Between the Baroness and Mastodon. In Tucson. Let's Get It On!
So, anyone paying attention on this site is probably at least vaguely aware how much I absolutely loved both Baroness' Blue Record and Mastodon's Crack The Skye... so when the chance to see both bands playing on the same bill in my hometown arose, needless to say I was as giddy as a schoolgirl. Well, never having been a schoolgirl, as giddy as I imagine schoolgirls must apparently get to have a cliché about their level of giddiness.
Because it was a Tuesday, and thus a work day, I wasn't able to get to the venue prior to the launch of the show. By the time I arrived, got my "look at me, I'm cool and am legally allowed to drink barley soda!" wristband, and inquired at the Mastodon merch station about the status of "Mullet Bill" Kelliher* (out of the hospital, in town, and ready to rawk. m/), Valient Thorr were already on-stage and halfway through their set. VT were the wild card of the gig, the only band I was not even remotely familiar with, and despite the fact they had to hit the stage while the Sun was still high in the sky and well before what is my standard dinner time, and were playing to only about 80 people, they brought it.
The band play a ripping happy fun mix of some blues-rawk and lots of the metal, with tunes including one that sounded like the ZZ-Top/"Miller Genuine Draft" commercial song boogie shuffle on performance enhancing drugs... with lots of leads, and a monster afro. Yes, one band members looked like he belonged at a Parliament Funkadelic gig as much as a metal show... and the vocalist, Valient Himself, looked an awful lot like the bearded and bedraggled "It's..." man from Monty Python. Shirtless, in tight jeans tucked into red boots, he was a jumping maniac on stage, who, if I were forced to describe his between-song banter would, describe it as a 21st Century Charles Manson, had that whole Brian Wilson record contract thing gone through and Chuck were nudged towards the path of good rather than homicidal evil. In between songs Valient Himself preached almost like a neo-hippie sermon, extolling the virtues of music, exclaiming their origins, "We are Valient Thorr, and we are from outer space! We believe in peace, love, and equality for all"and proclaiming his new motto, "Never let a motherfucker down!" All that was missing was some "hallelujahs", some "amens!" and a "preach on, brother!" or two. If a paragraph and a half sounds like an inordinate amount of space to devote to an undercard opener, well, they deserve it. They won me, and anyone else who skipped dinner to arrive at the venue before 7pm, over. I'm listening to their Immortalizer disc I bought at the show as I type this. And banging my head... which is making the typing a tad difficult.
Baroness were next to hit the stage, and to say they didn't disappoint would be an understatement. They ripped through a set predominantly featuring Blue Record, with "Isak" off Red Album inserted in the middle. The set was absolutely enrapturing. Whereas VT had fantastic banter in between songs, I don't think John Baizley uttered a single (non-lyric) word until the very end of their set... instead the music did all the talking. And it spoke volumes. Songs didn't end for that silence, instead they used feedback and distortion to bleed songs into one another. Even something as mundane as the band members changing guitars mid-set becomes a sonic feast, with Baizley placing his current guitar on the stage, allowing it to feedback, then twiddling knobs on effect pedals while the Welch and Peter Adams swap out their bass and guitar.
The whole of Baroness is amazing to behold live. Everything sounds as fantastic as it does on record. The band's music itself has the high-brow artsy approach melded with sludge, but underneath you can see two of the less obvious aspects that perhaps make them so appealing to me... some of the bombast of the Sex Pistols, mid/fast paced, upbeat music where each component seems to ring out with attitude (i.e. the turn around portion of the primary riff in "Jake Leg") combined with some Iron Maiden, in that the two guitarists play harmonized runs high on the neck, while the drummer pounds away with the entire thing held together by the bassist. At times Summer Welch even positions himself, leg up on the monitor, like Steve Harris.
An ex-roommate of mine, not a metal fan, working the gig was in awe and converted after their set.
