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Mastodon

Probably the most aptly named metal outfit in America today, Mastodon have grown bigger than their hairy, ice-age namesake. The band’s complex, punishing major-label debut, Blood Mountain, premiered at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Music chart and No. 32 on Billboard’s Top 200 in September, and since then practically every metal magazine on earth included the CD on its 2006 top-10 lists. As Mastodon prepare to thrust their iron tusks into Clifton Park’s belly at Northern Lights tonight, Metroland checked in with drummer (and former Rochester native) Brann Dailor to discuss their newfound success, the new album, and playing for old ladies in television studios.

“The majors started calling us right after the release of Leviathan, and it was a little surreal,” he says. “We were perfectly content on Relapse [Records], so we were like, ‘Why us?’ But we’re really proud of our music, and it’s awesome to have the opportunity to be heard by so many people. Warner Bros. recognized that we’re the best at arranging our music and policing ourselves. We’re confident about Mastodon’s musical vision, and where we want to go.”

Sometimes, however, this freedom increases the pressure placed on the band, according to Dailor. “We aren’t afraid of being viewed as selling out, but I think we are afraid of not succeeding,” he explains. “It’s important now more than ever to make music that’s really important to us, because it could be our legacy. There is a fear attached to it, because small-label success means selling 10,000 records, but that’s extreme failure for a major label.”

This doesn’t appear to be an issue for Blood Mountain, which as of this writing approaches gold-record status despite its rejection of classic metal song structures in favor of a grinding, progressive experimentation with resonance, texture and rhythm. Dailor puts it in simpler terms.

“With Blood Mountain, we thought, ‘This is our invention, we can do anything we want,’ ” he says, describing the entire album as a metaphorical reference to the band, their challenges and victories. “We write very cinematically, we kind of see it in our heads first, what it would look like, and those themes shape how the music sounds. The music we write is extremely self-indulgent, and we love playing together. We’re just big music fans, and we try to emulate our heroes and come up with something new in the process as well.”

The final product, coupled with the enormous marketing power of Warner Bros., has exposed them to previously inaccessible audiences, sometimes with interesting results. Dailor cites their recent appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien as a prime example. “The studio audience basically consists of people who are basically just visiting New York City, so there were a lot of horrified looks from old ladies in the audience,” he recalls with a laugh. “And I’m thinking, ‘God, this is our least painful song. . . . If we really unleashed some metal on you you’d probably have to leave, or at least find a paper bag to hyperventilate into!’ ”

This reaction is nothing new to Mastodon. “We’ve had big audiences who are completely into it, and then we’ve had the old ‘showing the dog a card trick’ response. We’ve battled through that many times. In those situations, you have to look within yourself and the other people on the stage for the inspiration to forge ahead. It becomes a battle of will: ‘You will like Mastodon . . . you will like Mastodon!’ ”

This strategy seems to work well; the outfit’s dance card is already close to full for 2007 as they take the current bill to Europe in March and join the inimitable Slayer in Australia and parts unknown thereafter. Until then, Dailor remains focused on trampling willing countrymen in league with Converge and Priestess, both hand-picked by Mastodon for the package. “We need to be on tour with bands that inspire us,” he says. “That’s the only way to be happy is making by sure you’re continuously inspired and that the audience is getting their money’s worth. We’d be really bummed if people left thinking that we were the only good band they saw that night.”

Mastodon will perform tonight (Thursday, Feb. 15) at 7 PM at Northern Lights (1208 Route 146, Clifton Park) with Converge and Priestess. For more information, call 371-0012.

—Bill Ketzer

PearsonWidrig Dance

Even if certain politicians have forgotten the devastation of New Orleans, the arts world is doing its part to keep the subject at the center of our discourse. This weekend, PearsonWidrig DanceTheater—who will have just finished a three-week residency—will perform Katrina, Katrina: Love Letters to New Orleans at Skidmore College.

The work is a “full-evening presentation of dance, video, and the spoken word, designed to embody the sense of loss and empathy felt by so many” after Hurricane Katrina hit (and the Bush Administration, like Nero, fiddled).

PearsonWidrig DanceTheater will perform tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 16) and Saturday (Feb. 17) at 8 PM at the Skidmore College Dance Theater (815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs). Tickets are $15 general admission and $8 for students. Tickets go on sale 45 minutes before each performance, and are first-come, first-served; in other words, no reservations. For more information, call 580-5392.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956

When the Soviet Union crushed the democratically inspired Hungarian revolt a half-century ago, it was one of the grimmer moments of the Cold War. Bard College has a special connection to that event, as more than 300 refugee students from that revolution came to Bard, beginning in 1956, for “orientation to the United States” and instruction in the English language.

Now, Bard will commemorate both the revolution and the school’s role in its aftermath with a three-day conference beginning today (Thursday). In addition to panel discussions, there will be a concert featuring fortepianist Malcolm Bilson—who tutored Hungarian students at Bard in ’56—tonight (Feb. 15) at 8 PM in Olin Hall. Following the performance, the film A Fiery Autumn in the Cold War will be screened (at 9:15 PM). Tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 16) at 8 PM in the Sosnoff Theater, Leon Botstein will conduct the Conservatory Chamber Orchestra in works by Beethoven, Martinu, Dvorák and Brahms.

Bard College will host the conference The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and After: Impact and Contributions beginning today (Thursday, Feb. 15) through Saturday (Feb. 17). Events and panels, which are free and open to the public, will be held at sites around the Bard Campus (Annandale-on-Hudson). For more info, call (845) 758-7080 or visit hungary56.bard.edu.


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