Houston, We Have A Problem: Dethklok, Mastodon, Converge, High On Fire @ Verizon Wireless Theater, Houston, TX 11/12/09

As I’m walking to the Verizon Wireless Theater from my hotel, where I’ve just left my mom who frets like I’m still 16, I get to thinking…I was born about 10 miles away from here! I went to my first concert maybe 5 miles away, at a rodeo at the Astrodome, which may or may have not been George Strait. I left Houston at 13 years old, and while most of my extended family still resides in the area, I never claim it to be my home…it is just a place I was born.

I walk up to the venue, which is next to a Hard Rock Cafe (the other HRC), and join the 100 person or so line. As if on cue, a swarm of birds start flying around, making a huge racket. While I’m eying cover to protect myself from the inevitable poop storm, the guys behind me start mumbling about taking too many shrooms and are freaking out about the Hitchcockian atmosphere.

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We’re quickly let in, and while many went to buy merch, I scored a top notch spot at the rail on the right side. As the crowd settles in around me, I notice that it is both very young and very male…the dude a couple of dudes down from me went to his FIRST concert ever the night before at that very venue- and it was Rob Zombie- so I whip out my phone and show off my pic with Zombie and tell him that one of my first shows was White Zombie…..now I’m the concert vet….whoa.

As soon as High on Fire stroll out I am reminded why I’m here: a) great lineup and b) to see how a show progresses as a tour goes along. I saw the first show, where everything was shiny and new to them, confidence was wavering, and kinks were being worked out. Now, they’re close to being done, and they look road weary, comfortable, and confident. I was standing right in front of Matt Pike, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Sure, he’s rough around the edges, but he’s got an interesting swagger when he plays. Sometimes he one arms it, throwing his free hand in the air like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

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Between sets, a kid on the other side of me asks if I saw Bill from Mastodon out front. I said no, and the kid gets all excited because Bill asked him directions to something, and the kid was a like “OMG I touched your guitar when you were here in April”, and Bill was all ‘how did you touch my guitar?’, and the kid says….I dunno, I stopped listening because it was too cute. Turns out that the ‘supervisor’ (dad) for that group of kids doesn’t like Dethklok and didn’t even know the band was attached to a cartoon…I tried to explain, and failed, just like when I tried to explain it to my mom….

As Converge is setting up, I can see singer Jacob Bannon warming up on the side of the stage- it’s like a boxing warm-up. I find him to be a very interesting front man to watch. When he runs out on stage and starts growling into the mic, I wonder how many times he’s chipped teeth on the thing. It really looks like he’s slamming into his mouth…ouch. I love when he runs from side to side of the stage, like those awful calisthenics exercises we had to do in high school, especially his signature move where he spins around and throws his arm out midway across the stage. He’s incredibly intense, but reminds me of a little boy at the same time. He takes time to talk to the crowd, promoting their recently released album, and thanking everyone multiple times for supporting hardcore music by being there, especially with such a diverse lineup.

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As Mastodon is setting up, a security guard approaches me an asks for my name. I’m thinking, ‘oh great, what now…’, when he pulls out his camera. He asks if I would mind taking pictures of ‘his boys’ (the security guys) with Mastodon and Dethklok in the background, especially if they come out to the front part of the stage. I really couldn’t say no. However, I ask him to give me any guitar picks that fell on the other side of the barricade. He told the guys to make sure no crowd surfers hit me since I was photographing them for their website. It was….unusual. I leaned forward and looked up and down the barricade….yep, I probably looked the most ‘mature’ and harmless out of the bunch. If he only knew….

Mastodon came out, and I got very excited and then very disappointed in the span of about a minute. When Brent started singing in ‘Oblivion’, I couldn’t hear him. I had thought the Converge and HoF vocals were a bit muffled, but I wasn’t paying attention to their vocals as much. So I look to the side of each stage- no speakers. So I already know what I’m going to see when I look up- the speakers are behind us. This has happened to me once before- at the final NIN LITS show in Las Vegas– the Planet Hollywood theater is designed the same way. Epic design fail in my opinion. So, I’m fuming for a minute over that while I settle into the set. I realize that the guys look really tired and disconnected from the crowd. I wonder how many times they’ve played Crack the Skye from start to finish this year- is this the 52nd time? 76th? Who knows….but when they finish up this tour next weekend I hope they give it a good long break. Now this is not to say they didn’t play it well- of course they did an exceptional job.

