Mastodon @ Fillmore At Irving Plaza

NEW YORK, NY—Mastodon’s rock opera, live. If you liked Crack The Skye on disc, then it only follows you’d like it on stage.

The Atlanta metal band’s overflowing aspirations extended right into the live show at Irving Plaza. Few acts are confident enough in their performance ability and the response of their fanbase to write a full-length concept record and then immediately tour the piece of work in its entirety. It’s fucking bold, you’ve got to give them that.

Having last seen Mastodon perform a very disappointing set at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple under Neurosis a few years back after a string of incredibly solid live performances, I was nervous as to how this Crack The Skye show was going to come off. And Crack The Skye has very few breaks, putting the band to work for 70 minutes straight, no stopping to tune, no pausing for a drink. It was a marathon.

And it looked it. By the end of the main set, the band was pouring with sweat and appeared exhausted. NYC wasn’t the first stop on this tour, and they were tight, I won’t deny it, but the intricacies of the guitar work in particular didn’t come through as well as they should have.

But the vocals were really what suffered. On the first two Mastodon full-lengths, a majority of the vocal duties were handled by bassist-and-front-and-center-man Troy Sanders. And percentage-wise, he still might take the lead. But as guitarist Brent Hinds and later drummer Brann Dailor have gradually claimed more and more vocal parts, the singing has started to get a little sloppy.

On Crack The Skye, there are harmonies in the beginning, and they sounded terrible. Hinds is usually sharp when he sings, and his voice has a lot of character, but coupled with Sanders and Dailor, the set was marred from the beginning. It started to correct itself later on (as Sanders takes up a lot of the later vocals and there are less harmonies as the record progresses), but it’s impossible to give them a pass on that.

It was, nonetheless, impressive. The packed crowd at Irving Plaza was receptive and knew much of the album already, and was enraptured for most of the set. Imagine, a bunch of metal kids behaving like they’re at a prog show. After all, they were. The trippy backdrop helped.

I do feel, however, as strong as Mastodon are as musicians, this was a lot to chew. Certain melody lines, from Hinds’ guitar in particular, were missing notes or were in general not up to par. It’s hard to really fault a guy who plays a thousand notes for missing three or four, but on Mastodon’s material, it really does make a difference, as it is approached from both a classic rock and metal perspective—two genres that don’t respond well to album-length work as being performed anything less than perfectly.

So there were high expectations, and while I don’t want to intimate the show wasn’t a successful one, Mastodon’s ambitions may soon get the better of them.