When it comes to seeing a live performance by Dethklok, the cartoon stars of the Adult Swim show Metalocalypse, one might wonder how such a band does a live performance. For starters they are not even real, and the musicians actually playing the music look nothing like their cartoon counterparts. Those who are familiar with Gorillaz, currently the only other successful virtual band out there, may have some clue. Big projection screens will be involved that will most likely obscure the real life musicians on stage. Although some people are interested in seeing how the music is actually played and that’s why they attend a concert, so why obscure the musicians? On Dethklok’s first tour a couple years ago, a compromise for this quandary was reached; a projection screen was used but it was above the band so you could also see the musicians playing. Well sort of. They were practically shrouded in darkness. This time around though, at the Hollywood palladium on November 19th and 20th 2009, the compromise was perfected as the band was better lit and actually seemed like a part of the show.
The crowd welcomed the change. During their first tour the crowd seemed more hesitant, waiting to see if Dethklok could really pull off what they did in the studio live. This time when they hit the stage, Dethklok got the same treatment as any other great heavy metal band, with the crowd surging toward the front of the stage going nuts with pushing, shoving and head banging. Especially with people like Gene Hoglan and guitar virtuoso Mike Keneally backing him up, Dethklok creator and chief member Brendon Small had nothing to be ashamed of. He proved himself on the last tour, this time he gets to show off a little. The audience can tell that despite their humorous nature, these songs are well written and well played. Plus it’s not as disconcerting as you might think to see Nathan Explosion’s voice coming out of the very plain looking Small as he also shreds out Toki and/or Skwisgaar’s parts on guitar. It is extremely entertaining to watch his skill as both a performer and voice actor.
Not only were they more visible, but the band also sounded much tighter than they did on the previous tour. Dethklok’s songs are mainly written and recorded by Small alone in the studio and then all the parts have to be translated to a group of live musicians. It was obvious that this group had more time to practice together as a band which made the sound much fuller and more cohesive. The set list was a mix of songs from both Dethalbum I and II. Apparently no one has tired of “Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle” or “Birthday Dethday” because the older material was the obvious crowd pleaser. People didn’t seem as familiar with the new material though it was well received.
All this talk of the live band though is not to belittle the importance of the animated sequences going on above the band. After all, without the cartoon there is no Dethklok. So, much like the previous tour, the crowd was treated to music video-like vignettes that spliced together shots of the band standing there playing (which matched up with the live music) and shots of Dethklok in various epic scenarios such as a bloody medieval battle. And don’t forget the skulls, people melting, and various other evil and dead things. They did not disappoint in being hilarious and uncensored. Many of the animated sequences for older songs were recycled from the last tour and the Dethalbum II Deluxe Edition DVD (which features the music videos from the last tour). No one seemed to mind seeing repeats of the angry half naked mermaid in “Murmaider” or the interlude where Muderface uses the toilet during the show though.
Even though this was obviously Dethklok’s night, Mastodon, who was the main opening act, is certainly not to be discounted. With a pretty avid fan base of their own, and being heralded by many critics as one of the top progressive metal acts out there, people watched with nearly reverent awe at Mastodon’s musicianship and sheer heaviness. They brilliantly utilized Dethklok’s giant projection screen for their own show and projected trippy images of skulls, horses, and giant swirling spirals behind them. They played their entire new album Crack the Skye before encoring with some of their older material.
The sound was great, the crowd was into it, all the bands were in top form including Converge and High on Fire. This was definitely one of the must see concerts of 2009. If you missed it you can always go pick up Dethalbum II and Mastodon’s Crack the Skye and definitely don’t forget to watch season 3 of “Metalocalypse” on Cartoon Network, Sunday nights at 12:30am. They’ve even been beefed up to half-hour episodes instead of the previous 15 minute shorties.
All photos by Gary Moratz