I went to go see Mastodon live last night on 02/12/2017 in Cardiff at the Student’s Union Great Hall.

It was a bit of an interesting gig, in that I didn’t really want to go due to a mixture of recent bereavement and family visiting that evening and anxiety over finding a strange new venue in an unfamiliar city on a Saturday night when all the drunks and junkies would be roaming the streets, during the busy Office Christmas Party season where even more rowdy people would be out trying to look crazy to have something to talk about at work the next few weeks, as well as having to drive on some roads that have caused me much problems already this month and which have got me so stressed out I’ve actually said aloud ‘the next person to beep me, I’m getting out of the car and telling them, that I’m memorizing their face and if they ever beep me again I’ll follow them home and burn down their house with them in it.’

So, driving in the dark on a terrible road, negative emotions, better things to do with visiting family all already had me thinking I should just stay home and not attend.  Then, when I looked at the setlist of previous gigs in the tour I noticed a lack of a lot of my favourite songs (no Blood & Thunder!) and a too-high percentage of the new album (9 whole songs!). I also, when I bought the tickets initially, had noticed that they’d been doing a six song encore with all the songs they’d ever recorded with guests spots by Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, live, with Scott himself guesting. That seemed cool but I noticed on the previous show when I checked the setlist before going to my own gig that it now said ‘last show with Scott for 2017’ so one of the reasons that influenced me to buy the ticket in the first place was gone.

Mastodon are also a very hit and miss live band. Watch any outdoors show of them on youtube and you can see cracks appear. Watch their early DVD appearances and you can see Brent Hinds really struggle with vocals (that semi-famous version of ‘Capilarian Crest’ from that Slayer tour DVD for example). And while there are also amazing live moments from Mastodon, when I was thinking of reasons not to go and being a big wimp about the city streets and dodgy roads, I forgot about that.

I made a compromise and decided to not wimp out and still go, so I took my visiting guests to Cardiff for a night out, we had a nice meal in a restaurant, they went for drinks and saw the city and its Christmas market and temporary Ferris Wheel and got some drinks while I slipped off to see Mastodon after the food.

The support acts were Russian Circles, an instrumental Post-Metal band who my brother likes but I’ve never checked out, and Red Fang, the fun stoner metal band who have a Baroness and Mastodon sheen to them but also write Queens Of The Stone Age type stuff at times. I made it to the gig timed in such a way as to only see the last two Red Fang songs (and that’s ok, I only have two Red Fang CDs and only like one of em anyway) and I missed Russian Circles altogether (sorry guys… when I lived in Manchester I always walked to the venue early, got in as doors opened and watched all the support acts, but this is a new city, coming in by road, and bla bla bla…).

I’ve seen Mastodon three times before. Twice when their newest album was Blood Mountain, once with Tool where they leaned on their proggier side and played the full ‘Hearts Alive’ (hooray) and once supporting Slayer where they leaned on their more Metal side. I also caught them a few tours later when their latest album was Once More ‘Round The Sun, where they leaned on their more commercial and accessible material. Each version was great. In the Tool show the sound was bad and the vocals almost silent, but otherwise cool. With Slayer was probably the best. The headline ‘Sun show was pretty great but came at a period when I’d sort’ve fallen away from the band and it was actually what pulled me back in. The only downside was some stupid Scottish jerk screamed so loudly directly into my earhole that I had a ringing in my ears for three and a half days solid and I thought I was going to have to go to the doctor’s over it.

I have to admit, when it comes to Mastodon, my favourite albums are the three album stretch from Leviathan (I have a vinyl copy on my wall as decoration) until Crack The Skye. In this period, when it was happening, they were the most important, beloved, can-do-no-wrong band in the world and everything about them was cool and perfect. The next three albums are good too, and pay off really well when you first get them, but don’t quite live up to those previous three really, when you really look at them, in the cold light of day after the excitement has faded. They’re great, but they aren’t important and generation defining and tied up in all sorts of friendship memories and youthful anything-could-happen-next wide eyed wonderment. A lot of my friend group always say ‘they should’ve broken up after Crack The Skye and would’ve had a perfect untarnished legacy.’ (I’m much, much more forgiving of the next three albums than any of them, but even I can’t deny much preferring the previous three.)

So anyway, that’s the background.. On to the show…

So they came on after soundcheck to a warm applause, and launched into the rather odd song choice for an opener of the Crack The Skye late-album deep track ‘The Last Baron,’ (which is awesome in and of itself, but always feels like the second half of the title track and the third part of a suite of it, the title track and ‘Ghost Of Karelia’ and feels sort of unexpected and naked on its own). It was great though. It was a rather big statement of intent of what you could expect from the evening though, the trippier spacier stuff was definitely moved to the forefront.

