So Craig said a buddy bailed on a ticket to a Mastodon show in Toronto on Friday, would I wanna go? Um, do fish swim? My only concerns were that I worked til six that night, and had to work again at 9:30 on Saturday morning. We live far enough away from the city to make it a good haul, so a trip to Toronto for a show would mean two+ hours down, the show (however late that goes), and two+ hours back. Late late late. Was I in? Of course I was in.
I should preface the rest of this by saying that I’d never been to a full-on metal show before, although some might consider my seeing Ministry in Saskatoon as such. Or maybe Tool… But somehow this felt like my first dedicated metal outing. I know, it’s shocking. I really don’t get out much. Pathetic, for a fan of the genre… watching my cred die painfully…
So I get out of work on Friday, we bomb down to the Kool Haus (with a quick stop at IKEA). Going in, we walked past the roadies (and/or band members) of concert openers Red Fang as they were loading out. Missed their set completely. Someday I will look them up to see what we missed. We passed the merch tables. Craig wanted a kid-sized Mastodon t-shirt for his son (no luck). Maybe metalheads don’t think of the toddlers? An oversight. Anyway.
As we walked into the venue, Dillinger Escape Plan was already at full steam and sandblasting the place with their efforts. I have no idea how many songs we missed, but we caught a good half dozen of them at least, and I can say with authority (having never heard an album of theirs) that they were very loud, very fast, very aggressive, and energetic to the nth degree. Greg Puciato strutted and screamed and flexed his big muscles, and the band members jumped off equipment and whipped their instruments around as though this were their last night on Earth and they wanted to make the most of it.
Firstly, I don’t know how anyone could scream like that for as long as he does, and still have a voice when it’s over. Maybe he doesn’t. But then he was off the stage and doing his thing from the crowd, or body-surfing on the crowd, or crouching down front and involving those in the first rows. Audience participation seemed big to him (including starting a chant-along of telling the band “You Fucking Suck”). I am also mystified as to how those musicians can make cohesive music while wildly jumping off amps and flinging themselves around with abandon as they did. But there they were, just going for it. Amazing.
I first learned of these guys on Metal Sucks prior to the show, so I looked them up on Wiki just now, and their brand of music is called mathcore, for those who make such distinctions. I also learned that there are no founding members remaining in the band at present. Whatever, they rocked, and they rocked HARD. I don’t know if I could listen to a lot of that type of thing all at once, and maybe the vocals would be more distinct (not just seemingly non-verbal primal screams) on their albums, but I sure appreciated them while they did their thing on this night. A powerful set.
I hit the head between bands, and was amused by a guy in line behind me admitting to being flumoxed to find a long line-up for the men’s, while the women’s had no line at all. This, to him, was the reverse of the usual. A guy ahead of us said, “Dude, you’re at a Mastodon concert. Total sausage-fest.” He had a point. Granted, there were ladies in the house, and we all know how hot metal chicks can be, but it was true that most of this audience was comprised of young, white males. Hence the line-up. I also commended the room, while washing my hands. I said, to everyone, “I’m so impressed to see the metal kids washing their hands! With soap! Way to go, guys!” They all laughed. But I meant it. And actually, except for the one guy who was bobbing and weaving drunkenly near me for a while during Mastodon, the crowd where we were standing was utterly respectful of personal space. They were all just there to hear the music and thrust metal horns at the stage. Right on.
Anyway, we drank expensive cans of beer served to us by girls built like twelve-year-olds in tight black outfits while we waited for Mastodon to come on. The crowd grew in size and density. People cheered when roadies pulled the covering off the drum set and revealed the Hunter logo on the bass drum. You know, you can tell a crowd wants and loves the headlining band when they cheer for a drum set that no one is even playing yet.
And then Mastodon appeared and, without any hesitation, took control of the entire place as the crowd lost its shit.
Look, I’m new to this band. I knew of them, but hadn’t heard much of their music except what Craig plays whenever we were hanging at his place (he has all the vinyls), and the few tracks I caught on the youtubes on the day prior to the gig. I don’t own any of their albums (yet, but I will), and their song titles mean nothing to me. So, while all the fans in the house went nuts for each tune, I was approaching the show as a neophyte. Honestly, each note and move was a revelation to me. I can appreciate getting into this band via their albums. I’m sure they are incredible. But to have my true introduction to their talents be standing there in the crowd, agape, as they ripped out song after mind-blowing song was a treat, indeed. After three songs, I was convinced. Holy shit, they’re amazing. Fingers flying, heads banging, voices growling, the band plowed through each track almost without between-song banter (although I think Troy Sanders said thank you once, after a song). They were there to work, and brother, they worked hard.
Have you ever stood in the presence of greatness and just known it for it was? Have you ever envied people for stepping off the treadmill and just doing exactly what makes them happy while having a blast doing it? That’s Mastodon. The songs are insanely intricate, served up at high velocity and with maximum heaviness, and the band is locked tight from note one. They truly ROCK. Even based on minimal knowledge, anyone would acknowledge that these four musicians are consummate performers. Sanders full-on rocked out for his vocal and bass duties, Brent Hinds wailed away on his guitar and vocals with total accuracy and menace, Bill Kelliher stalked his side of the stage and whipped off riffs that would maim the unwary, and holy shit Brann Dailor absolutely pummelled the drums. His arms were a blur for the entire set. Just astounding – I couldn’t stop watching him. The songs themselves, while I couldn’t make out too many of the lyrics, sounded like the band is aiming for epic and hitting bullseye every time.
I walked out of the Kool Haus a convert. Mastodon was thrilling, surely one the best hard rock acts to hit the mainstream in a long, long, long time. I consider myself very fortunate to have been there for it. My huge thanks to Craig for the ticket, the drive there and back, and for listening to me babble ad nauseum after the show as I tried to find the right adjectives to describe how amazing it all was. Yes, I would see this band again anytime.
Also, I made it through work the next morning on adrenaline alone. It’s all good (what could possibly have gone wrong?). We only live once, so go for it, man.
Also, for those who care, here’s the setlist I found after three seconds’ searching online:
Dry Bone Valley
I Am Ahab
Colony of Birchmen
Ghost of Karelia
All the Heavy Lifting
Curl of the Burl
Circle of Cysquatch
Crack the Skye
Where Strides the Behemoth
March of the Fire Ants
Blood and Thunder