Archive for February, 2010

Mastodon @ Manchester Academy 1, Manchester, UK, 20/02/2010

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , on February 25, 2010 by Noise Road

The Wolf is Loose

 

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Dillinger Escape Plan gig in Brussels, sipping a Stella Artois whilst two hardcore dudes with tats on their skulls kissed each hello on the cheek.  Now I’m sipping a pint of John Smiths at the Mastodon gig in Manchester whilst two local lads discuss how many pies Man U striker, Wayne Rooney, eats.

It’s not only the people and the place that are very different.  For two bands that have shared stages and studios, the gigs themselves are different beasts.  Dillinger played a tiny club, Mastodon one of Manchester’s bigger venues.  DEP are like ADD kids unable to keep still or off their equipment or out of the crowd, whilst the Mastodon boys are a pretty static bunch concentrating on getting every note out right. 

 

 Mastodon walked out to a theatre already chanting their name.  In the low lights, they began strumming Oblivion, the opener of their latest album.   As one of the success stories of the modern underground, Mastodon can afford an intricate film package on a large screen behind them.  The visuals combine computer animation and live action of Rasputin and invalids.  It touches Tool-like visual territory.  I’m talking about Tool the band.   I’m not calling Mastodon a bunch of tools.  They seem like nice enough boys.

Drummer, Brann Dailor, kicks off vocal duties, followed by bassist, Troy Sanders.  Within the minute guitarist, Brent Hinds, launches into the chorus vocals, and begins the competition with Dailor to see whose voice sounds more like Ozzy Osbourne.  It wasn’t only the band that was singing.  I haven’t heard as much crowd singing along since the Alice in Chains gig back in London a few months ago.  Who would have thought that Mastodon would have become a sing along band? I mean try singing along to the sludgy metal of the Remission album.

The band proceeded to play the entirety of their latest album, Crack the Skye.  The thing that got me about the performance was the groove in it.  I just wanted to move.  We all know that Mastodon can crush you with sludgy heaviness, but they are now also masters of proggy groove and the sing along chorus.  It’s like stadium rock – except good and well… not in a stadium.

Banjo led into the next couple of straighter rocky numbers, Divinations and the Quintessence, before Hinds breaks out a double-neck guitar for the no-holds-barred prog of the Czar.  When you break out a double-neck guitar you’re no longer worried about whether people think you’ve slipped into prog rock excess.

 

I grew up thinking that prog rock was an evil of self indulgent excess that punk rock had thankfully killed at the end of the 70’s.  In my head, prog was a brother to 80’s guitar wank…  music made by people more concerned on playing something technically difficult rather than something of substance or value.  Sure it’s hard to play.  Sure there’s a shyte load of notes.  But it doesn’t mean anything.  And who wants to listen to something so wanky?

But my opinions on what was and wasn’t pretentious changed as I started listening to the more experimental and noise-y works of Sonic Youth, Mike Patton, the Melvins and Neurosis.  Then as I listened to the more technical metal of bands like Meshuggah and Dillinger, I learnt that there were bands they could play highly intricate and complicated music without having one hand on a keyboard and the other hand tugging on their c0ck. 

Mastodon always had lots of different parts/sections in their songs.  However their music has become less heavy and more progressive, more melodic with each album.  Now you’d have to say that their latest effort Crack the Skye isn’t really a metal album, so much as a prog rock record.  A lot of people have climbed aboard as Mastodon has developed.  However some “true” metal fans have disembarked.  Feck these people.  Remission is a good album.  Leviathan is a great album.  But Crack the Skye is the most intricate and cohesive album that they’ve put together… and they are able to reproduce this awesome album live.

 

The band continued with Ghosts of Karelia, before my favourite track off the album, the title track, Crack the Skye.  This Neurosis-esque track shows a glimmer of the old heaviness.  It chugs along until the crowd belts out the cathartic chorus:  I can see your pain; it’s written all over your face…

6 songs and around 45 minutes into the set, Mastodon started the final track off the album, the 13 minute epic, the Last Baron.  No riff was left in the closet.  13 minutes of prog?  Would 17-year-old me have walked out at this point?  No he wouldn’t have.  I don’t think anyone could have been bored or lost in excess in this song or any other part of the night.  Every note, every riff, every solo and every part served the song.  This wasn’t notes for notes’ sake.  Like the crowd, I was with Brent Hinds on every note.  I was immersed in the song.   At times I was grooving, then I was singing along and then I was banging my head.

