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May 16, 2007

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May 15, 2007
Kool Haus
Toronto, ON

Without a doubt, this has to be the strangest tour of the year. Mastodon, Against Me, Cursive and These Arms Are Snakes are bands so disparate that you'd never imagine hearing them mentioned in the same sentence, let alone performing together on a high profile tour. But there they were, drawing a wide assortment of kids to the Kool Haus Tuesday night, despite none of the groups' fans having much respect for the others.

Regardless of how radically different each of the bands are, shows like this need to happen for a variety of reasons. For one, they allow people to explore different areas of music they may not have heard before. For another, it lets amazing underground acts like These Arms Are Snakes play for audiences who would never get to see them otherwise.

TAAS opened the night to little fanfare, but they're a band who are used to getting more odd stares than hearty applause. Opening with "Mescaline Eyes" from last year's Easter, one of 2006's most criminally overlooked albums, the Seattle quartet picked the most energetic cuts to play to a mostly jaded audience.

People started coming around towards the end of their set, however, as it was hard to deny the energy put forth by frontman Steve Snere. Blowing through older tracks "Angela's Secret" and "Payday Loans," even the morons clamouring for Mastodon grudgingly applauded the band. It's a shame TAAS didn't get to play longer, as they were easily the most captivating of the four.

It came as a bit of a surprise that Cursive played before Against Me!, but Tim Kasher and co. didn't seem fazed in the least. Dressed to the nines in suits and tuxes, Conor Oberst's buddies were so confident in their playing that you'd think they were headlining.

They stuck closely to songs from their latest LP, Happy Hollow, and brought along two horn players to flesh out "Big Bang" and "Dorothy At Forty." The horns also adequately replaced the strings for Ugly Organ track "The Recluse," smugly answering the questions of how they'd pull off their older material without a string section.

The songs that got the most applause were the two from Domestica, "The Martyr" and "The Game Of Who Needs Who The Worst." Kasher seemed to know his followers were dying to hear these songs, as he let out his signature scream out the loudest during the more intense moments.

I guess I was the only person who thought Cursive should have switched positions with Against Me!, as the punks turned out to be just as big a draw as the headliners. They're one of those bands I'm relatively indifferent towards, as I know they're a righteous punk act, but they just don't grab my attention.

Of course, it doesn't matter what I think, as seemingly everyone else went insane the second the Floridians took the stage. Every song sounded more or less the same to me, but the kids stomped and moshed for the majority of the set. The collective energy between the band and the fans seemed to mellow near the end. Perhaps the crowd realized the quartet weren't doing much more than yelling and pumping their fists? Either way, they didn't do much to win over indifferent sorts, like myself.

With the release of Blood Mountain and its unanimous approval from virtually every major music publication, Mastodon have crossed over to become the indie fan's metal band of choice. This bill seemed to represent that, and I fully expected the elitists to outnumber the metalheads. I was wrong. Everyone who booed the first two bands finally got their wish when the Georgian metal monsters finally took the stage to play what was easily the most boring set of the night.

There's nothing particularly wrong with Mastodon's live show, but the fact that they always manage to pick better live bands to tour with, mixed with their unbelievably mundane stage presence makes watching them a chore. They're the kind of band you want to root for, as they're one of the few who write genuinely heartfelt and innovative metal, but they've got to stop playing the same damn songs and start moving around a little more.

The crowd responded warmly to the headliners, as expected, but even they seemed somewhat disappointed on the whole. With a bill this diverse and bands who are undeniably talented luminaries in their respective scenes, you'd expect fans to embrace each act with open arms. Instead, the opening bands were generally shunned and ignorant audience members went out of their way to ruin it for fans of those bands.

Hopefully the attitude of a few mouth breathers won't stop diverse tours from being put together, because this was one of the most refreshingly unique bills in a while. Kudos to Mastodon for taking along three fantastic bands and not buckling under the pressure of their metalhead fanbase.

Chart Attack

Shehzaad Jiwani