LIVE REVIEW: MASTODON, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, & RUSSIAN CIRCLES at the Warfield
Ah yes, San Francisco’s famous Warfield theater. It’s been a long time since I’ve set foot here. The line for the door passes urine soaked walls, phone accessory stores, battered vacant storefronts, and of course,the divey looking strip club Crazyhorse. A show here wouldn’t be the same without this bummer of a pregame. Despite this, tonight spirits will be lifted with some emotional instru-metal from Russian Circles, rocking good times from Eagles of Death Metal, and the sludge infused progressive mastery of the mighty Mastodon.
After about an hour of beer sipping, merch perusing, and general phone battery draining, Russian Circles began our evening, and it was a treat to revisit them. I saw them perform once before on this very stage opening for Between the Buried and Me and Coheed & Cambria, and they were a colossal force. While the setlist changed since then with new additions like material from last year's Guidance record ,their ability to move heads and hypnotize an audience hasn’t. Bassist Brian Cook was the conductor of head banging this evening and then he moved, the audience moved.
Instrumental music, especially in a live setting, can lose some people, but these guys make you forget they are devoid of vocals. The lightshow was simple, but perfect as they appeared to be ripping a hole into the fabric of space to crush this audience with sound then disappear from whence they came. Their set was fantastic, and like my wrap up for them, all too brief.
Up next, on this interesting tour package was Eagles of Death Metal. The band are not a metal band by any means, but they have enough ties to the scene that they are accepted, and this audience was stoked. They kicked off their set with the really early track “I Only Want You,” which I fully expected them to end with. Opening with it turned out to be the right choice, as it set the tone for their set of catchy, fun, rocking songs. Also Brent Hinds joined them for it.
As their performance unfolded, I found my self expecting them to play one song in particular in“I Love You all The Time.” It became the band’s anthem following the attack during their set in France in 2015, so it seemed like an obviously inclusion. Maybe because of that, they don’t play it as much. I’ve never seen EoDM in any setting before, so it’s hard for me to say what seems normal for them, but that one thing felt abnormal as an outsider. A pleasant surprise came when they did cover David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" which was neat.
I’ll be honest here. I don’t love Eagles of Death Metal’s music. However, I get it, and I get it more so seeing them live. The thing that makes EoDM work is the fact that the music just makes people feel good. There is no bullshit. It’s all rock music for the sake of rock music (which actually may make it 100% bullshit?). Everything sucks right now in the world, and their set felt hopeful. The set was a fun one, and it absolutely had the potential to feel too out of place, and it didn’t.
Wrapping the evening was the always solid Mastodon. Fresh(ish) off the release of their fantastic record, Emperor of Sand, the band perfectly weaved new tracks into their set. Songs like ‘Sultan’s Curse,” “Andromeda” and even the divisive “Show Yourself” have so much more life on a stage. Unfortunately, for as great as the new songs are, they don’t have the nostalgia bump behind them just yet. An album or two down the road “Steambreather,” “Roots Remain,” and others they played that night, will get so much more love. Classics like “Megalodon,” “Divinations,” “The Wolf is Loose,” and “Mother Puncher” got the crowd moving in manic manner. Hell, even the few songs from Once More ‘Round The Sun and the sole track from The Hunter got people excited. I contend those tracks are still great, but I also see why old school fans would write them off.
It was a refreshing set overall. Like I said, some classics remain, but the band retired some old tricks. I Love the guitar-work of Brent Hinds, but I was okay with not hearing his usual chicken picking solo followed by “Aqua Dementia,” and (brace yourself for some Mastodon blasphemy) I was good with them not playing “Blood and Thunder.” I get that it’s THE Mastodon song, but I also get as a band with such an expansive and diverse catalog, I can see them being over always having to play it. Also, as a fan of their that has seem them eight times now, it is a song that can be skipped, and I’m cool with it, unless they tour with Clutch again and Neil Fallon has another drop in.
Each time I see them I realize more and more, that drummer Brann Dailor is a secret weapon of theirs. Sure, he is one of the finest drummers of recent decades, but over the last several records he has essentially become co-lead singers with bassist Troy Sanders. The new record had me curious how some sections would work on the stage due to the technicality of Brann’s playing. It has got to be difficult to perform a whirlwind of fills and also vocalize, but goddammit he does it, and he does it well. The vocals of Hinds were not as perfect, however his approach to them seems more punk rock in a way, and it’s almost more ideal when imperfect.
It was also nice to see the band in good spirits. They had a few silly jokes with the audience, and were being playful with one another. This might seem like an odd thing to highlight, but I've seen them a handful of times where they hit the stage, play their set, an fuck off into the night without a word or smile. They were a fun, and it was a little thing that made the night more fun. I attribute this element of joy to the Eagles of Death Metal, because they make it impossible not to be happy.
While I don’t think any set will top when I saw them play Crack The Skye in its entirety, this one was pretty high up there for me. It could have used a little more Leviathan ("Megalodon" was it), but I could could write an entire second set of songs I wished they played on top of this evening's set. Still, they’re an old faithful at this point. I know they’re going to be coming around and I know they’re going to be great. It’s hard to be mad about that. Still, I haven’t been this excited to see them in a long time. The new record is great and they play a lot of it, and I knew they would. So catch this tour. Simple as that, I’d imagine Mastodon will be back sooner than later as they are perpetual roaddogs, but this is a solid package that feels unlike any tour roaming the country right now.
View the remaining tour dates here.