Rocket Queen: Levitate Me

Mastodon rides the lightning and Leonard Cohen remains a master.

I have no idea what Mastodon's political proclivities are, but if their social values are as forward-thinking as their vision of the future of heavy metal, then it made all the sense in the world that they played a triumphant show at Neumos on Earth Day. The temperature in the sold-out showroom last Wednesday felt like global warming in action, but despite the fight for decent sight lines, the heat, and the unfortunate smells, watching the Atlanta-based band on stage was a revelation.Their new album, Crack the Skye, is one of those records so perfectly executed and fortuitously timed that it sounds like some sort of clarion announcement: "Greetings from the New Wave of American heavy metal! All are welcome here." Brent Hinds' commanding vocals have enough curve and swing to them to appeal to mainstream metal fans, but the textural complexity and adventurousness in the intertwined guitar lines of Hinds and Bill Kelliher are the stuff devotees of so-called progressive metal geek hard for. Virtually everyone in the club looked hypnotized, and very few budged from their vantage points throughout the brutal, euphoric, nearly two-hour-long set.Afterward, both the band and much of the crowd migrated down the street to the Cha Cha (with Hinds pausing briefly en route to drop a bill in the hat of a shivering-yet-enthusiastic busker). Matt Bayles, co-proprietor of Red Room Recording and producer of Mastodon's first three records, was on hand with his business partner Chris Common, as were Akimbo guitarist Aaron Walters and Helms Alee leader/amp-building entrepreneur Ben Verellen.Neumos co-owner Steven Severin was still glowing from Mastodon's success when I ran into him at the sold-out Leonard Cohen show the following night at WaMu Theater. "There's something about us and Earth Day. The last Earth Day before Mastodon, we had a sold-out Raconteurs show...Next year, I'm aiming for Slayer!" he quipped, just as the lights went down and everyone raced to their seats.The reception Cohen received when he bounded (yes, bounded) onstage almost immediately brought me to tears. The entire audience was instantly on its feet, welcoming the 74-year-old legend with a degree of affection few artists could even imagine experiencing. Looking impressively fit and fiercely dapper in a precisely tailored black suit, charcoal shirt, and sharp fedora, he launched immediately into "Dance Me to the End of Love." With ample assistance from what appeared to be the most gracefully accomplished collection of backing musicians on the planet, Cohen delivered a masterful, three-and-a-half hour set (with one brief intermission) that encompassed all the highlights of his mammoth catalog, including "Bird on the Wire," "Everybody Knows," "Who by Fire," "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," "Suzanne," "Hallelujah," and "I'm Your Man." Unsurprisingly, he was a consummate and gracious showman, poetically introducing his band (describing one guitarist, Bob Metzger, as "the architect of the arpeggio") like a proud father and offering up song banter so artful, I was certain I could just listen to an entire set of his spiritual musings. "I once turned to a rigorous study of philosophy and religion, but cheerfulness kept breaking through," he said during the break after "Waiting for a Miracle." It would be impossible to single out a highlight, but watching him wind his way through an epic encore set that included "So Long, Marianne," "First We Take Manhattan," and "Famous Blue Raincoat" while retaining enough chutzpah to dance off the stage in exactly the same manner he'd arrived was unforgettably heartwarming.Finally, it's worth noting that I've never been a huge fan (or much of a detractor) of WaMu Theater, but my indifference made an abrupt 180 that night. The sound was mixed meticulously, with every wisp of clarinet and flutter of harp placed precisely, while Cohen's vocals were right where they were supposed to be—magically enveloping the entire room and yet sounding like he was whispering into your ear. Granted, the regal aesthetic of the Paramount might have seemed like a more fitting choice for such an iconic treasure, but my hat's off to the team behind Cohen for such a flawlessly engineered production.Looking to catch a quality show this week? These are my RQ-endorsed local music events:Michael Vermillion, Wed., April 29 at Chop SueyThe Ironclads and Katharine Hepburn's Voice, Fri., May 1 at the High DiveSleepy Eyes of Death, Fri., May 1 at Chop SueyKinski, Lozen, and the Heavy Hearts, Fri., May 1 at the SunsetAndroid Hero and Steel Tigers of Death, Sat., May 2 at the CometMono in VCF and Spectrum, Sat., May 2 at NeumosThe Beats, Man, Sun., May 3 at the Cha ChaDyme Def, Tues, May 5 at the High

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