hour before the show started. Granted, it was a Friday night, but it was early, and as I mentioned earlier, these people were here primarily to see Dethklok. Once inside, I grabbed a spot against the guardrail near a weird cross-section of the crowd. Dirty metal kids with clearly unwashed long hair mingled with nerdy kids decked out in their finest Hot Topic apparel, all refusing to give up their spots so they could observe the chaos of the live show up close and personal. Californian sludge-stoners High on Fire took the stage promptly at 6:30 and made the huge room go off immediately. I've never listened to these guys before, but I've been listening to them nearly non-stop since seeing them live. It was pretty clear that most of the crowd wasn't familiar with the band, but this was an oddly enthusiastic audience that was eating up High on Fire's heavy, harsh grooves. Multiple mosh pits broke out and I was nearly caught up in a few headbang collisions, but it was a whole hell of a lot of fun.

After High on Fire concluded, Converge began to set up. I was most excited to see Converge that night, primarily because I had never seen them before, and because I had been rockin' their newest album Axe to Fall (which I obtained legally! no street justice for me, thank you!) for the better part of the last month. High on Fire had heavy licks and face-melting solos which any metalhead could get behind, but I had a feeling that Converge wasn't going to win over the crowd's affection quite as well. I was right. Converge's set began with guitarist Kurt Ballou alone at center stage, playing the opening riff of "Plagues," one of slower, weirder songs from the band's 2005 album No Heroes. It was a weird choice for an opener, and I heard someone in my general vicinity yell "I DON'T LIKE THIS!" When the rest of the band came out and vocalist Jacob Bannon began to deliver his inhuman vocals (there is no good way to describe them, but if you can imagine a rusty robotic rottweiler screaming through a broken megaphone, it's a pretty good place to start), the crowd's mentality didn't really change. During the band's second song, the explosive title track from No Heroes, the crowd legitimately went nuts. Bodies went flying all over the place, I was crushed against the guard rail and my glasses flew off of my head at one point, but the energy was amazing. Still, some of the people around me were visibly not into the experimental extreme style of the band. As I imagined, Converge's live show was heavily reliant on their more aggressive material, consisting mostly of their Epitaph albums. The new songs sounded great live (particularly "Dark Horse") and set closer "Concubine" from 2001's Jane Doe was one of the definite highlights of the night. Not everyone in attendance was there for Converge, but those of us who were received a great performance. Here's to hoping they return next year to a smaller room.

After a very brief wait, the room darkened as Mastodon took the stage. The giant screen behind the stage displayed video for the first time that night, showcasing some of the incredible artwork of Paul Romano (who has produced the cover art for every Mastodon album) as the band broke into "Oblivion," the first track from the band's 2009 prog-metal opus Crack the Skye. Mastodon played Crack the Skye in its entirety, backed up by a touring keyboardist and a looping video playing behind them. Though Mastodon is one of the bands that made me realize just how awesome metal can be, I found Crack the Skye to be a bit disappointing. The band's past albums have both the powerful feeling of unrestrained energy and a complex technicality, but Crack the Skye is much less aggressive and much more progressive in its approach. I finally got into the set during "Crack the Skye," which is usually when I get into the album when listening to it. Maybe it's because I know the end is soon or maybe it's because I finally accept it for what it is, but the final two songs are easily my favorite of the record, and I enjoyed them live as well. After the final track of Crack the Skye, "The Last Baron," the screen behind the band displayed the artwork for Blood Mountain and they broke into "Circle of Sysquatch." There was the energy! Even though Blood Mountain is a bit proggy itself, it definitely isn't boring, and it proved that Mastodon can still bring the intensity live. The band then played a track from each of their other two albums ("I am Ahab" from Leviathan and "March of the Fire Ants" from Remission) before closing their set with a few songs I didn't recognize.

Though Mastodon was disappointing and I didn't stay for the final band, this show was definitely worth it. The enthusiasm from the crowd was refreshing. Those of us who consider ourselves music afficionados often get too caught up in just how cool we think we are, when we should just be enjoying ourselves. People who had never even heard of these bands were having the time of their life, and it made me have a lot more fun when I was around them. It's weird that a metal show left me all warm and fuzzy, but take that for what it is. I'm off to burn a church.