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LIVE! | Mastodon

by Alissa Ordabai
Staff Writer —

February 11, 2012 at Brixton Academy, London, U.K.

There couldn’t have been a greater difference between the finely wrought, multi-layered sound of Mastodon’s latest album and the way they sounded on the London date of their current tour. While most concert-goers know that projecting studio material live is a difficult art to master – especially if the songs are new – tonight’s performance showed that Mastodon this time have found it particularly hard.

To do the band justice, their muddled, edgeless soundscape on the night was to a large extent the sound engineer’s doing. The front of house mix was the worst this writer has ever witnessed at the 2000-seater Brixton Academy over the past 18 years: drums to the fore, guitars and bass crammed into mid-range and sharing so many frequencies they were losing their contours and becoming indistinguishable from each other, and vocals buried deep within the jumble of this unbalanced, disproportionate mix. And it would be hard to believe that the engineer could be following anyone else’s instructions and thickening up the band’s sound to the point where it became such a jumble.

As a result, even anthems such as “Black Tongue” and “All the Heavy Lifting” were projecting on the sheer power of the songwriting, but at half-strength, with riffs and grooves drowning in the mix where guitars were struggling for definition.

While in the studio Mastodon’s rhythm section is a formidable beast – locked in a powerful, textured, multi-layered interaction, tonight the drums and the bass seemed to exist in different dimensions. The drums were performing with their usual clockwork precision, but were excessively, unreasonably loud, while the bass sounded muddled and was scrambling for space with the guitars.

Songs followed each other in a stream of poorly defined texture, and it is the superb songwriting and nothing else that made “Black Tongue” and “Blasteroid” stand out from this sonic goulash.

Things picked up during “All the Heavy Lifting”, “Spectrelight” and “Curl of the Burl” – the highlights of the show which drew animated response from the sold-out venue. But if problems with the sound are that severe as they were on the night, all of it is bound to affect the musicians. And while Mastodon weren’t firing on all cylinders, you can’t fault the band for not giving up under the circumstances.
Mastodon, of course, are no virtuosos when it comes to instrumental skill, but flashy chops isn’t what this band is about. With them, it’s all about great grooves, epic moods (which sadly they were able to convey only occasionally this time), and the candour with which they channel the primordial archetypes to build and inhabit their universe.

The London date, while not projecting half of what Mastodon is capable of, was nevertheless a telling experience. It showed that with a certain type of band – where instrumental mastery is not the biggest aim – factors such a poor sound mix can turn what could still have been a good performance into a disappointment. And while band can create marvels in the studio, when it comes to touring, the whole thing turns into a completely different ballgame.

Set list:
1. Dry Bone Valley
2. Black Tongue
3. Crystal Skull
4. I Am Ahab
5. Capillarian Crest
6. Colony of Birchmen
7. Megalodon
8. Thickening
9. Blasteroid
10. Sleeping Giant
11. Ghost of Karelia
12. All the Heavy Lifting
13. Spectrelight
14. Curl of the Burl
15. Bedazzled Fingernails
16. Circle of Cysquatch
17. Aqua Dementia
18. Crack the Skye
19. Where Strides the Behemoth
10. Iron Tusk
11. March of the Fire Ants
12. Blood Thunder

Creature Lives

Photos Appear Courtesy of Alissa Ordabai


1 Comment on LIVE! | Mastodon

  1. Have to say i was massively dissapointed with the sound mix…really shocking at times…i only recognised a few of the songs and i’m a pretty big fan of Mastodon. Surely it can’t be that hard to sort out or is it just the acoustics of the academy?

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