Sweat and catharsis: Review of Mastodon at the Orange Peel

There are certain things I have always been a big dork for: Science fiction, ghost stories, the occult, fantasy, fairy tales, mythology, comic books and heavy rock’n’roll. Things like this can help a nerd survive growing up in West Virginia.

When I first heard Mastodon, I was completely dumbstruck. It was 2003 and I was living and working in Chicago in the basement of an old baptist church. I was a regular at Reckless Records, a local music mecca. One of the employees who knew my tastes forced me to buy the Leviathan album. I took it home, put it on my roommate’s system (which was powering two 18-inch Mackie speakers usually used in clubs) and the house nearly caved in on itself. I never thought I would hear another band that would ignite the same fierce energy as Tool, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Neurosis or early Metallica. Not only does Mastodon carry this torch, they burn it even brighter.

Ever since then, Mastodon’s music has provided a constant soundtrack for my work in and out of the studio. When Mastodon is on the stereo in the studio, nothing can stop me. It’s just a perfectly natural fit. I’ll go ahead and fess up, I am a freaking groupie for this band.

In February of this year, I was able to get a ticket through Brann Dailor, the drummer, to the Scion Rockfest in Atlanta. I met Brann that weekend at the show and he got a drawing I did for him of a skeletal sabertooth demon guarding a flock of mutant sheep and cattle. The idea seemed to amuse him. Considering he had kids coming up to him every other moment for an autograph or a picture, he was a really nice dude. 

When I heard Mastodon was coming to play the Orange Peel to support their newest album (and in my opinion, masterpiece) Crack The Skye, I was all over it. A brief bit about Crack The Skye: It is unlike anything they have ever produced before and yet it is clearly their own. So if all you know of this band is their brutal vocals and monstrous riffs from previous albums, it’s time to get reacquainted. All of the critical acclaim is well-deserved. Even if the music doesn’t connect with you, it’s impossible to deny its bravery and technical mastery. These dudes are it right now and this new album is one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time.

A few days ago, I got a call on the afternoon of the Mastodon show to come to the soundcheck and meet the band. Stoked beyond belief, I went to the venue, armed with Amputee Angel T-shirts [editor’s note: the amputee angel is a recurring character in Shaffer’s art], to wait for my good friend that was making this possible. While waiting near the masto-bus indulging in a smoke, Troy Sanders, the bassist, wandered over. I introduced myself and offered him a shirt. He really dug the idea behind them and hung out for a little while to chat. Once again, super cool dude. Inside the Peel, there were about a dozen folks wandering about, mostly roadies and the members of the opening bands. Brann was standing in front of the stage, checking out the new video screen they have brought on tour. He also picked out a shirt. We casually chatted about the new album, playing Dave Letterman, the old fantasy movie Krull and what would happen if Prince Atom and Skeletor had a gay relationship. It’s awesome to know a musician you admire is just as big a geek as you are.

Next I met Bill, who I know is an avid Star Wars junkie. He picked out a shirt, chatted for a bit and then it was time for them to soundcheck. Soundcheck probably isn’t the biggest deal to most folks in the industry, but I gotta admit, this was one of the coolest moments of my life. We watched the fellas play two tunes from the new album, followed by an impromptu cover of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” I felt like the blind girl from the video. On the way out I had a chance to connect with Brent Hinds (the lead singer), who looks like he should live here, with his mountain man beard and big nerdy glasses. This guy is one of the nicest, funniest dudes out there, not to mention the fact that he shreds.

My wife and I arrived at the show just before they took the stage. The Peel was packed to the gills and it felt like a bathhouse. Once they took the stage, the place exploded. I dont think I’ve ever seen Suzy headbang that hard. Mastodon played a 2-hour set. They played the entire album Crack the Skye from beginning to end, then played material off the previous three albums. The crowd was ravenous. I caught a glimpse of the pit a few times. It was an odd contradiction, in that it was at once viciously tribal and also extremely considerate. One would go to a show like this expecting to see blood and guts, but all you see is sweat and catharsis, which is exactly what the world needs right now. Some folks find a spiritual experience in nature, some find it in a church or temple, many of us found it at the Peel last night. All hail the mighty force that is Mastodon, a rock band that is at once legendary, nerdy, artistically inclined and just a bunch of rad dudes.

—Gabriel Shaffer [more about Shaffer, including the amputee angel, at www.gabrielshaffer.com ]

Check out Xpress’ photo gallery of the Mastodon show here.

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One thought on “Sweat and catharsis: Review of Mastodon at the Orange Peel

  1. Eric S.

    And the guy can write, too. Good article, Gabriel. I’ve never listened to Mastodon before, but I’m going to give them a try now.

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