Setting the Stage: Perhaps sensing that a straight-ahead set wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary as the concert industry starts to open up again, mighty metallers Mastodon got creative for their Thursday night (July 15th) livestream concert, performing from inside the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. And in the process, the band did a good deed, as $1 from each commemorative t-shirt is being donated to the Aquarium.
Despite not having a new album to promote (their most recent studio LP, Emperor of Sand, dropped in 2017), Mastodon — singer-bassist Troy Sanders, singer-guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, plus singer-drummer Brann Dailor — decided not to sit around any longer. And as of this writing, with only a few festival gigs booked in 2021, “Mastodon Captured Live at Georgia Aquarium” made sense as an alternate option for the band to connect with fans.
Taking the Stage: The original idea for the gig was for Mastodon to perform their classic 2004 album Leviathan in its entirety. But when the band was told that performing the album at high volume would possibly disturb the sea creatures, another approach was agreed upon — a stripped-down, mostly acoustic set that touched upon various eras of the band’s career.
The stream started with Mastodon’s members discussing how the idea came up to select this uncommon locale for a performance, but it wasn’t long before the first song, “Naked Burn,” was performed. With all of the band seated (Hinds was the only one not to play an acoustic instrument at first — going with a Gretsch White Falcon), both Sanders and Kelliher both wore black buttoned-down Western shirts; Hinds donned a trucker cap; and Dailor sported a short-sleeved shirt with a squiggly pattern.
It quickly became apparent that Mastodon doesn’t need distortion, volume, and hollering to maintain their intensity and focus — this stripped down approach exposed a whole new side of the band, especially on a song like “Asleep in the Deep,” which showcases the melodic lead vocals of Dailor, as well as vocal harmonies in the chorus. Since the band was performing in a location of the Aquarium that is completely surrounded by sea creatures swimming behind glass, an elaborate light show was forgone in favor of simple, mostly blue-hued, mood-enhancing lighting. The surroundings were particularly evident during Crack the Skye‘s “The Czar,” as slo-mo footage of swimming fish was intercut over the band.
A new song, “Skeleton of Splendor,” was prefaced by the band discussing the heartfelt song’s inspiration: Mastodon’s late manager, Nick John (who passed away in 2018 from pancreatic cancer). The tune saw Sanders join Hinds in the “ditching an acoustic for an electric” department, by plucking a 12-string bass. For “Sleeping Giant,” more instrument switcheroos occurred (now it was Sanders on an acoustic and Kelliher on electric).
Also of note was the band discussing the inspiration behind the lyrics to the song “The Sparrow,” which were taken from a phrase by the late wife of the band’s accountant that was included in her eulogy: “Pursue happiness with diligence.” Meanwhile, “Thickening” saw Hinds assume lead vocal duties, before the set wrapped up with a pair of tunes that were never performed live before: the instrumental “Elephant Man” (which we find out via the interviews was always intended to be performed on acoustic guitar) and “Pendulous Skin” (which Sanders explains was also inspired by Joseph Merrick, whose life story the 1980 movie The Elephant Man was based on).
If you wanted a typical loud-and-heavy Mastodon performance, then this was not it. But if you were looking for an out-of-the-ordinary and visually astonishing presentation of classics and special surprises (as well as finding out the inspirations behind each of the songs), then “Mastodon Captured Live at Georgia Aquarium” was a must-see.
For those who missed Mastodon’s aquarium concert during its premiere on Thursday night, it is streaming for 72 hours on demand, until July 18th, 11:59 p.m. PT. Tickets and merch bundles can be purchased here. See the setlist and and a gallery of still images below.
Asleep in the Deep
Skeleton of Splendor
“Mastodon Captured Live at Georgia Aquarium” Gallery (click to enlarge):