Mastodon Live

The future’s bright for Mastodon if the heavy black covers shielding the upstairs windows of the bar that look down on to the stage tonight are anything to go by.

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Or is it just a ploy by a band in the ascendancy to get punters out of the VIP area and into the thrashing, sold-out scrum below?

Not a bit of it. Mastodon, as befits a band that can see bigger things up ahead, are constructing the sort of stage set you could easily imagine wowing arena crowds all across America’s Eastern seaboard. So, along with the football field-sized album cover artwork stretched across the back of the stage like a giant acid flashback filled with dayglo monsters, there are banks of green lasers reaching upwards in dense banks, etching rods of light among the gloom.

It suits Mastodon. The Atlanta band have built a reputation based around tales of psychedelic excess, historical and literary ephemera – they’ll as happily namecheck the Elephant Man as they will Moby Dick – and a songbook that references everything from Zeppelin to Zappa, Sabbath and the swirling kaleidoscopic sounds of Hawkwind.

It’s a heady concoction, but one that’s slowly but surely colouring the musical consciousness. Not least here in the UK, where Once More ’Round The Sun got its freak flag flying by crashing into the Top 10, a new high for a band who’ve experienced so many.

There’s a parallel here: think 1981 when Rush crashed the mainstream. They might have captured radio’s attention with the thrumming, dense opening chord of Tom Sawyer (and already beaten up the charts a few years earlier with Spirit Of Radio), but Moving Pictures featured a 10-minute epic inspired by the writings of radical American novelist John Dos Passos, and an instrumental that was as jagged as it was melodious. Nothing had changed for Rush – the world had just caught up.

As is the case with Mastodon in 2014, there’s nothing so inherently different about the album’s title track or The Motherload as there is a song like the older, thundering Blasteroid or the woozy Oblivion, all in evidence tonight. Although the crowd is swelled with bodies from the field of wider recognition, Mastodon will look back at 2014 as the year when everything and everyone changed, but they, happily, stayed the same.

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.