I can’t say I am a metal head, but I enjoy heavy music, and when I knew I could get a photo pass for Mastodon at the Hollywood Palladium, I actually got excited. It was a unique occasion to see these legendary animals close and personal, at least for a little while.
It was actually a very long night, with two bands, Russian Circles and Eagles of Death Metal, opening for Mastodon, and when I think about it, Russian Circles may have been the heaviest and definitively the most sludgy and mysterious band of the night. First because they only play instrumentals, not a word, not a lyric came from their mouths, then because they play mostly in the dark,… a band couldn’t have been more withdrawn from its audience in a way but it worked, on a cultish level. By this I mean they operated as true cult-leaders, guiding our minds into transcendental places, blowing up the roof of the Palladium many times with a powerhouse crescendo of shoegaze guitars, amping-up their massive sound to the max. It was a very cinematic doom metal, mostly slow-paced, but with the idea of the upcoming apocalypse. And at this level, they may be in complete synch with our times, although they probably work at a much more mystic level than our present pathetic political comedy. They launched their enormous sound several times in orbit, there were several big finales but the band kept on going, and the rest was just a colossal slow head-banging till we got a collective headache of loud white noise. But I enjoyed their set!
Eagles of Death Metal may have ‘metal’ in their moniker, but we are very far from doom-ness and the music is obviously light-hearted and pure rock ‘n’ roll fun, the sort of fun that makes you dance, jump, shake, even though I seriously wanted to take the best pictures I could, while standing in the pit during the infectious ‘I Only Want You’. Sure the guitars roar vigorously and the energy is high, but EODM are a pop-rock band, led by a colorful showman who was visibly very impressed to be playing at the Palladium – it was their first time, he told us, mentioning the history of the venue. So what were they doing between Russian Circles and Mastodon? They have obvious ties to the scene (Queens of the Stone Age), and they rock energy didn’t make them out of place stuck between two heavy metal bands. I saw them at the Teragram Ballroom a few months ago, but this time, they were the openers and it was a bit different, the stars of the night were obviously Mastodon, although Jesse Hughes did everything he could to make us believe we really were at a EODM show. And we were for a while, with massive guitar solos, a David Bowie cover (‘Moonage Daydream’), and ‘Stuck in the Metal with You’, a variation on Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’, and special guests like babe Jennie Vee on bass (she played for Courtney Love/Hole). Hughes would give his shirt to save rock ‘n’ roll, and this is precisely what he did, throwing his white shirt to the public once the band’s set was done! I should add I saw him give a very long hug to one of his bandmates on the side of the stage, before the show started, and he may have had a thought about this new Paris attack, which tragically happened the same day.
Mastodon revealed themselves to be the beast I expected, may be even more, and if I saw most of the concert from afar, I was also able to look at the band members very closely, and the way they behave on stage with their instruments, made me realize how titan-esque their music is. I had never seen them live and barely listened to their music, but the sonic power they unleash when you are in front of them is absolutely formidable, it is a visceral force. They scream and harmonize above a mass of guitars, they shred at the top of each other, while a melodic tone manages to escape from this voluminous mayhem. It’s one headtrip inside another headtrip, triggering a thousand of air guitars, played at the same time by a thousand of bearded-tattooed-beer-belly guys.
They opened their set with the first track (‘Sultan’s Curse’) of their new album, ‘Emperor of Sand’, followed by ‘Divinations’ from their well-named ‘Crack the Skye’ album, as this is true that their music tends to bring the perspective of a massive earthquake or some other major catastrophic cosmic event. When I was in the pit, all eyes and lenses were most of the time on bassist Troy Sanders, he is the central attraction, moving much more than the rest of the band, including Brent Hinds (and his forehead tattoo), on lead guitar, or Bill Kelliher on rhythmic guitar. Sanders looked like a leader and he was bending backward so low that he could as well have be playing in a chaise longue, however he was also kicking the air or standing legs apart like a wild animal, ready to jump at any moment, or vigorously head-banging and shaking his long mane like an impetuous lion.
They surely looked mad as hell but really happy to be playing in L.A. at the same time, if this makes any sense. The theme of their new album, which is a concept album, reflects personal tragedy – since members of their respective families are battling cancer or have even lost the battle – and the vocals of these men seemed to unify together toward loss, pain and triumph. The guitar work was especially spectacular, the riffs and the shredding were going into many directions, and you could easily get lost in a song… not knowing any of them very well didn’t help me, I effectively got lost very rapidly inside their colossal and primal force, inside the complex meanders of their plaintive and ferocious songs, inside the technicality and virtuosity of their guitar-drum work.
They played plenty of the new songs, but also brushed their entire catalogue giving to the fans a taste of everything with cuts from all their albums, ‘Once More ‘round the Sun’, (2014), The Hunter’ (2011) ,‘Crack the Skye’ (2009), ‘Blood Mountain’ (2006), ‘Leviathan (2004), and even ‘Remission’ (2002)… From the distance, the pit looked insane, I was seeing a thousand of devil’s horns hand signs forming above the crowd, and I should add that the psychedelic lightning were amazing, often forming columns of fire to match the fury on stage. When i was in the pit, I also noticed a few clown masks hung on the drum set, and this make me smile. For a band who looked like they could slaughter the entire crowd or crack open the earth at the first riff, it was an interesting comical relief to all this visceral heaviness.
I Only Want You
Make a Bang
Wanna Be in LA
Stuck in the Metal
Boys Bad News
Speaking in tongues
The Wolf Is Loose
Colony of Birchmen
Feast Your Eyes
Chimes at Midnight
Circle of Cysquatch
March of the Fire Ants
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