The band Mastodon lives up to and defies its name: a four-piece rock band with a mammoth sound that can be as finessed as it is large, loud and heavy.
Wednesday night, Mastodon headlined a diverse three-band bill at the Uptown Theater, drawing a crowd of about 2,000 that withstood 90 minutes of frenetic and complex music delivered in punishing volumes but with jazz-like precision and, at times, with pop sensibilities.
Mastodon is a four-piece from Atlanta, a heavy, sludgy and adventurous progressive-metal band that takes chances other bands in its genre don’t. Its vocals set it apart immediately.
To the uninitiated, Troy Sanders appears to be the band’s lead vocalist, but all four members contribute vocally, including hyper-energetic drummer Brann Dailor, who does much of his band’s heavy lifting. At times he sounds like two high-speed drummers executing and navigating complex rhythms and shifting time signatures yet remaining in pocket all the while. A Mastodon song can sound like two or three songs in one, a series of modes that can change so abruptly it can seem unclear whether they’ve swerved into a new song or are pursuing new directions abruptly within the same song, and Dailor is the component that keeps all that energy and motion on the rails.
Their musicianship and execution are impressive. Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher deliver the guitars by the tonnage, and a substantial part of their sound feels like well-orchestrated chaos: barrages of percussion and propulsive or shredding guitars that veer off on forays of their own but also stay precariously attached to the song’s narrative. The vocals stitch it all together, infusing the blitzkrieg with melody lines that resound deepest when three or four of them are singing together.
Mastodon is touring on “Emperor of Sand,” its seventh full-length, released in March. With a garish light show popping and exploding from behind them, they performed more than half of its 11 tracks, songs like “Ancient Kingdom,” “Roots Remain” and “Precious Stones.”
They also visited songs from previous albums, like “Ember City” from “Once More ‘Round the Sun,” showcasing the ever-changing sound of a 15-year-old band that has figured out that the sure way to avoid extinction is to continue to evolve.
Eagles of Death Metal: They followed an opening set from the instrumental trio Russian Circles. EODM will forever be associated with the deadly terrorist attack at Bataclan in Paris in November 2015, when gunmen killed about 90 fans inside the nightclub before an EODM show. On this night, however, they were in a spirited mood, taking the stage to Pilot’s “Magic,” a novelty pop hit from 1974.
Throughout the 45-minute set, frontman Jesse Hughes bounced about the stage, leading his band through a series of sludgy, blues-based rock songs, some with kitschy titles, that weren’t written to be taken completely seriously. Their cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” was the exception.