There was some tasteful lighting and the stage turned from red to green to flashing depending on the tempo or time signature or some hidden logic I was having to much fun to study.

Then came the recent single from the new album, ‘Sultan’s Curse,’ which I didn’t think I liked all that much until I found myself singing along. They played the Crack The Skye single ‘Divinations complete with its surf guitar influenced solo, and then new-album deep cut ‘Ancient Kingdom’ and the lighting and previously not-much-used seven large thin screens surrounding the band started showing running water.

From then on the show started to get really good and I was warmed up and the showmanship started to come out more, the crowd started singing along more, and the screens started showing mental-ass psychedelic visions of evil octopuses, burning horses, snow, hell-scapes, deserts and all sorts.

The previous setlists on this tour had had a full 9 songs from Emperor Of Sand, but they trimmed that down to a more manageable 7 songs for my show, adding in the hits ‘Colony Of Birchmen’ ‘Black Tongue’ and ‘Blood And Thunder’ to the set to balance it out. They also made the very nice decision to play crazy-ass Blood Mountain deep cut ‘Bladecatcher’ which I wasn’t expecting but gladly welcomed, air drumming along to all its twists and turns and teases.

There was an absence of a lot of their hits that night. No ‘Iron Tusk’ no ‘Capilarian Crest,’ no ‘March Of The Fire Ants,’ no ‘The Wolf Is Loose,’ no ‘Crystal Skull’ no ‘Curl Of The Burl’ and no ‘The Motherload.’ They certainly don’t always just play the same songs every tour that’s for sure!

They did a pretty great job without them though. When they initially chucked in the deep cut from ‘Round The Sun, ‘Emerald City’ I found myself thinking, “which one is that?” when they said the name in the introduction, but then quickly found myself singing the chorus loudly along with easily a thousand other people. I didn’t even know I loved that one, but apparently I do. Its never made it into any of my greatest hits playlists or friend recommendations before, but I guess it probably will in future.

They also played my favourite track off of Emperor Of Sand ‘Andromeda’ with its almost Remission-esque noisy barbaric riff. Some of the drums on tracks like ‘Steambreather’ and ‘Roots Remain’ were breathtaking. Brann Dailor is an absolute drum hero up there with Dany Carey and Neil Pert.

Now; Because Mastodon are such an important band to me, all their albums are major life events and are tied to specific periods in my memory forever. Leviathan was around my 16th birthday and was influential to my teenage band and one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had as a music fan (a lot of my early facebook photos are in a Leviathan shirt and I’ve got a vinyl copy on my wall, now and in my last three homes, as decoration). Blood Mountain was the big exciting release all my high school friends were talking about when I left town after high school and what I’d discuss with them when I got back in touch with them any time in the next few years. Crack The Skye was this amazing otherworldly transcendental masterpiece that defined much of my time when I moved to England. The Hunter was the soundtrack to when I worked in Blackpool while reading all the A Song Of Ice And Fire books and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Once More ‘Round The Sun always reminds me of walking my then girlfriend, now wife, to university in the snow and slipping and sliding along all the ice, and then waiting in the lecture halls I’d gotten to half an hour early for my own classes, just cranking out Mastodon, sitting in cold echoing halls bopping away to ‘Halloween’ and ‘Tread Lightly.’

Emperor Of Sand, however, reminds me of misery. I was listening to it heavily when we lost our first baby, and when I was working horrible soul destroying night shifts with an awful, passive aggressive, demanding and socially maladjusted manager in a horrific ungrateful job where you could work either 14 hours a day day shifts or 11 hours a night night shifts and still be harassed into coming in early so they’d pass inspections or going home every single damn day between 20 and 90 minutes late due to short staffing, and not be thanked for it, and have to come in on two hours notice, or on only five hours sleep, and work in awful dehydrating conditions and have the manager talk to you through the toilet door if you ever actually got the chance to actually go to the toilet and escape work for long enough to piss. That place broke so many labour laws and health and safety rules it was staggering and its a wonder the upper management weren’t all sacked, if not prosecute. But anyway… Nowadays when my life is so much happier and nicer and I’m in an awesome job that I love in a much better city in a much nicer home and everything is a lot better, listening to Emperor Of Sand just bums me out and reminds me of slaving away in such horrible conditions for such a dreadful uncaring company and their demanding, hateful, ungrateful clients and then coming home to bereavement and a lack of sleep.

Hearing those songs live with the cool video screens and all the joyous sing-alongs from the other fans sort of freed them from that association. I just got to listen to and enjoy them as songs, free from all the baggage. It was nice. Liberating.