As the band left the stage to a massive roar, the touring keyboardist went into some very, very 70’s synthy sounds.  I felt a bit sorry for that keyboardist.  He spent his whole night in the shadows at the side of the stage.  It reminded a little of the Screaming Jets who used to hide the keyboardist off stage.  But then again Screaming Jets were kinda shyte and this guy gets to tour with Mastodon – who are kinda awesome…

*****

Manchester

When I decided to head up to Manchester, the first thing that came to mind was the “Madchester” music scene of the 80’s.  Madchester is the story of New Order, the Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses, Factory Records and the Hacienda.  It’s the story of awesomely poor management, drug fuelled excess and great muzak. 

I’ve heard accounts of how some people in the UK’s first exposure to ecstasy was when the Happy Mondays front man sold them a pill.  And then of course there is the Mondays record that brought down an entire label.  They spent so much of their recording budget on cocaine in the Caribbean that they subsequently ran out of money to record any vocals…  But there aren’t any remnants of the scene left to visit in Manchester.  No Hacienda night club.  No Factory Records.  And apparently no one wants to talk about Madchester.  I guess it’s like talking grunge in Seattle.  Like heroin, it’s so passé.  Crystal meth is the way of the future.

Still, Manchester is, unexpectedly, my favourite UK town that I’ve seen.  I would still probably prefer to live in London for all the gigs and the ease of travel to Europe – but Manchester has its own funky vibe and there isn’t the massive tourist surface like in central London. 

I had heard that it was a rough town, and I was expecting a smaller, lesser London.  But Manchester has its own identity.  There is still a rich history clearly visible from Roman ruins (albeit not the most impressive/extensive you’ll see in Europe) and the massive (and impressive) science and industry museum, showing off Manchester as the first industrial town in the world. 

 

More exciting than the history is how Manchester has developed its own modern and funky vibe – and how it is has built this vibe out of its history.  Old buildings have been converted into pubs and clothing stores.   I stayed in the Bohemian area (I was worried that “bohemian” might be code for gay before I got there) and there were 3 good CD/vinyl stores within 50m.  What more could you ask for?  As Tim Rogers always told me, all a man needs is a good record store and a decent pub…

…  and you’re never going to go thirsty in Manchester.  In the Bohemian, Soho-esque, area, there are all kinds of trendy/funky bars.  There are TV themed bars, and bars that have been recovered from what looks like very rough old haunts.  In the uni district there are bars made out of old theatres.  Elsewhere there are traditional British pubs serving the local real ales, and there was even a completely subterranean bar.  What was that place before?  A public toilet?  Maybe the bar was at a converted urinal.  How efficient.

 

After a day of stomping Manchester, I rested my feet and enjoyed a refreshing pint at a uni bar.  I then strolled a few blocks over to the Manchester Academy.  It’s a mid size venue, probably slightly smaller than the Thebby, back home.  It’s a very modern place – from the outside it’s a mass of glass.  There are no complaints from my end though – it has good sound and reasonably priced beer.  Try finding a decently priced beer at a London venue.

Totimoshi boarded the stage half an hour after punters were let in, and opened up with a very White Stripes-y instrumental.  But most of the set seemed to be influenced by a post-punk, pre-grunge sound.  Lots of low end, murky guitar riffs.  I enjoyed it.

 

20 minutes after Totimoshi’s final note, Mastodon took us on the Crack the Skye ride for an hour.  After a synthy interlude, Mastodon returned for a 20 odd minute set of sludgy highlights from the previous 3 albums.

The second set started with Circle of Cysquatch, from the Blood Mountain album.  Circle of Cysquatch is a personal favourite of mine as a microphone with a robot sound effect is used for 30 seconds on this track… and then that mic sits there unused for the rest of the night.  It’s a bit like the gong behind Lombardo at a Slayer gig.  They lug that thing around the world for one hit at the end of Seasons in the Abyss every night. 

As they reached further back in their discography things got heavier and sludgier.  While these lads have spread their wings into the prog rock world, they definitely haven’t lost their ability to bring the heavy.  They took deep cuts from Leviathan and Remission – it wasn’t case of playing the old favourites Blood and Thunder and Hearts Alive.  They wrapped up proceedings with the awesome riff of Crusher Destroyer.  I’ve still got that diddly-diddly riff in my head.

Mastodon didn’t leave anything in their bag of tricks tonight – from flawless prog rock of their current phase to the sludge heaviness of their stoner metal history.  I look forward to getting back up to Manchester to see the town beyond a packed weekend’s touring, and I can’t wait to see what Mastodon bring us next.

Moody vs the Dillinger Escape Plan @ the Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, Belgium.

