April 20th 2017, The Palladium, Hollywood CA: Mastodon’s new tour in promotion of their brand new studio release ‘Emperor of Sand’ had a pit stop at the historic Hollywood Palladium. The highly publicized release and subsequent tour landed Mastodon a chance to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live earlier this month, and the news has hit just about every press outlet in existence. I caught Mastodon four years ago at the 2013 Download Festival in England when they played on the main stage and performed a set in promotion of their then latest studio record ‘The Hunter’. At the time, I was not won over as a fan, but that could have been because I had not developed a wider and more accepting metal worldview, but that show left a lasting impression on me, exemplifying the particular nature of the band’s sound. Fast forward to 2017, here I was at a sold-out Hollywood Palladium show, in an altogether different atmosphere.
For one, attending this show was something of a spectacle. As I walked up to the venue, about an hour before the show was set to start, the line peered almost a couple of blocks as fans of all three bands lined up for the security screening. I had not seen anything like it, but if you have never set foot inside the Palladium, it is one of the most beautiful, grand venues I have ever had the pleasure to experience. The 5000-capacity venue has certainly hosted its fair share of major metal acts over the years, and for Mastodon in particular, this stage was one of the grandest of them all. Even bassist and frontman Troy Sanders mentioned that each time they roll through town, “the stages get bigger and bigger”.
Before I stepped into the venue, the names of Russian Circles, the shoegaze experimental instrumental power trio, and Eagles of Death Metal, the classic blues rock band, certainly rang many bells. For one, I was fortunate enough to catch Russian Circles back in February 2013 when they opened up for Between the Buried and Me and Coheed and Cambria, and I certainly appreciated their set. I was excited to catch the development of this group since four years is a long time for a band to develop, and to see Russian Circles on such a big stage was definitely inspiring. Secondly, Eagles of Death Metal, a band that I had no prior engagement with other than hearing of the awful attacks that took place in Paris in November 2015, was a dark horse in my book. The seemingly star-studded lineup drew in a sold out crowd as thousands of fans in their freshly purchased Russian Circles, Eagles of Death Metal, and Mastodon band tees drew the widest of smiles as they walked into the venue. The anticipation was certainly felt across the ballroom for many.
Chicago trio Russian Circles took the stage in front of a very receptive crowd, and heads slowly started banging to the band’s tune. What immediately came to mind as a comparison was Alcest, a blackgaze band out of France, in reference to the Russian Circles sound. With simple chord strumming, booming and consistent drone of distorted guitars and the cymbal crashes, they kept things fresh and gave fans a wide display of their musical ability in being able to produce interesting shoegaze without vocals. I watched on, and as the band paused between songs, they were met with applause, raised rock fists and metal horns. What Russian Circles has is their unique sound. Post-rock is a genre I am not well versed in, but they also reminded me of the bands Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky. I also considered them to be around the same boat as Deafheaven, but not as heavy. Despite that, the music has a way of permeating through you.
Their set was well received. As the house lights suddenly came on, and off they went as the stage hands rushed the stage to start setting up for the next act, I felt impressed. Four years is a long time for a band, and to see their professional development evolve onto some of the larger stages across the United States really shows that this group has the talent and musical capacity to continue drawing a larger and broader audience. I did not have any reservations of the band, despite playing a genre of music I am not particularly fond of or knowledgable in. Actually, on the contrary, the band further cemented its style within the metal community as a strong, headline capable, post-rock act. I for one always long for showmanship and visual displays when bands try to prove themselves on stage, but for Russian Circles, they did not need that. The music spoke for them.
Russian Circles set list:
3. Harper Lewis
I was in heavy anticipation for this Eagles Of Death Metal to hit the stage. Not a metal band per se, but the group is heavily versed in the canon of bluesy hard rock. As the lights went out and the band filled the stage, a tall, well dressed man clad in all white clothing with red suspenders and sunglasses came out with the prototypical fanfare a frontman receives. But something was rather different about this group, and it took until after I got home for me to be able to put my finger on it.
The opening track, ‘I Only Want You’ summoned guitarist Brent Hinds to the stage and the crowd erupted. EODM frontman Jesse Hughes had this way of moving around the stage elegantly and showy, but without seeming arrogant. The crowd sang along to the band’s opening track and the mood of the evening shifted rather dramatically. Banging heads turned into smiling faces, and rock fists turned into dances. Their music had this blues rock sound to it, almost like the opening music track on those ’70s and ’80s movies set in Las Vegas. Their sound was reminiscent of Johnny Cash and even Creedence Clearwater Revival I would say, but a bit more modern. The closest sounding band of similar caliber I would say is Queens of the Stone Age. A rather dramatic departure from the headliner’s sound, EODM fit surprisingly well onto the bill.
The band went on and on through their set and not once did they let up. Hughes had this way about him to keep the high energy rock n’ roll going and his demeanor had a glowing charisma to him. Their bassist, Jennie V, a slender, petite blonde, was able to keep pace with the rest of the group. Her style and appearance definitely added to the glamour and aura that the band had while they performed and she even did a mild bass solo that drew in cheers from the fans. One thing to note was that the band covered ‘Moonage Daydream’ by the late David Bowie and performed it exceptionally. Furthermore, the 10-song set was incredibly well-received. The crowd roared as they sang along with Hughes, and often times Hughes made mention that his particular night was special to him. EODM certainly has a massive draw and rightfully so. As each song flowed into the other, the fans wanted more and more. People all around me sang the songs front to back and without a stutter. The star power of the group, combined with the commercial rock sound is definitely attractive to a lot of fans. The charisma, sex appeal, and expressive showmanship of the entire group almost stole the show, and for just a brief moment, I had forgotten that we were all there for a Mastodon show.
