Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Linoleum Knife!"

Mastodon/Dethklok at Dallas House of Blues, November 11, 2009

As is the case many evenings, I was watching Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, and during a commercial break they put up a bump. The bumps usually contain something interesting or funny, so even if the show is on my Tivo, I hit play to see the bump writers have to say. They announced an upcoming tour with Mastodon and Dethklok, and I was ready to buy my tickets immediately.

You see, I’m a pretty regular viewer of Metalocalypse, and sometimes even enjoy the music. But it’s a fantastic skewering of the heavy metal scene. And Mastodon? Well, they’ve released some fantastic CDs over the past few years, including the most recent, Crack the Skye.

But I’m not going to subject my poor, long-suffering (non-metal-loving) wife to hours of grinding guitars and grunting, so instead I found a willing participant in Shaun, one of my guitar-playing friends.

First, if you’re going to this show and you want to blend in, wear black. With the exception of the wanna-be groupie in the red vinyl dress, the majority of the crowd wore black, usually with the name of a band somewhere on the shirt. Second, for the guys, which most of us were, you had to have facial hair of some sort. The bushier the better. I was kinda regretting trimming my beard the week before.

Thanks to uncooperative parking fee machines, we just missed the first band, High on Fire. The guy next too me said they were pretty good, but after further conversation, I wasn’t sure his musical tastes entirely matched mine. As we grabbed our seats, Converge was setting up. I approve of bands that set up their own gear…

…But I wasn’t really a Converge fan. They take elements of hardcore punk and some of the heavy grooves of metal and combine them with what I consider a screaming-type of vocals. The guitarist and the drummer were amazing, so I found some things to admire, but ultimately, there won’t be any Converge on my music-buying list. The singer had a manic energy that was fun at first. He seemed to draw on three classic icons of rock – he would put his toe, not the whole foot, on the monitor, which reminded me of Freddie Mercury of Queen. Secondly, he often twirled his mic by the cord and caught it, ala, Roger Daltrey of The Who. And third, and most peculiarly, he had this robotic neck twist/arm movement combo that looked like he was Dennis DeYoung from Styx, reenacting the Mr. Roboto video. “I’m Kilroy!” So yeah, that amused me for a bit.

And it was finally time for Mastodon! The stage was covered in equipment for all the bands, and they wheeled away the Converge equipment and uncovered Mastodon stuff. I’m pretty certain Shaun and I were both compiling Christmas wish lists while looking at all the gorgeous guitars and amps onstage.

Mastodon started out a little rough on the first couple of songs. It took them a few minutes to find their groove. I suspect they were having monitor issues, because the bass player kept messing with his in-ear, and the guitarists kept signaling changes to the monitor sound person. But once they got the kinks worked out, Mastodon lived up to their reputation. Musically, they were tight, the vocals sounded great, and they made it look easy. They began by drawing extensively from Crack the Skye, and then they started jumping around between the other releases. Aside from the guy next to me yelling for "Linoleum Knife" in between songs, it was great. The energy was amazing, and the band seemed to enjoy the audience enthusiasm. By the end of the Mastodon set, I felt full – listening to their dense music was like eating a rich meal. I was still reflecting back on some of what I’d heard when the crew started setting up for Dethklok.

In case you don’t know, Dethklok is the fictional band featured in the Metalocalypse cartoon. But of course, it’s never that simple… Dethklok music is featured in every episode of the cartoon, and it’s pretty good, as far as metal goes. Dethklok music is written and performed by Brendon Small, creator of Metalocalypse, and he’s released a couple of CDs as Dethklok. So yes, it’s a fictional band, but it’s also a real band. Got it?

There was always some Metalocalypse animation running on the LCD screen at the back of the stage. Sometimes it was a skit, such as the crossover promo for the Brutal Legend video game that ran prior to Dethklok’s set, while other times there were snippets from the show to help set the atmosphere for the songs.

I was of two minds during Dethklok’s set:
Right brain: “Hey, this is pretty good!”
Left brain: “Look at the animation, stupid right brain, it’s a cartoon band. They’re not even real!”
Right brain: “I know they aren’t real, but they’re pretty good!”
Left brain: “I just don’t think I can really enjoy a pretend band.”
And so on…

For the record, Brendon Small was doing most of the lead guitar and vocal duties, while surrounded by some musical luminaries that gave the necessary metal sound. And the music was really good, but it was by-the-book metal. Not much new or interesting about it.

I was surprised by the audience reactions. People were singing (er, growling) along, and seemed to know the words. That level of intensity for a cartoon band was staggering. After about 20 minutes, I’d had enough, and Shaun and I headed back towards the Fort.

Good show, overall. Mastodon made it all worthwhile, and I hope to see them again soon. Dethklok was cool to see for a few minutes, and I’ll keep watching the show, but I don’t see me becoming a big fan of the music. But their bus kicked some serious ass…