On May 8 in Oakland, CA, two high-and-mighty heavy metal tours collided and cooperated to create a huge metal-fest at one of the East Bay’s classiest joints, The Fox Theatre. The Fox originally opened in 1928 as a movie theatre and was designed with ornate, delicate crafting inside and out, with the architectural flair of an Indian Temple and a wholly unique style that redesigned building styles on the West Coast. After being closed down in 1966, the venue only recently reopened after a massive renovation. Although an unlikely choice for a crusty metal-fest, the class and spiff of the Fox could not deter a horde of the Bay Area’s finest metal fans from coming out and getting sick with metal. The lineup was so thick that many days of mental preparation were not out of line — Mastodon, Between The Buried And Me, High On Fire, Baroness, Priestess, Valient Thorr, Black Cobra, Bison B.C., and more.
I attended with a good friend, Elvis deMorrow, in tow and we sat down for a post-concert conversation about the show as we let our metal hangovers subside.
Chizzly St. Claw: Metal brain. I laid in bed the next morning and felt tinnitus from earhole to earhole, despite the fact that the biggest complaint was the lackluster sound up until Mastodon. It was still loud enough to cause some sort of damage to my faculties.
Elvis deMorrow: Yeah, it was a dangerous brew: The early bands sounded terrible through the mix, but they were still pretty punishing volume-wise. Worst of both worlds.
C: It’s a bizarre venue for eight metal bands.
E: Also, as you know, earplugs generally filter out mid and high frequencies more than the low. So because the drums were overpowering guitars in the mix, it sounded even more unbalanced with ear plugs in. I kept switching mine in and out. There was a clear move upward in volume for High On Fire; the drums sounded like stampede under the second floor. I could tell Mastodon were too loud up front, but the guitars sounded so good I opted to take the punishment. My skull got rung pretty good.
C: I couldn’t help thinking the High On Fire drums had some kind of effect on them, like a slight delay or reverb. They sounded supernatural, like thundering horse’s hooves. High on Fire was the only 3-piece we saw, but they sounded so big.
E: Agreed. The cut down from two guitars to one for High On Fire clearly benefited them. I think they likely brought their own soundman, whereas the openers probably had the “house” man on the boards. There was something weird & thunderous about their drums, though I remain underwhelmed by their songwriting approach, leaving me clearly in the minority at this point. They just don’t interest me very much at a riff, vocal, or solo level. A solid ensemble, but nothing special to my ears.
C: I can’t help wanting to call Between The Buried And Me the Coldplay of metal.
E: Between Buried & Me are the NIN of metal!
C: Fair enough. NIN and Coldplay are the Phil Collins of noise. Between The Buried And Me seemed so out of place compared to the other bands.
E: I was loving Baroness because they brought the disco beats. No one should ever be afraid of the disco beats — all good guitars work well with disco beats. Then Mastodon played the entirety of their latest record, which is maximum disco beats. Every song moves in full circles, which becomes hypnotizing then a bit monotonous.
C: I was impressed by Baroness as well. Except for the dude’s vocals, which were too monochromatic for my tastes. I guess I have such a soft spot for Eric Adams that anyone who only re-enacts the chorus from “I Turned Into A Martian” underwhelms me.
E: It’s too bad that a band “ambitious” as Mastodon don’t push the vocal melodies much past the status quo of the last 10 years. The metal genre always benefits from dynamic and inventive singers, from Ozzy on to today. But they are always in short supply. Ozzy & Halford had more than three vocal melodies. Even Hetfield & Anselmo are diverse by current standards. I think Mastodon successfully broke the “taboo” of singing in a proper contemporary metal band; now they need to sing more than a handful of melodies.
C: Even though the crowd brought it up a notch for the Mastodon slampit, it still was a sub-par performance by the Bay Area metal thugs.
E: Any time you have a guy in a Zappa shirt who just wants to “watch the band, man” up in front of the stage two feet away from a Kerry King doppelganger, then the GDF (Gross Domestic FUN) is going to be negatively impacted all around. Everyone has to compromise in how they want to enjoy the show, which will prevent the overall magic from rising through the roof.
C: We saw no death or thrash metal on this bill, which I think contributed to the overall lackluster slampit scene. Well, that and the jackboot efficiency of the Fox security force. Their stormtrooper approach keeps it clean… Perhaps cleaner than metal should be? At least first aid was quick to aid the puking waste-oid with road rash on his nose in the smoking hole. That’s one squad that should always show up quicker than later.
E: Yeah, I thought for the most part the security had the PRC style down: omnipresent but seldom seen in action. I think a lot of the incongruent behavior was simply due to how classy the joint was. It is rare to see anything tougher than Santana in a venue like that, or maybe Tool would play there.
C: Avett Brothers. Eww.
E: I think this speaks a lot to the civilising potential of one’s surroundings and why most contemporary Americans have been severely insulted, degraded & retarded by our architectural and civil engineering environments over the past several decades. A Minnesotan once told me: “if you don’t clean your apartment before you host a party, the guests will totally trash the place.” He was correct. You go to the Fox Theatre, I don’t care who is playing — you don’t feel compelled to piss on the carpet. In general, venues that implicitly ‘invite’ more use and abuse will make for better tribal catharsis/raw thrills. Venues that look like the Fox interior will make for better Santana solos.