It turns out that this show took place the same night as my son's high school prom. Since he's a junior, he didn't feel any particular pressure (and probably any motivation) to go, but he also didn't feel like telling everyone he was going to a metal show instead of his prom. Somehow, his friends got the impression that we were going to a funeral instead of the prom. I'm not sure it had anything to do with Graveyard appearing on this tour, but it didn't help. The two of us laughed about it all through Graveyard's set. We weren't at a funeral, but we certainly were at Graveyard.
For anyone not familiar with Graveyard, they play a blend of music perhaps best described as a blend of 70s-era psychedelic rock and, perhaps, contemporary sludge. I heard one person describe them as sounding like Led Zeppelin if that band had never broken up. Somehow I don't think that's the best description. Sure, there are times when Joakim Nilsson is definitely channeling Robert Plant's vocals, but the band doesn't strike me as trying to be like anyone in particular. Instead, the guys simply blend various styles into something all their own. Obviously, nobody will deny the influence of the 70s on the music here, but this band is no mere nostalgia act, simply nodding to the past to sell records in the present. Instead, Graveyard takes the best of the past and gives it new life. I found the band's set to be as strong and convincing as they come.
The best thing about Graveyard is that the music never lets go of its overall groove, particularly in the slower sections of songs. This is crucial because this band regularly writes songs with long sections of slower-tempo chords, parts that could easily lag behind the beat were the band not paying attention to the long-term effect of the music. Playing slower songs often risks losing audience interest, particularly in a live setting where restless fans anxiously await the headliner to take the stage. But Graveyard somehow knows the secret of letting things breathe and develop, creating a rhythm that oozes with swagger, emotion, and charm. The result is a set of convincing music that weaves all the crescendos and decrescendos into an emotional and convincing experience.
The drummer, Axel Sjöberg, was especially good at pressing things forward. He fills the music with rhythms, both fascinating and groovy. At one point, a drum stick actually flew out of his grasp, flying far beyond his reach. Without missing a beat (yes, pun intended), he simply grabbed another one and kept things moving. The rest of the band delivered the music with no less intensity and strength. As a band, Graveyard has obvious talents. This is a band to watch.
Clutch's stage set, like Graveyard's, was modest, a simple backdrop with the logo and artwork from Earthrocker. But Clutch never really needed extras to prove they are worth an hour of one's time. As before, the set opened with Chuck Brown's "We Need Money" playing in the background. I don't know if Clutch uses this intro every night, but they used it both times I've seen them. I love the way the song sets up the groove of the set while also reminding everyone that touring is an essential part of commerce.
For those who have never seen Clutch in concert, they are superb, the kind of band that has endless amounts of energy and keeps things exciting until the end. In some ways, I prefer Clutch in concert than on recordings. Some bands have power on the stage that music videos or recordings don't quite capture. I think Clutch is one of those bands. Neil Fallon is particularly fun to watch. Despite recent problems with his back and neck, Neil Fallon is an endless source of energy, swagger, and movement. He performs lyrics as though he were sharing something essential about himself. Even better, the rest of the band is so good that things are never just about Neil. Even though the music is mostly heavy rock with long bursts of funk and attitude, Clutch sometimes reminds me of a punk band. I'm not saying the music is punk; there's just an energy here that I would love to see break loose even more. These guys could do it. Highlights of the set, for me at least, were "I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth," "Escape from the Prison Planet," and "D. C. Sound Attack." For that last song, the band invited Brent Hinds to play slide guitar which was cool. Neil said this was the first time they'd done that. The band also played two new songs, "Psychic Warfare" and "X-Ray Visions." Both were solid; I especially liked "Psychic Warfare." Neil said he's still learning the lyrics to "X-Ray Visions." The new album comes out in the Fall.
I've seen Mastodon several times and they never disappoint. I know that lots of people say that they sometimes sound weak in concert, particularly in the vocals, but that has not necessarily been my experience. I would agree that the vocals are sometimes better-sounding than other times, but they've never been awful. One time, Brann covered pretty much all of the vocal duties. Most of the time, however, it's Brent and Troy on vocals. This time, all three of them performed various vocal duties—Brann seems to cover most of the choruses on the newer songs. I'm not sure that there's an exact pattern to it, but things seemed OK. I was disappointed that Mastodon did not play "Blood and Thunder" on this stop of the tour. They played it on other stops—and with Neil Fallon on vocals. Given Neil's part on the original recording of that song, it seems like a no-brainer to play it every night. For some reason, though, they've been closing out some nights with "The Czar" instead. The other sad thing about Mastodon's set was that it sounded like they were just getting warmed up by the time it was over. Whereas Graveyard and Clutch hit the ground running and never wavered, Mastodon started strong, but waned slightly around the mid-point of things. Unfortunately, by the time things began to pick up, the band's set was over. For me, the highlights of their set included "Bladecatcher," a song they've not played live in a very long time (if at all), "Halloween," a strong track from the new album, and "Oblivion," an old favorite. "Aqua Dementia" also sounded great. They should have played some more songs. Things ended just after 11, not exactly a late night for these guys.