Which is a good job, since so much of the setlist was from it. Going off Setlist FM, the breakdown was as follows: Emperor Of Sand -7 songs; Crack The Skye – 3 songs; Blood Mountain – 2 songs; Leviathan – 2 songs; Once More ’Round The Sun – 1 song; Remission – 1 song; The Hunter – 1 song.

Oh yeah, did I tell you they played bloody ‘Mother Puncher’ ?! SCORE! Its nice that even though they’re so late in their career they aren’t ignoring Remission (come to think of it, last time I saw them they very unexpectedly dropped ‘Ol Nessie’ into the middle of all the commercial stuff!). I hate fans who act all cool and say they only like Remission, sure, but it is a stunning monstrous album and I’d hate for it to be overlooked or forgotten. I’d love for them to drop a few more nuggets from it in nowadays. Nobody could argue with a bit of ‘Crusher Destroyer’ or ‘Where Strides The Behemoth’ nowadays, surely. Just slipped in nice and tidy among the proggier stuff to raise the energy levels and remind us of heavier times.

Speaking of ‘Mother Puncher’…. good God, the drums on that song! That and the breakdown in the middle of ‘Blood And Thunder’ have some of the most maddeningly-illogical yet crazily-satisfying drums ever.

Overall, I had a pretty great night and the band were great. A vastly different setlist than I’ve ever seen by ’em before, cool interesting visuals, a receptive audience, and I’ve not mentioned it yet but the sound was really clear and well balanced, the guitar solos were cool and Brent played them with a little bit of improvisation, and the vocals were really great. As I’ve said, I’ve went to Mastodon shows were you couldn’t even hear the vocals, I’ve seen Mastodon live footage online were the vocals weren’t so hot performance-wise, and I’ve seen ’em live before or recorded on their Brixton live video for example, with awesome vocals. Tonight was a good night for vocals, and indeed for crowd participation. The audience were dancing, singing, air drumming. I was sat behind the lighting/sound guys and they were dancing in unison at one stage. The whole vibe was very friendly and fun and like we were all in on the group secret.

I might have been skeptical and almost cancelled going to this show, but I’m glad I didn’t. I had a good time, I saw a good show and its given me a renewed appreciation for the new album and helped free it from bad memories.


I went to go see Machine Head live tonight at the 02 Apollo in Manchester, England on the 16/12/2014.

I went to go see Machine Head live tonight at the 02 Apollo in Manchester, England on the 16/12/2014.

I’ve never been to the Apollo before, I had tickets to see Motorhead with Saxon here but it got cancelled when Lemmy was diagnosed with Diabetes. It was a nice big venue with a good atmosphere and excellent sound quality. I wouldn’t mind going back there again.

The support acts where Heart Of A Coward and Darkest Hour.

Heart Of A Coward were a Parkway Drive or Killswitch Engage sounding Melodic Metalcore band with a bodybuilder singer. Their drummer seemed to play really lightly and politely and never “rocked out” much at all. The music was ok, and would’ve been alright if you knew the songs, but it was a bit “stare with blank expression” from me I’m afraid.

Next up were Darkest Hour who’s first two songs made them sound like a groove-focused modern Metal band like Lamb Of God but then they ended up being more normal Metalcore. They were way better than the first band, and their drummer (also a bodybuilder) had a lot of force, power and style. He even had a kind’ve unique setup with no rack toms and only floor toms. Their singer came out in a legbrace like he’d broken his knee (said it was from partying with Machine Head). He told a joke: “I heard you Brits like dry humour, so this song goes out to the Queen’s vagina” …Darkest Frankie Boyle more like it! They were interesting enough, especially at the start, but my attention waned after a while… again it’s a case of if you knew the songs it would’ve been good.

Then the main event, Machine Head took to the stage. Man… I’ve been to enough concerts to know this wasn’t normal… I’ve never been in such a crush before. I felt like I was in a trash compactor… the crowd just absolutely squished the crap out’ve the front few rows (naturally, as is the case in 99% of concerts I ever go to, I end up front row centre, barr one. So, I’m the second person from front row centre, and also almost always there is a tiny girl or skinny 15 year old dude in front of me who would get squashed if I didn’t have the good sense to spend the entire concert, muscles engaged to maximum effort, trying to push the crowd back).

Well, this crowd was waaaaaay too selfish and eager and they absolutely squashed the crap out of us and I got it from both sides and backwards and I’m not joking, my muscles hurt more than doing two hours of really focused weightlifting, on a day when I’m adding more weights to the bars (so as to advance). It was crazy. I felt like I was in an animal enclosure and not a rock concert. Lamb Of God fans weren’t this crushing, Hatebreed fans weren’t this crushing. Bring Me The Horizon and their attitude-problem hardcore dancing selfish-jerk audience weren’t this crushing. I, and basically everyone towards the middle of the first four rows just got absolutely crushed and pounded. It was exhausting, and out of the ordinary. Joke – All the lyrics about smashing an crushing probably didn’t help either.