Eagles Of Death Metal set list:
01. I Only Want You
02. Make A Bang
07. Moonage Daydream (David Bowie)
08. Wanna Be in LA
09. Boys Bad News
10. Speaking in Tongues
As the night hour drew closer, everyone was in anticipation of the headiner after experiencing the melancholic Russian Circles and the groove rocking Eagles of Death Metal. As the booze kept flowing and the pot smoke filled the ballroom, the fans chanted “Mastodon! Mastodon!” as they eagerly waited for them to hit the stage. When Mastodon came on stage, almost 3500 fans thundered the Hollywood Palladium. It was something that one must definitely experience at this historic venue. The crowd seemingly rushed and piled through to get as close as they could to the guard rail, and all of the commotion partnered with the metal elements of the band compelled hundreds of people to start a large mosh pit smack dab center of the room.
The band opened up with the song ‘Sultan’s Curse’. The shift into a heavier rock sound mixed with experimental elements really was a noticeable one in the mood of the evening. The rock n’ roll vibe left behind by Eagles of Death Metal was replaced by odd meters, grungy guitar sounds, and a distinctly different vocal timbre. A few songs in, the band went straight into ‘Crystal Skull’, a fan favorite. This was when the moment struck for hundreds of fans to continue moshing and to start crowd surfing. The multifaceted group that often trades lead vocals from song to song, kept the fans piqued.
I must make mention of the astonishing visuals and backdrop for the band. The artwork for the album ‘Emperor of Sand’ is fantastic, and paired with a 6-panel led light display it was a unique twist to their stage presence. The band’s sound, often considered to be psychedelic, doomy, and musically non-linear, complemented the visuals well. Mastodon set a rather dark tone with their lighting rig to pair it with their equally dark-sounding music.
The band played songs from all seven of their studio records and got it just about equally distributed, except, not surprisingly, ‘Emperor Sand’ which garnered the broadest play with 8 of its tracks in total. It is no accident that the band chose to perform so many songs off their newest record, since it was so well-received by the press and their fans.
One thing I noticed was that the band played an extensive 22-song setlist. Sometimes I would peer through the crowd and see the fans starting to lose it and fade out for a bit, either because they were not familiar with the current song that the band was playing or they just had enough of the band. Granted, their musical style requires a lot of processing, and if you are not well versed in their music, things start to feel a little… extraneous. The band has this way of bombastically putting their songs together for the sake of sounding psychedelic or progressive, and at times it would feel like a little too much to handle. An overexposure of Mastodon isn’t for the casual fan, but they seem like the type of band that has thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of superfans that know each of their songs and live and die for the group. These types of people were certainly there in this sold-out crowd and enjoyed the performance.
Based on this performance, I certainly was able to understand why the band has ascended to sell out venues like the Hollywood Palladium. Their metal elements attract the metalheads out there, but they certainly have a rock n’ roll feel, a more commercial sound, and this is what allows them to draw in a broader audience. The band powered through their 22-song set and capped off their show with a heartfelt thanks from the drummer, to all fans that have allowed Mastodon to continue to play to bigger audiences and to bring along with them big name acts like EODM and Russian Circles as support.
In conclusion, a very diverse three-band lineup, and an extensive Mastodon headline set right up the alley for the band’s most dedicated fans.
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Mastodon set list:
01. Sultan’s Curse
03. The Wolf Is Loose
04. Crystal Skull
05. Ancient Kingdom
07. Black Tongue
08. Colony of Birchmen
09. Ember City
13. Feast Your Eyes
14. Show Yourself
15. Precious Stones
16. Roots Remain
17. Chimes at Midnight
20. Mother Puncher
21. Circle of Cysquatch
22. March of the Fire Ants
Remaining Tour Dates:
04/23/2017 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Complex
04/24/2017 – Denver, CO @ Fillmore
04/26/2017 – Kansas City, KS @ Uptown Theater
04/27/2017 – St. Louis, MO @ Pageant
04/28/2017 – Birmingham, AL @ Iron City
04/29/2017 – Jacksonville, FL @ Welcome to Rockville Festival*
04/30/2017 – Ft. Myers, FL @ Fort Rock Festival*
05/02/2017 – Washington DC @ Fillmore
05/03/2017 – Toronto, ON @ Rebel
05/04/2017 – Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theater
05/05/2017 – Charlotte, NC @ Carolina Rebellion Festival*
05/06/2017 – Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
05/08/2017 – Boston, MA @ House Of Blues
05/09/2017 – Portland, ME @ State Theater
05/11/2017 – New York, NY @ Hammerstein Ballroom
05/12/2017 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
05/13/2017 – Chicago, IL @ Aragon Ballroom
05/14/2017 – Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Theatre
05/16/2017 – Detroit, MI @ Royal Oak Theater
05/17/2017 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
05/18/2017 – Memphis, TN @ Minglewood Hall
05/19/2017 – Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Live
05/20/2017 – Austin, TX @ ACL Live
* = Mastodon festival appearance