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2010 by Noise Road

The hourglass is never right side up, and all the time we try to tear the script up;

Forgetting all the sour for the sweet, the paragraph has never seemed so empty

Or….

Moody vs the Dillinger Escape Plan at the Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, Belgium.

06/02/10

 

I’m standing centre of stage in a small club, sipping the local cheap beer, Stella Artois.  Hardcore dudes with tattoos on their skulls kiss each other hello on the cheek.  As the venue starts to fill, my ears are full of “excusez-moi” as the natives pass.  This is the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, Belgium.

With no opening act for the evening, the band boards the stage at around 20:30.  Guitarist, Jeff Tuttle has his angry face on.  Leading with his guitar, he jumps straight off the stage and pushes his way into the crowd, creating a one man circle pit.  The opening bars of Panasonic Youth blast out from the speakers and Tuttle, whilst wrestling notes out of his guitar, starts bouncing off punters on the floor.  Being equal parts dumb shyte and excited by the chaos, I didn’t shift position and found myself on the edge of the circle.  After bouncing off a few Belgian kiddies, he runs straight at me, jumping into me with his back, sending the last couple of sips of my Stella flying into the patrons behind me.  This is the Dillinger Escape Plan.

 

I flew into Brussels from Oslo a couple of nights previous.  I really should be back in the UK looking for a job after the cash haemorrhage that was Norway.  However Dillinger seem to be playing tiny venues on this short euro run, causing the UK gig to be sold out before I even knew about it.  My favourite live act is touring Europe.  Their Brussels date isn’t sold out yet.  I’ve never been to Brussels.  I didn’t really seem to have a choice in the matter.  The gods wanted me to go to Brussels.

 

After a couple of days of waffles bought from holes in the wall, waffles bought from Kombi vans, sipping Leffe and Trappist beers with the old timers in a cafe, and chowing down on baguettes avec jambon et fromage, I walked from my temporary digs in the seedy part of town to the venue just on the edge of the old town – the Ancienne Belgique, or as locals call it, the AB.

 

Back home, in North Adelaide, an AB is what you call a serving of yiros meat, chips and all kinds of sauces – It’s named such because it looks like… well, an ABortion.  Although there was a little street, dense with kebab shops, around the corner from the venue, sadly there was no yiros meat served at the Ancienne Belgique.  Despite this massive disappointment, the AB is still a pretty cool venue, with a good layout and sound – but it is definitely small for a band of Dillinger’s notoriety. 

This would be my fourth time seeing DEP. I first got into them when they recorded the EP, Irony is a Dead Scene, with Mike Patton.  The following full length, Miss Machine, with current vocalist, Greg Puciato, was my favourite release of that year.  I had that feeling of excitement when you discover something new and different.  I bought up the back catalogue and was eager to see this stuff played live when they announced a gig at Fowler’s.  However, I had heard nothing about their live show.

Unable to convince anyone to go with me, I went alone and was just going to nurse a beer towards the back of the crowd.  Except for Puciato, Dillinger boarded the stage and burst out a few notes before Puciato ran straight across the stage, bounced off the side wall and headed, sight unseen, into the crowd.  Then in the second verse of the same song, guitarist, Ben Weinman, jumped into the crowd.  The energy was too much to just stand there nursing a pint of sparkles.  I surged to the front to join in the fun.  It’s still my favourite gig to this day.

I’ve seen the band twice since.  They played a great set at an awful venue, the old Breakers in sAdelaide.  Tix were $70 – so the gig was far from sold out.  Also the venue is a former pool hall – so it is a massive space in width.  It kinda looked like they were playing to a handful of kids.  And a big percentage of the crowd was hardcore kids – so there was all that martial arts kicks and windmills guff near the front of the stage.  It was a great performance, but it was a shyte atmosphere on the floor.

They came back to Adelaide, last Feb as part of the Soundwave festival.  Puciato climbed the the light rigging.    He and Weinman headed into the crowd.  Later that day they both joined Nine Inch Nails on stage to perform Wish.  A fantastic day – but the real place to see Dillinger is at a sweaty club show.  They create a cauldron in a packed club.  So when I saw the size of the AB, I thought how could a sold out Dillinger gig in this place not be awesome.

 

My moshing days are about 5 years behind me.  Once your hairline is both greying and receding, it’s best to think about just enjoying the sound of the gig.  Head back towards the mixing desk, my friend.  But I know my form in Dillinger gigs.  I’ve got caught up at the front every time.