Between The Buried And Me had the unenviable responsibility of following up Baroness. Personally, I am not overly familiar with them and, given my musical proclivities, as a pun based upon their "BTBAM" acronym have been referring to them as "Between The Baroness And Mastodon" ever since the line-up was announced. Still, they performed admirably, even if not entirely my 12oz o'B (think Cup of Tea, updated to 12 ounces of beer, or 12oz o'B in the parlance of our internet short-hand times) … vocalist Tommy Rogers, when not anchored in place by his keyboard, was quite the animated front man, gesticulating wildly while bellowing out vocals. The band were animated as well in their performance and the juxtaposition of harsh vocals and crushing distorted riffs against really mellow and quiet passages made for an interesting (in a positive way) set. The set list, as I recall, was largely comprised of by tracks off Colors, Alaska, and The Great Misdirect. While I am not familiar enough with the band to know the track names, the giant display board behind them ( courtesy of the headliners) shifted graphics to match the songs with album covers, so I know where to go to check them out as a follow-up. (Looks like I should pack my parka, as I'll be heading to Alaska.)
Finally, Mastodon graced the Old Pueblo with their presence and hit into a set which played Crack The Skye in it's entirety, complete with a visual journey on the big screen behind them, which featured the artwork associated with the album mixed with footage from what looked like a 1920's silent film on Rasputin. The band really benefited from the display, as they were largely stationary, with only bassist/co-vocalist Troy Sanders really moving around a bit. It was all good, as the hypnotic imagery set against the tracks of Crack The Skye made it one extremely loud, extremely long, and extremely entrancing music video.
The band had some minor technical issues that were likely far more evident to them (being seasoned touring vets) than us, the inebriated and happy crowd. After some frustration with sound levels on vocals, guitar, and then a screwed up sample audio bit used as an interlude between songs in what was kinda an "Ashlee Simpson/SNL" moment (they were clearly playing/singing live, the samples just assisted with transitions between songs) when a percussion sample seemed to have, loudly, been triggered at the wrong moment. Brent Hinds, already frustrated after attempting repeated signals to tweak levels, verbally chided the techie. (Paraphrasing here) "That's our sound guy, Josh. Give him a hand, he's been with us for, what, 607 shows and can't get it right!" His comment was, I assume, in jest and got a laugh and mock cheer out of the crowd. Like I said, the issues were far more evident to them than us, as it was fucking LOUD on our side of the stage...and the only reason the whole affair was even brought up was Brent's quick-witted, off-the-cuff response made for a hearty chuckle.
Following the completion of the Crack The Skye material, which sounded great live, including Troy Sanders' noteworthy impression of (Neurosis') Scott Kelly's roar on the title track and a great improvisational solo by Hinds during the close out of "The Last Baron", the band played a nice sampling of tracks off their prior three full-length releases, including "Crystal Skull", "I Am Ahab", and "Crusher Destroyer".
All said and done it was a great show that surpassed my lofty expectations. BTBAM and (especially) Valient Thorr surprised me with their sets, Mastodon sounded great with some stunning visuals, and, well, Baroness blew the roof off. And now I'm sitting, happy and dazed, at my home pc, with a couple more shirts for the collection, a new disc to enjoy, and the knowledge that apparently Baroness will be back in my neck of the woods on another tour this summer.
And one final note... in my Top of 09 blog entry, I positioned Crack The Skye ahead of Blue Record (and Ahab's The Divinity Of Oceans) as the "first among equals" in the triumvirate of favorites for the year. Now with the benefit of seeing both live, Blue Record is now king of the mountain.
* As far as I know, I am the first to coin this nickname. Hooray for me. I don't have a mullet, nor a 'stache, never got on either bandwagon... but if I did, rest assured, I would sport his look. Nor is this meant in a derogatory fashion. Based solely upon the candid interview segments of the band members on the "making of..." dvd, while Brann might be the P/R guy of the quartet, Troy the center-stage front man, and Brent the creative force of their latest opus, "Mullet Bill" seems like the guy I'd most want to knock back a brew and hang out with.
||Written on 12.05.2010 by BitterCOld has been officially reviewing albums for MetalStorm since 2009.|
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