Mastodon Cracks the Skye Over Lawrence

I got a chance to go check out the 2010 Volcom Tour this last Sunday as it stopped over in Lawrence, Kansas to let this year’s bands tear the roof off of Liberty Hall.  Though, in the past, the Volcom-sponsored tour seemed to focus on Punk Rock bands and skateboarding, this year’s tour was all Metal – and not just any Metal.  This year Volcom lined up three of the nation’s top Progressive Metal bands.  Baroness, Between the Buried and Me, and Mastodon, anchored the show and Valient Thorr – a lesser known band, but one that can lay claim to one of the biggest cult followings in Metal Music – opened and got the crowd primed for what was to come.

What was coming you ask?  One of the most enjoyable Metal shows I’ve ever attended and the most epic beards I’ve ever seen together in one place.  After all of the concerts I’ve been to in Lawrence, I had never seen one at Liberty Hall and now I know what I’ve been missing.  I don’t know exactly how old the building is, but it is old, very old and decorated inside like an old-fashioned theatre house, complete with a hard-wood floor stage and hand painted frescoes on the walls and ceiling.   That being said, as pretty as the venue was, I think the sound crew may have been unprepared for the amount of noise these four bands could put out.  I noticed a huge difference in the quality of sound from standing in the front on the floor (with the blood and sweat, where I prefer to be), to the back of the floor, and then up in the balcony seats.  Maybe the sound guys were doing the best they could with the way the venue is set up, but I felt like being in the balcony was the best way to view this show.  The seats are small and cramped and it gets very warm when it’s at capacity, but the sound in the balcony was just fantastic – easily the best I’ve heard at a live show.  Its just too bad I didn’t find that out before the first three bands played…

Openers, Valient Thorr have been together since 2000 and though I hadn’t heard them yet, thanks to their relentless touring habits, it seemed almost everyone else in the room had.  They’re a heavy Stoner Rock band with songs that tap into Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I rarely have so much fun seeing a band for the first time, but now I understand why people follow this band around and why they’ve gotten to tour with bands known for their live shows, like Gogol Bordello and Motorhead.  They had everyone in the room engaged – even in between songs – and the crowd loved it.  It was even a little touching when Valient Himself announced to the crowd that Ronnie James Dio had just passed away.  He told us it was proof that we had to treat each other well and live each day to the fullest.  However my favorite part of seeing Valient Thorr was the song, “Tomorrow Police,” and the fact that when I went to the merch table after their set, Valient Himself was there – selling his own band’s t-shirts and cds!  He talked to each fan individually and interacted with them on a personal level.  It gives you a good feeling about the music you listen to when you see and experience that kind of thing.

After Valient Thorr, Baroness took the stage to a thoroughly warmed up crowd.  They didn’t hurry into their set.  They let the lights go down and then used their trademark ambient guitar noises to slowly build to the bellowing crescendo of their first song.  After that, the rest of their set just rolled over the crowd like a wave.  I think everyone knew what to expect – this was a roomful of fans, but Baroness always makes you feel their music.  They played one of my favorite songs from The Red Album, “Isak,” and the rest were from their newest release, The Blue Album.  I got to see Baroness do an amazing show as headliners at the Riot Room in KC back in November and though the quality of the performance this last Sunday was the same, I have to say the short set they played just left me wanting more.

Between the Buried and Me followed Baroness.  They are definitely one of the most technically proficient Progressive Metal bands in existence today and they showed it.  I’ve been a fan since their album, Alaska, but this was my first time getting to see them play live.  I’ve always known they were great musicians, but seeing them sonically recreate the compositions from their recordings, flawlessly before my eyes, made them seem just slightly less than super-human.  These guys are talented.  Go see them.  I can’t say it enough.  Their set was comprised mostly of work from their two newest releases, The Great Misdirect and Colors.  However, much to my delight, they did throw in a classic or two like, “Backwards Marathon.”  So, so sick.

Like Baroness, I saw Mastodon in Kansas City late last year and was blown away.  Unlike Baroness, Mastodon did not play a short set on Sunday – they played an epic two hours.  I ran into Guitarist/Vocalist Brent Hinds before the show and got to talk to him about my Yes t-shirt and video games, and this show, as well as the last time I saw Mastodon.  He told me he was disappointed with the way that last show went and that tonight would be much better – that they were ‘going to do like two hours’.  I didn’t know if I could believe him – the last time I saw them was unbelievable – but he wasn’t kidding.  It was better.  Mastodon has this short multimedia film they had made especially for the release tour for their newest album, Crack the Skye, and they blast it at the crowd from the back of the stage on an LED screen they take everywhere with them.  The film accompanies the concept album about a paraplegic who can astral travel and ends up in the body of Rasputin in Czarist Russia.  The story is much longer and complex than that and worth every minute of the album.  That is why Mastodon plays it from start to finish – even live – and that’s what makes it amazing.  It took about an hour to get through Crack the Skye and thankfully at this point we had moved to second row seats in the balcony where the sound was much better.  To Mastodon’s credit though, they did sound really good themselves – especially the vocals and harmonies.  After Crack the Skye Mastodon went into fan favorite mode and played various tracks from their previous albums, Blood Mountain, Leviathan, and Remission, for another hour.

When I left I was exhausted and happy and wanted to grow a beard.  Mastodon had exceeded my expectations and so had Between the Buried and Me and Valient Thorr.  Baroness was good, I just needed more – which is the sticking point.  Obviously, it is going to be difficult to give each band an adequate amount of time when all four of them could easily be the headliners.

Anyway, as a whole, I give the show 4 “Epic Beards” out of 5

By: Ian O. Fordyce


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