…So it was more like a workout than a gig, and you’d think that would spoil it… think spending so much mental energy just not being bulldozed and trampled would’ve distracted me from the music – but no! What a concert! Machine Head were absolutely amazing. It was such a brilliant performance, such good vibes, such energy. The power and belief and showmanship was absolutely top shelf. I can’t recommend this band live enough. Its one of the best concerts I’ve been to in recent years. In fact, one of the best gigs I’ve been to period. And I’m not exactly a gig dodger.

The setlist was awesome too. They’ve been doing a revolving setlist thing on this tour; some nights you get “Supercharger” or “The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears” whereas some nights you get extra tracks off the new album, there’s different songs from The Blackening on different nights, sometimes “Block” is there from Burn My Eyes and sometimes not. On the Dimebag death anniversary there was a load of Pantera covers.

On this particular night, the night I went to see them, they played “Imperium,” “Descend The Shades Of Night” and “Bit The Bullet” off of ‘Ashes Of Empires, “Beautiful Mourning,” “Now I Lay Thee Down,” “Aesthetics Of Hate” and “Halo” off of The Blackening, “Locust” and “Darkness Within” off of Unto The Locust, “Killers & Kings,” “Now We Die,” “Game Over,” “Beneath The Silt” and “In Comes The Flood” off the new album Bloodstone & Diamonds, as well as rap-featuring “From This Day” off of The Burning Read, “Bulldozer” off of Supercharger, “Ten Ton Hammer” off of The More Things Change, and of course “Old” and “Davidian” off of Burn My Eyes. What a setlist!

I am so, so pleased to have gotten to see the two Locust era tracks with my own eyes. Anyone who knows me, knows that I absolutely adore Unto The Locust. I still have the keyring on my keys, the poster on my wall, and the album never comes off my limited-space phone no matter the new stuff I buy. I dig the crap out of that record and to get to see “Locust” and “Darkness Within” live was amazing. Rob did a little speech about the bay area thrash scene beforehand, which was interesting. Those were my favourite moments of the night, with “Bulldozer,” “Davidian” and surprise awesome new track “Game Over” as the next best. But really, it was all golden!

Rob was a very good frontman all evening; being very entertaining, encouraging participation, getting everyone’s energy up, shouting out all the band members including multiple shout-outs for new bassist Jared MacEachern (man, replacing the amazing Adam Duce cant’ve been easy, but this guy nailed every part and “felt right” in the same way Pat Brudders does for Down). The only thing I didn’t like was that he made fun of a kid in the front row for not going mental enough and sitting there still all night with a Dr. Evil from Austin Powers pinky-finger to mouth gesture the whole evening… and fair enough it probably looked funny, but the kid was likely being crushed half to death if I was anything to go by, and he was little and skinny so in that position I wouldn’t have gone that crazy either. Rob did save it though by singing “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” so it felt less like bullying and more like a good frontman entertaining the crowd. Oh and the rest of the band had all got Santa Hats on towards the end. Fitting for this time of year, it was nice and amusing. Merry Christmas.

It was good that all the material went over well. People lost their shit for the Supercharger and Burning Red stuff equally to the classic Burn/Change stuff. Everything from ‘Ashes onwards got an extra special reaction. Anything to do with Phil Demmel is just beloved by the fanbase (and rightly so – what a great musician!). I’ve been at some concerts where people only react to the new stuff (Mastodon, Riverside, BMTH) or only the old stuff (Hatebreed, Megadeth, Slayer) but everyone reacted well to everything here.

It was such a great performance, and the band’s high quality, well-designed lightshow really added to things. It went green during “Locust” and red during “From This Day” off of The Burning Red to echo those album’s artwork and it would black out the stage but spotlight one person to highlighted members during key parts like interesting drum fills or separate guitarists on riffs that switch between separate earphones on the record (aka panning). Their stage show had big backdrop banners, Roman Empire looking plinths with the MH logo, smoke cannons, all sorts of lights, banners with lions on them off to the side. It looked expensive and impressive. To top it all off the sound was superb… during that super dirty riff at the end of “Davidian” (y’know that really slow, brutally ugly riff) it was the best sounding moment I’ve heard live in the last two years (and Rob even called out “so fucking heavy!”).

Also… I can’t describe how cool it was to see Dave McClain. He’s just such a unique, bespoke Drummer and no one else plays like him. His style is so singular it sometimes sounds like he’s playing “wrong” because no one else plays like that. Watching some of those badass fills with my own eyes was like a religious experience.

Overall; great concert… but don’t be surprised if you read in the news that someone died from crush injuries.