Home > Music > Mastodon/Converge @ the Patriot Center 10/31/09

Mastodon/Converge @ the Patriot Center 10/31/09

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Heavy metal and Halloween are kindred.  This was apparent to me before, but experiencing one during the other is one of those beautiful cosmic matches – like chocolate and peanut butter, or whiskey and cold weather.

Rewind three months.  I’m sitting in my snug apartment in Ulsan, South Korea, trolling the internet for good concerts to see upon my return stateside, and I notice that Mastodon – absolutely one of my favorite acts of any genre – is playing a Halloween show at George Mason University’s gym.  Score!

And so now there I am, hauling back Budweiser in the parking lot, freaking out that I’m about to see one of the most talented outfits in music today.  While toiling under the watchful eye of my parents is no vacation compared to my Korean freedom, moments like those make all that compromised liberty wholly worth it.  They are the beautiful excesses of youth that I feel just have to be experienced on home turf.  Revelry beneath the orange glow of the parking lights.

The show itself was a smashing success on so many fronts.  We all arrived in perfect time, and with the perfect amount of substance under our belts.  After all, this is not a Phish show, so the arsenal has to be adjusted to a certain extent.  The first surprise of the night was in surveying the venue.  Not too long after arriving, it occurred to me that I had actually returned to the location of my very first concert – Kid Rock.  The joint is not drastically different than any other college basketball gym, but of course it just seemed so much more cavernous when I was in 8th grade.  It was pleasant to realize this.  One of the few affirmations of aging that’s not totally depressing.

Converge, a Salem, Mass punk-math-metal outfit, played before the headliner, and ended up being the big shock of the night for me.  These guys are masterful – gifted musicians and confident showmen all of them.  There most obvious negative are the vocals, which absolutely nobody could decipher beyond primal grunt-howls.  But, surprisingly, that didn’t matter to me at all.  In fact, I found myself challenging every view I had developed about metal while watching Converge.  One of the things you forget when you go long stretches without live metal, is that some of these bands – the real pros and boundary-pushers – are made of absolutely top-notch musicians.  Converge are most definitely one of these bands.  That they can create fierce, blitzkrieg tunes that still have you humming a melody afterwards is significant.  Look, I’m listening to one guy singing and playing piano as I write this.  I’m far from a metal-head.  But I’m telling you that this band, with all their passion and professionalism, won me over in a big way.

I came that night to see Mastodon, but I won’t lie, as I was waiting for their set to start, I kept feeling as if they might be, well, kind of a downer after their opener.  Converge are a band that have it glued at 11 for the whole set, whereas Mastodon’s sound is one that relies on a degree of aural diversity.  However, what they did do to all of us was bizarre and beautiful.  Mastodon came out and immediately entranced the entire audience.  Where Converge had us all busting outward, Mastodon had brought us all deeply inward.  I swear, as far as heavy shows go, I defy you to find one more cerebral than the one this band puts on.  Parts of me felt like the whole set was one long opus, and that each song played out a scene in some grotesque, medieval epic poem.  I’m sure the fact that at least 4 of the songs stretched over 12 minutes played a part in that.  And by the way, for those of you who haven’t heard them, Mastodon are not a jam band, nor are they strictly proggy.  They are, simply put, the best band in their genre, and thus they push the boundaries.  It has been two days since the show, and ironically I can’t stop comparing Mastodon’s performance to that of a Sigur Ros show I saw 4 years ago.  I know; the two ostensibly couldn’t be more different.  But what they do have in common is this: both left me with a sense that I had just seen something alien, or unhuman.  How often does that happen?!

Now let’s get on to the real stars of the night: the fans!  I don’t know if it was because of Halloween, but I’ve never been to a show with more outrageous fans.  This is not to say that people were there to get in the mosh pit, get rowdy, and obnoxiously deprive others of a good listening experience.  Actually, it was quite the opposite.  Everyone at that show was passionate, open, generally thrilled to be in a stadium filled with people like them. Now, what does that mean?  Am I using stereotypes here?  Well, yes.  A lot of the people at this show occupy a world I’ve just never been a part of.  I stopped going to Hot Topic in 9th grade, I’ve never been a Magic Card fan, and I like the sun.  Some of these folks definitely jacked up their schtick because it was 10/31, but for a lot of these folks, I’m not so sure their nail polish, leather, and spikes would not have been on at a show any other night.  I kept thinking one thing throughout the night: where are these people in daily life?  It’s like they all exist in some underground layer, and only come out for rawk! shows.  I guess I’ll have to keep a more observing eye when I’m out and about, because I’ll say again, they really made the show what it was.  If you can’t already tell, I’m one of these people who gets very emotional about my music – whatever it may be.  Though our tastes are probably different in some respects, I felt connected to the fans that night in a way I hadn’t for a long time.  There was no irony, no snobbery, and absolutely no bullshit.  It was all about the experience, and expressing yourself therein.  That, to me, was enormously comforting.

Did I mention the lead singer of Mastodon has a nasty face tat?
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