So when Tuttle was whirling around, I knew I had to be there.  How can you not move your body when the wall of spastic riffing that is Panasonic Youth kicks in?  Studies show that it’s physically impossible.  Panasonic Youth went straight into the chugg-chugg of 43% Burnt.   The crowd would usually be tearing it up at this point – but they weren’t.  The Belgian kiddies were pretty timid.  They were a room full of head nodders. 

I’m never going to judge anyone on how they enjoy their show.  It’s your $20.  Enjoy as you wish, man.  I mean I’m usually a head nodder.  And on a positive note this passiveness meant that I didn’t have to put up with any hardcore-windmill guff.  But with the energy emitted from the stage, Weinman swinging his guitar around his arm, Puciato assaulting the front rows, Tuttle on the floor, how could you not be moving around like Kermit after he announces the next act on the Muppet Show?…  Also the Muppets are now drug free.  They’ve cleaned up and found Jesus.  Click the image below that I took in neighbouring Bruges, Belgium.

 

Those first two tracks are Dillinger’s bread and butter – irregular time signatures, frequently changing up.  The next track was an example of  the diversity that DEP have shown on their last few releases – the gritty bar rock of Milk Lizard which is somewhere between a Jesus Lizard and a Faith No More track with the Dillinger stamp on it.  Shortly after they broke things up again with Black Bubblegum – a sugary pop rock track with NIN glitchy touches.

 

Mid set, for Mouth of Ghosts, main man Ben Weinman switched from guitar to keys and Puciato even produced a mic stand for the first time that I’ve ever seen.  They hadn’t played this cut at any of the shows I’ve been to and I think this track exemplifies why the Dillinger set is better than ever.  Previously Dillinger seemed a little reticent to play live some of their more mellow stuff. 

On the Miss Machine tour they were happy to play the songs where Puciato shows his melodic range and anthemic choruses.  And on the Ire Works cycle they were happy to play the sugary pop of Black Bubblegum and the gritty bar rock of Milk Lizard.  However longer, mellower pieces such as Mouth of Ghosts seemed to miss the cut live.  Perhaps they were scared that it might detract from the intensity of the live show.   I think it definitely adds a dynamic to the set.  A longer song like that also helps out the set length.  When I saw them at Breakers on the Ire Works cycle, they played 16 songs and struggled to crack an hour on stage.

 

Dillinger played two tracks off the soon to be released new album, Option Paralysis.  The tracks sound like what you would expect.  A further integration of the technical/irregular stuff into anthemic FNM style rock.  I’m onboard.

Towards the end of the set, they ramped the intensity back up with ultra aggressive tracks like Lurch, the Mullet Burden and Fix Your Face.  The band had finally broken through the crowds timidness.  When the signature closer, Sunshine the Werewolf, kicked in the crowd were thrusting forward to get their mic time.  Puciato shoves the mic into the front rows for the lines starting from “Destroyer!…”  The crowd as ever surges to join in screaming out the lyrics.  Weinman is on the speaker stacks, Tuttle is hanging into the crowd, and Puciato is manhandling punters by the head, forcing them to yell into the mic with him.

 

There are hardcore bands that can put on a show like this.  However those bands tend to play simplistic music and performance of the actual song is sacrificed for the intensity.  Dillinger play extremely irregular and technical music.  A member of DEP might miss the odd note when he is fighting the crowd – but that will be it.  No other band plays music as complex with the stage energy that they have.

Also most bands that bring this kind of physical attack to a show have short lived careers. These bands break up after burning twice as bright for half as long.  Dillinger, in various forms, have honed their craft for well over a decade.  Their set is no longer just a brutal series of off-kilter riffs and drum patterns broken up by jazzy interludes.  The set includes a much more diverse path from their bread and butter brutal metal to anthem rock to glitchy pop rock – all done with their trademark intensity.

If you’re not a fan by now, there is probably nothing I can do to convince you.  But you sure are missing out on one of the best live acts around.

Moody vs Baroness @ the Underworld, Camden, London 19/01/10

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , on February 2, 2010 by Noise Road

All of your fears are well founded and true

All of my hands are callous and cruel

Or…

Moody vs. Baroness @ the Underworld, Camden, London, 19/01/10

 

When I’m in Camden, in between getting Maori face tats and buying expensive knock-off t-shirts from the markets; I’ve been known to nurse a pint at Camden’s rock bar, the World’s End.  Every time I’m at the World’s End, I see a poster for an awesome gig that’s just been or is about to come to the Underworld, the basement venue below the World’s End.  As luck would have it, I have never been in the London area when these gigs have been on.

