Better Than: Getting home in time for Robot Chicken.
The current Dethklok tour, which landed at Pompano Beach Amphitheater this past Sunday, was a work of booking genius. A headlining set by a band birthed on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block got kiddies -- literally -- in and headbanging to quality metal. (Seriously, imagine the future coolness of someone who could count Mastodon as one of his or her first shows.) And the high-in-underground-cred acts -- High on Fire in an amphitheater! -- lured in those of us who might not otherwise head out to see a band that, while wildly (if weirdly) popular, is essentially based on a parody cartoon.
As such, the age spread was wide at Sunday's show, and the crowd was one of the most robust I've seen at the venue, despite incessant wind and on-and-off drizzle. Things started way early (perhaps to get fans in home to watch Adult Swim?), actually, maybe a little too early. Gnarly Oakland heshers High on Fire went on at 6:30 p.m. on the dot. It was a far cry from the previous settings in which they payed South Florida, in the club settings of Revolution and Churchill's. They adapted well. For just three guys, their sound was pure muscle and power. It was also markedly less dark than it has been in recordings, and noticeably sped up. Nearly ever song seemed to match the almost-punk clip of "Rumors of War," from the band's last studio album, Death is this Communion, which also served as the set closer.
The following set, by the Massachusetts foursome Converge, kept up the uptempo energy. Well, they amped it up times ten. You can always depend on a live set by a band whose singer can be seen, barely offstage, jumping in circles to get himself going. And it was such that Jake Bannon was out of the gate, pacing and swinging his microphone with the assuredness of a rabble-rouser used to whipping his crowd into a frenzy. And though he and his bandmates somehow manage to make grown-ass men lose their shit, Bannon is actually a quite empathetic bandleader. He thanks the audience frequently, introduces songs clearly, thanks newbies for their presence, and generally seems genuinely grateful to be onstage. Yay for hardcore ideals.
And though the guitar was mixed down frustratingly low, the squall produced by bassist Nate Newton, guitarist Kurt Ballou, and drummer Ben Koller was powerful. The set covered a fan-pleasing spread, too. There were, of course, songs from the band's most recent album for Epitaph, Axe to Fall, including "Reap What You Sow" and "Dark Horse." But there were also some from 2006's You Fail Me, as well as a couple from the band's 2001 classic Jane Doe, including the clever set-ender "Concubine."
But where things went 1000 miles per hour for High on Fire and Converge, they slowed down considerably for Mastodon. I'm a Mastodon fan, and this was my third time seeing the band in the past 15 months. Each time, they've gotten progressively, exponentially out there. Actually, they seem to be turning into a latter-day Neurosis. Where they used to play under straightforward lighting and in front of simple painted backdrops, now they've got a full on show. Above hung a huge screen with a shifting display of visuals -- trippy, colored swirling imagery inspired by artwork from the band's latest album, Crack the Skye, as well as old black-and-white horror movie clips. The band is also now near invisible, shrouded in darkness and lit up only with some purple or blue.
Mastodon also went specifically for a drowning, slow-building set list. No fast trip through crowd-pleasers here. Zero stage patter, either. And though Mastodon's playing is always at 100 percent, the band's set was marred on Sunday by noticeable sound problems -- some speaker on the left side of the stage kept cutting in and out, at first adding to the psychedelia but eventually becoming irritating. Shame on whatever sound person didn't catch that beforehand. And anybody who felt it an injustice that the band was going on before Dethklok should have been satisfied with the length of the band's set, about an hour and a half. It has to be said, that length and the general musical mood left many of the less-than-fanatic with asses in seats by the end. Still, it's fascinating to watch Mastodon blossom fully into its born epic weirdness.
Last, of course, came Dethklok. The band is both a fictional one, the subject of the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim cartoon Metalocalypse, as well as a real-life one, with full albums spun off from the show. So, which incarnation would appear here? The answer: both. The real people introduced themselves and played, centered around series creator and vocalist/guitarist Brendon Small. Above them, a screen played matched-to-the-mood clips of the animated Dethklok. There were new stand-alone segments (no music), including an involved but funny fictional behind-the-scenes tour, narrated by the band's mascot, Face Bones.
The band played, like Mastodon, under low lighting, leaving most of the focus on the animation on-screen. Still, though the band have have started in parody, in real life the music is actually pretty top-notch. The members of the lineup are no slouches, including two Zappa sidemen and awesome metal drummer Gene Hoglan. What an awesome gateway band for the kids with parents cool enough to let them attend a show on a school night.
Personal Bias: I love Converge's particular breed of fan as much as the band itself.
Random Detail: I was distracted for a few minutes by a sugar daddy/baby couple across the aisle, the latter's ass bared in the wind as she dry humped her date. I guess Mastodon makes some people really horny.
By the Way: Four bands, and not a single T-shirt meant specifically for ladies? Metal may be a sausage fest, but damn. Sometimes us females want a wearable souvenir that doesn't have extra-long man sleeves!
(Update: I didn't see these clearly labeled at the show, but if you want to snag something for the ladies or the babies, here is the online Adult Swim shop link for a Dethklok girls' T-shirt
, a tank top
, and even a onesie