Drunken debauchery comes alive at Mastodon concert

Nick Cote

Mastodon is an experience.

These four guys have brought metal back from being a bunch of bros in wife-beaters and baggy shorts to picking up where original bands like Megadeth and Metallica left off.
The complexity of their riffs and melodies, which their latest release “Crack the Skye” exposed, is truly unparalleled in terms of innovation. Their combination of seamless transitions and vocal harmonies is something you don’t hear in metal music anymore. 

One of the prominent aspects that separates Mastodon from its contemporaries, and to some extent even bands that formed the genre, is the ability to combine amazing music with impressive narrative strains. The band’s second album “Leviathon,” which released in 2004, is a concept album based off of Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick.” In 2006, they released “Blood Mountain,” also a concept album based off a character’s search for a crystal skull placed at the top of Blood Mountain. But it is perhaps “Crack the Skye” that has immortalized Mastodon in musical history in terms of its musical and narrative difficulty. In a nut shell, the album chronicles a paraplegic Russian boy’s posthumous journey into outer space, his subsequent possession of Rasputin’s body, then a second death where the boy is released up through a crack in the sky.

Brann Dailor, Mastodon’s drummer who writes lyrics for the band, was also able to incorporate homage his younger sister (Skye), who committed suicide years ago at the age of 14, into the album. Her death led Dailor into a dark depression.

As far as new work is concerned, Troy Sanders said that after their touring is over they hope to get things back and rolling with another album.

“We always collect ideas, melodies, riffs, things like that,” Sanders said. “It’s kind of like a mental bag of ideas when we’re traveling around. Once the tour eventually ends, if we feel the urge, we reconvene down at the practice base, (we) dump out that bag of ideas and start bouncing them off each other and trying to connect the dots.”

It’s the touring, though, that takes a tole on the band.

“The four of us are crazy,” Sanders said. “We’re dedicated. We’re crazy. We’re just insane cavemen that have managed to make it work in the 21st century.”

Without a doubt, Mastodon played a killer show at McDonald Theatre on Monday night. Dailor was absolutely phenomenal, going at it right from the start with his killer vocals on “Oblivion.” Brent Hinds , who showed up completely wasted to the band’s show last week in Oakland, Calif., to the point of not being able to play, actually held himself together and seemed to be having a good time all the way to the end. Rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher just recovered from a second hospitalization from pancreatitis induced by his and the band’s heavy drinking, but thankfully was back on stage and played the best guitar. Sanders scared me a little bit to be completely honest. The guy’s as skinny as I’ve ever seen him. His vocals’ roughness that typically gives such depth to the band’s music seemed hard to come by on Monday night.

“I’d be lying if I were to say that we’re not exhausted,” Sanders said in regards to touring right now.

This is a band that lives, eats and breathes rock and roll together. That’s why they are so amazing, but when professionalism goes down the tube, as in the case of Oakland’s flair up, Kelliher’s alcoholism, and the band’s general 24-7 debauchery, something has got to give. When you’re in your mid- to late-thirties you have to realize that there’s a balance out there to living a rock-and-roll lifestyle. It is unfair to beat these guys down too much, but it may not be a bad idea for them to slow down so that they can stay alive and make more music. The band was devastated three years ago when Hines got in a drunken brawl at the VMA awards and ended up in a coma. Nobody wants to see anything like that
happening again. 

“Yeah, it’s all in the past,” said Sanders in regards to Hines’ Oakland debacle. The band’s been dealing with its creative genius’ personal issues for the last 10 years since he showed up completely inebriated to the first band practice. Hines is a big burly giant to be sure. He can take a few knocks to the head and produce the best metal album of the decade. But for how long? Kelliher recently announced he’ll be trying to stop drinking completely. It’d be best for the band to move in his direction. Maybe not as drastic as complete sobriety, but maybe just tone it down to a five-nights-a-week thing. 

The members of Mastodon just reached the big leagues in signing with Warner Brothers’ label Reprise, but I hope we haven’t heard the best of them yet. I hope they don’t think they’ve climaxed and are rolling over to going to sleep, because as fragmented as the music industry is now, there’ll always be that little band that’s waiting and has what it takes to get theirs.

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