When I first saw the Baroness, 19th January, Underworld date, I hadn’t actually heard a Baroness track.  I know their Blue Album was listed as one of albums of the year on many credible sites, but it’s not like they have a massive presence in Australia.

But Moods, this is the age of computrons and the internets.  Neither the tyranny of distance, nor lack of radio play can stop a man from hearing a band.  When all the solid websites recommended Baroness, how come you didn’t boot up their MySpace?…  Well, there is a shyte load of muzak to filter these days.  Baroness was just one of those bands that I never got round to checking out.

Originally the plan was to be somewhere in the Arctic Circle on the 19th January.  But I eventually had to postpone that northern expedition a few days.  Either the flights were too expensive, or I couldn’t locate my lucky bear-hunting club.  My memory fails me…  The upside of the delay is that I had the opportunity to see a highly regarded band at a venue that I had long wanted to check out.  I picked up a copy of the Blue Album and successfully dodged the tattoo parlours to get to the venue.

The Underworld is a serious dungeon, man.  It’s dark and full of chambers.  It’s an odd set up too.  There are structural pillars on the floor in front of the stage – including one centre of stage, about a foot into the crowd…  But the place does have a cool vibe.  It’s a gritty club for underground music. 

 

I was interested to see the make-up of the crowd.  Listening to the Blue Album, I thought that there was plenty of room for crossover support.   But there wasn’t any variety in the crowd.  It was a room full of stoners.

On a side note, how come you never smell dope at gigs anymore?  I know you are not allowed to smoke ciggies in venues now, but you were never allowed to smoke weed.  So why should there be any less dope clouds on the floor?…  Interesting.

Local band, Sondura, opened up proceedings.   Their crowd work was awful.  Did they think they were stadium rockers?  The singer would say something like “Are you having a good night?” In response, the crowd would kind of murmur.  Then he would yell “I said are you m0therfeckers having a good night?” Dead silence followed…  You’re an opening act at a club show – you’re not G’n’R playing Wembley circa Appetite.  Just shut up and play, dude….

Sondura were also treading a sketchy line between hard rock and commercial alt rock.  That’s dangerous ground, my friend.  Maybe they would feel more comfortable in a stadium supporting Creed or something….  Anyways, they were nothing that a couple of pints of Tetleys couldn’t fix.

As Baroness started their final sound checks, it became very difficult to negotiate the sold out crowd. Returning from the bar, Tetley’s in hand, it was quite the struggle to squeeze past the kids on the slightly dodgy steps, and in the low light.  It made for an excellent atmosphere though.  There was a packed floor trying to fight the pillars for position.  Up the small rickety flight of stairs, people hung over the railings that ran from centre stage to almost directly behind the guitarist on stage right. 

 

I recognised most of the set, as it was Blue heavy.  They kicked things off with the first three tracks off that album.

Highlights of the set included A Horse called Golgotha and The Gnashing, a couple of standouts from the album.  If like me, you are new to Baroness, hit these tracks up on MySpace.  Or better yet YouTube the cool vid for Golgotha.   The easiest point of comparison for these tracks, and Baroness in general, is their brothers in prog, Mastodon.  Both bands are a mixture of prog and stoner.  I would say that Baroness’ Blue Album is less proggy and less melodic than Mastodon’s last album, Crack the Skye.  On the other hand, Blue is less heavy than the previous Mastodon efforts.  To my ears they are more of a rock band with prog tendencies.

In some ways you might think that these guys are a good chance for some radio play.  You know maybe they could mine the Queens of the Stone Age market.  The vocals aren’t too harsh and are often harmonised (no studio trickery there either – the vocals were solid live)…  But the music just has too much going on for most kids.  And on top of that they are heavier live than on record.

On record they don’t sound metal.  They sound rocky.  But this is probably rock music for metal people.  The live show reflects that.  The fan base reflects that – it just ain’t an alterno crowd.

But who needs radio or crossover support.  They still drew a full house to the Underworld.  And the fans provided a very enthusiastic response throughout the set.  Mostly it was a head-nodding kind of affair, but there were moments in tracks like Swollen and Halo for the floor to loosen up a bit and for the punters to groove it out amongst the pillars.  

 

The Baroness boys crammed in shyteload of different parts and riffs into 70 minutes.  There was no time for mic breaks.  There was just too much rock to deliver.

I think Baroness is definitely worthy of your attention.  I recommend that you check out their MySpace, or YouTube A Horse Called Golgotha.  If my good people back home, in rAdelaide, are lucky enough to have tix to the Soundwave Festival in Feb, make an effort to squeeze in some Baroness time between your Faith No More, Meshuggah and Isis commitments.