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When the set reaches ‘Quintessence’, I’m thinking, wow- this crowd is soooo mellow! No one has bumped me, nothing. It’s as if someone heard me think that, conspired with everyone behind me, and decided to make me their bitch. It began slowly, kids started crowd surfing just for the sake of doing it. There were some guys behind me yelling for the older, harder stuff, and they started crowd surfing perhaps to amp up their enjoyment. At first, the surfers were contained to the usual middle of the pit. By the time we got to ‘Crack the Skye’, there were no less than four surfers up at one time, spread out across the entire width of the barrier. I spent most of that song and ‘The Last Baron’ (13 minutes long) ducked and covering my head as people were getting pulled out from on top of me. There were several repeat offenders- one who was a small guy who came over no less than 12 times. By the end, me and the guys around me had decided we wanted to take this guy down. So we turned around waiting for him and gave him what he had coming. Hope that asshole has some good bruises now.

Once they launched into the second part of their set: Circle of Cysquatch, Aqua Dementia, Where Strides the Behemoth, Motherpuncher, and The Bit; things got worse. The security got tired I think, and I missed being able to duck and got kicked in the head hard enough to see stars (but it was by a chick, so I gave her a pass), and then got kicked in the shoulder blade bad. The weird thing was that there was never a crowd crush except for maybe once or twice- so people weren’t surfing to escape the crush or anything like that. Apparently Houstonians just really like to surf…I mean, they are crazy enough to surf this. I’ve never had security personally come up to me and ask if I was ok during a set- they offered to bring me cups of water and everything- but I’m a pro and I can take it like a man. Don’t treat HRC like a princess. Well, sometimes it ok….

Mind you, I’m trying to take pictures for this security dude, as well as enjoy this amazing unobstructed view of one of my favorite bands, and take in their awesome visuals on the back screen. As I mentioned in my write up of the first show of this tour, the band comes alive when they finish CTS. This was even more apparent here, and I remembered why I made the trek for this and all the being beat up by crowd surfers became worth it. They just look like they are having more fun, and are more dynamic in moving around on the stage. While I love each of of the guys in this band for their amazing musicianship and hair, as readers know I am particularly fond of Troy, and the second part of this set proved it to me once again that he is one of my favorites.

At the end of the set, Bill threw out a couple of picks and one landed on the ground in front of me. The security guard scooped it up and handed it to me for taking the pictures for him. It might be my favorite guitar pick I have now.

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During the set up for Dethklok, a clip came on that featured the main character for Brutal Legend with Dethklok- a clever little ad for the captive audience. People are chanting ‘Dethklok’, and I brace myself for more crowdsurfers when the bands comes out. It was funny, the first three crowd surfers were all girls. Chicks dig the Dethklok, man. I spent most of this set enjoying the animations and watching Brendon Small. You know, he is really a good guitar player. He’s effortless- his fingers just dance along the frets as he looks out at the crowd…he doesn’t have to look down. And he’s playing some pretty fast and complex stuff, too. I’m impressed- and it’s always the ones that are multi-talented, too: comedian, writer, composer, guitarist….jeez.

I love singing “Do you folks like coffee?” with a crowd full of people. Also, ‘Murmaider’…..check…check….check……hahaha good times. People really know the words to all of these songs. In the encore, ‘Nathan Explosion’ and ‘Pickles’ and ‘Skwisgaar’ made fun of Texas, talking about the Dallas Cowboys and cheerleaders and such. And then as quickly as it began, it finished…and I gave the camera back to security, luckily in one piece.

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I stopped by merch on the way out and was pleased to discover they had a special show poster, which I gladly snatched up.

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And that makes 2 of 4 Mastoklok shows for HRC….stay tuned.

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