Last night’s show at the Warfield was a tough sell. After shelling out $27.50, concertgoers had to arrive super early (doors opened at 6 p.m.) to see a punk/indie/metal band they liked and endure the rest of the seemingly disparate acts. Dudes in Metallica T-shirts stood arms-crossed as arty emo act Cursive screamed like pansies. Against Me! played bouncing pirate punk for the moshing-needy. But heavy ruled this night, and headliners Mastodon proved they could do no wrong, even when they were out of tune.
Promoters of the tour may have been hoping for a larger crowd by booking bands that attracted such distinct cliques. But ultimately they drew the diehards and left out the ones on the fence. The show was far from sold out, and until Against Me! came on, it was understandable why.
Planes Mistaken for Stars, who made a special appearance for this San Francisco stop, started a decent set promptly at 7 p.m. But their otherwise reeling heaviness was marred by poor sound, turning a potentially interesting set into an entirely forgettable one.
Afterward, the fog machine started to crank up, which was a promising sign, but then it appeared to serve as camouflage for the saxophone and keyboard being set up onstage. Omaha’s Cursive came out with period-costume coattails and suits ablazin’, but their attempts at high-minded indie rock simply failed to rock. They opened with “Big Bang” off last year’s Happy Hollow, in which sax and trumpet cleverly play the slowed-down chun-chun parts of what would otherwise be a heavy guitar riff. They tried a post-rock instrumental jam and girls in the pit threw their arms in the air and danced. Meanwhile, guys in Metallica shirts (there was a fair amount of them) went and drank at the bar. Singer Tim Kasher played the part of the supreme emo maestro, conducting the crowd of youth who obviously made deep connections with the band’s music at a vulnerable point in their lives. At enthusiastic climaxes, Kasher manically shook his pointed finger like an old street preacher, but with about half the authenticity. At one point he let out a shrieking scream as if he was being castrated. It wasn’t pretty.
By the time Against Me! came on, everyone was ready to let off some steam. The all-black-clad band launched full force into salty-dog punk. Luckily, sound quality (and volume level) had improved dramatically, which helped their cause. And while the crowd seemed fully pleased to mosh into eternity, it wasn’t until halfway through the set with the Clash-inspired electro dance number “Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners” off Searching for a Former Clarity that their sound got interesting. But ultimately, one too many choruses comprised entirely of ooo-ohhhhs wore the patience of the metal crowd. Audible boos were heard by the end.
If anything, forcing the crowd to endure three so-so bands made Mastodon‘s performance all the more rewarding. Regardless, the Grammy-nominated Atlanta quartet was completely on-point (thanks to its ridiculously talented drummer) and crushed any doubts that Blood Mountain was a regression away from greatness. If there’s any complaint, it’s that the members of Mastodon appear to have entered a battle with themselves to outdo their increasingly complex and heady sound. While the music has become denser, it hasn’t become catchier. Songs from albums one and two (Remission and Leviathan) have one million parts, but keep prominent a heavy groove (read: hook) that’s essential to good music, no matter how out there. It’s something even the best songs on Blood Mountain, like “The Wolf Is Loose,” don’t quite achieve. Highlights were undoubtedly Leviathan‘s “Iron Tusk,” “March of the Fire Ants” from Remission, and the closer, “Blood and Thunder” also off Leviathan. The crowd was in a frenzy throughout, throwing up devil horns and headbangin’, even when the band fudged a part (which was totally understandable) or the guitarist was a bit off-key. Having seen the band in smaller venues such as Bottom of the Hill and the Independent in years past, it was noteworthy that this performance far outshined them all, even if the low bass register did occasionally make my backside vibrate. And though all the cliques rubbed elbows at this show, it was undoubtedly a good night to be a metalhead.
Mastodon playing “Blood and Thunder”