Mastodon makes the walls of the Orpheum tremble

Mastodon, Eagles of Death Metal, and Russian Circles at The Orpheum, 25/10/17

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Almost 18 years into their career, Mastodon is at the top of their game. The crowd at Vancouver’s Orpheum on Wednesday (Oct. 25) was bursting at its seams, constantly spilling into the isles and towards the front of the stage, only to be herded back to the orderly rows of seats by fatiguing security personnel.

The energy started with Russian Circles. Not afforded much time to explore their back catalogue, they dove right into it. Ferocious yet crisp, dark yet intelligent. They knew they weren’t playing to everyone, but Russian Circles weren’t going to disappoint those who came for them. A beam of maroonish light emanating from the front of the stage cast a dark outline around the three-piece. They closed with “Deficit,” building up from a quiet ambience to a thick wall of thrashing madness to finish the set.

The Eagles of Death Metal burst onto the stage with an explosive attitude, in direct contrast to the taciturn instrumentalists who had proceeded them. “Let me hear you at the top!” shouted frontman Jesse Hughes after their opener, “I Only Want You.” “Let me hear you at the bottom!” he called right after, sending the two sections of the audience into alternating roars.

While Hughes danced around the stage, his high-energy, low-intensity vocal style, pushed everyone’s attention to the hooded rock god, quietly shredding on the left of the stage. Like the Black Riders chasing Frodo Baggins through Middle Earth, his face disguised in the shadow of his cloak, only a long, ice-white beard hanging out of the darkness gave Dave Catching away.

Their sound is best described as half stoner metal, half Van Halen, but not as good as either. The crowd was polarized between those captivated by the performance and those already thinking forward to Mastodon.

Catching’s hood finally came down during “Whorehoppin’” as he gave the audience a lesson in guitar wizardry. It was over all too soon, though, and the band switched gears into “Moonage Daydream.” The crowd simmered down, but it’s pretty hard to argue with a David Bowie cover, right?

The last two songs, “I Want You So Hard” and “Speaking in Tongues,” weren’t bad, but not enough to disappoint the crowd when the band packed it in. Hughes also lost a couple more points after announcing he loves taking the Tsawwassen ferry to ‘Victoria Island.’

Twenty minutes later, the wait was over. The solemn intro to “The Last Baron” sent the Orpheum into a fury. Emerging out of nowhere into the green lighting, Mastodon was about to take the crowd on an 18-song tour of riff-filled chaos.

Occupying centre stage, Troy Sanders, leaning slightly back, bass in hand, left no space untouched by his thunderous yet gentle vocals. He was friendly, yet intimidating, as if the Big Friendly Giant had started a heavy metal band.

Mastodon has no front man, though. Each band member had his turn on the windpipes, flawlessly jumping in between riffs, solos, and breakdowns. While not a single album was left out of the set, the band was sure to showcase their newest offering, Emperor of Sand, released this spring. Their fans unanimously gave the devil horns of approval to the likes of “Sultan’s Curse” and “Roots Remain,” embracing Mastodon’s newer, more progressive sound.

But they knew some people were there for the classics and were happy to oblige. Through three songs from the legendary Blood Mountain album, the crowd got a taste of their sludgy side, head banging in unison under the hypnosis of Brent Hinds’ guitar.

Without saying much to the crowd, riff blended into riff, and song into song. The evening culminated with “Steambreather,” an eclectic gem of all things Mastodon. As the fuzz was still fading from their wall of amplifiers, they took a bow and left the stage.

They didn’t say anything and they didn’t have to.