By Hollister Dixon
I’m not really a metal guy, at all, if I’m being honest. However, one metal band I love and respect is Mastodon. I first heard the band in the wake of Leviathan, their beautiful and angular take on the story of Moby Dick, which wormed its way into the hearts and minds of just about everyone who heard it more than a decade ago. My love was taken even further with Blood Mountain, a towering work of brilliant but insane storytelling, packed to the gills with genre-bending riffs and stories about vision quests and cysquatches. There are absurdist elements in the mix, sure, but the band’s made up of true craftsmen. And, when they announced a tour with hard rock mainstays Clutch, it seemed like the best possible time to finally see how both bands worked live. So: how did they sound?
Unfortunately, I started out the evening by completely missing Melvins offshoot Big Business, so my evening started with Maryland’s Clutch. Clutch have nearly a decade on Mastodon and, as a result, the crowd’s love, admiration, and energy was divided pretty evenly between both bands. Throughout the band’s hour on stage, frontman Neil Fallon paced around with bizarre, commanding energy, seeming less like a metal singer, and more like an unhinged stand-up comedian given the job of the frontman of a 20+ year old rock band. He picked up his guitar for just two songs, and a harmonica for a third, but for the rest of the performance stuck to riling up the ferociously loyal and loving crowd with just his yowling voice and his existence alone.
If we’re being honest, Clutch aren’t a revolutionary band at all. They’ve made a career out of steady, enjoyable albums that fall under the umbrella of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Don’t take this as a criticism, of course: there’s nothing wrong with a consistent band. And this is likely a large part of why people are so very excited to see a band that has, for 24 years and 10 (soon to be 11, I’m sure) albums, managed to perfect their own craft rather than push boundaries and potentially alienate people. And, as a novice in the world of Clutch, the set they played felt like the perfect showcase of everything the band does well, from the country-tinged swagger of set opener “The Gravel Road” to the stutter-stomp of “Electric Worry” (which saw the crowd at its most frenzied), and a couple new, fantastic sounding songs from their forthcoming Psychic Warfare. I may still be a newcomer to the band, but I’m more willing than ever to dig in deep and see what this band is really capable of.
Rounding out the night was Atlanta’s own Mastodon. Just like Clutch, they’ve become masters of subtle tinkering and perfecting, rather than truly pushing boundaries. The box Mastodon have built themselves has become bigger over time – the band that released Remission isn’t quite the same band as the one that released Crack the Skye – but they’ve chosen to build upon what works in very delicate, very fulfilling ways. Touring behind their latest record – Once More ‘Round the Sun, released last year – they’ve become masters of showmanship, the interplay between the four members tying every single element together perfectly. They’re also one of the few bands that feel like it lacks a frontman – everyone in the band shares vocal duties, meaning everyone feels totally essential.
15 years into their career, Mastodon now feels less like a band and more like a well-oiled machine, and getting to watch them work truly makes that clear. The crowd, so intensely happy to see Clutch put on their raucous show, were equally overjoyed to watch Mastodon perform their hyperfocused and thematically dense concoction (the evening was closed out by the gigantic, 10-minute “The Czar” from Crack the Skye, a song about a soul inhabiting the body of Grigori Rasputin and attempting to murder a Czar) as well as their more straightforward material (“Blasteroid”‘s appearance was definitely a blast), the moshpit growing and becoming more rowdy with every passing song. The set’s only glaring omission was the band’s closest thing to a real-live hit, “Blood & Thunder”, being absent from the band’s setlist despite touring with Neil Fallon, who provided guest vocals for the song on record. What gives, guys?
The evening ended on a goofy and loving note, when the band left drummer Brann Dailor to grab a mic and address the crowd directly, thanking everyone in the audience for coming and going crazy with them. This burst of charisma was a small thing, but it felt like a big, beautiful cherry atop a great night of music. Touches like that are why this band is so highly respected both inside and outside of metal circles, and they’re what will, inevitably, bring be back next time around.