LIVE REVIEW: Mammoth WVH in Portland, ME (05.05.24)

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LIVE REVIEW: Mammoth WVH in Portland, ME (05.05.24)

“You know it’s just another celebration at the end of the world,” and the sold-out Sunday night crowd at AURA was along for the ride, as the mighty Mammoth WVH played Portland for the first time. The lights flickered bright blue to black out, as AC/DC’s “Night Prowler” came over the speakers and changed the tone to signify the band was stage ready. The first notes of “I’m Alright” started with a bang and had the crowd singing back instantaneously, as Wolfgang Van Halen cooed, “Sorry, I’m so sorry.” Dropping little hints of his licks, he brought the chorus home with a wailing guitar.

“Right?” followed with a monstrous, racing rhythm and echoing harmonies. They seem to play this kind of monitor trick, where the vocals will meld, and then split channels to create a fade. Van Halen will start the sequence, joined by rhythm guitarist Jon Jourdan and lead guitarist Frank Sidoris, and it’ll loop around with an audibly tantalizing effect. Leading into “Epiphany,” his crystal clear voice rang out clean and solid while everyone clapped along. For a rocker, Van Halen’s vocals tend to be softer and more melodic, and he plays with that as another dynamic to the layers of sound the band is putting out, adding little runs and trills to the end of a verse to change up the phrasing and catch the ear to a new note.

“Mammoth” kicked the pace back up with the kind of blazing rock that can only be accomplished with three guitars on stage. Raging and rampaging, with a little extra kickdrum from Garrett Whitlock and fast paced bass from Ronnie Ficarro, they brought that remarkable heavy weight.
Focusing mostly on the music, Van Halen didn’t really talk too much off the bat, but after sufficiently warming up, took a few seconds to say that they were, “About to do something we’ve only done once, so hopefully I don’t fuck it up” before launching into “Erase Me,” from their second album Mammoth II released last August. They have been so busy touring as openers for legendary acts since the album came out (Metallica, Def Leppard/Motley Crue), that this headline tour is their chance to play a lot of material they haven’t yet, and they played them as if they were in the rotation for years. Consummately slowing it down for the acapella bits then turning the dial back to 11.

“Like a Pastime” teased with a whirring intro, rolling like a freight train bounding along the tracks. After a heavy outro, the lights cut to black, before rising again for “Optimist.” Haunting “ahhs” climbed over a surging lead guitar and drum fill. A controlled stop lead into the thunderous breakdown, where they fiercely galloped as the crowd headbanging. “For the last verse, I’m given a vocal cue,” Van Halen said, “So technically we can sit here all night and listen to Jon do his chord progression.” The crowd seemed to enjoy that as Jourdan jammed along for just a few extra seconds, before leading Van Halen back in.

Six and a half minute masterpiece “Stone” followed. An auditory adventure of the alternative rock of the 90s, the dazing grunge surrounded the room in fluid noise, picking up at just the right points to keep fans swaying and grooving. The band left after the long feat, and Van Halen remained solo on stage. “You’re stuck with just me right now, I guess. I’m going to Bob Dylan it for a second,” he joked. “There were a couple shows where we had to play as a three piece, and this song didn’t really work well that way, so we decided to do it just me acoustic,” he informed everyone. “So, here’s… “Wonderwall”” he quipped, while sticking to the bit, and playing the first 15 or so seconds, before laughing and starting “Distance.” Pure vocals and emotion accomplished the seemingly inevitable, keeping the audience entirely silent, before erupting in a salutation of applause. His “dad’s favorite song” “Think It Over” brought the full band back on and continued with the sweetness and slowness, demonstrating his duality of sentimentality and instrumentality.

“You’re to Blame” picked things back up with slightly scorned lyrics and a squealing guitar solo that had Van Halen at the edge of the stage. Much like “Erase Me,” “Better Than You” had only been played once before, and brought an insistent hook and stomping bass line with a spirit raising and catchy chorus, to prove to the naysayers that he knows his ability despite the constant criticisms he received early in his solo career. Passing the lead rhythm back and forth as if tossing the sound like a ball around the stage.

Fittingly, last song of the main set, “Take A Bow” had Ficarro starting the wave across the full floor, while the melody tingled and built up into a massive closer. Fluctuating with finger picking and a screeching solo, he left the stage with everyone wanting more.
After a few seconds of pulsing lights and cheers, the band regained the stage, with Van Halen raising his arms in gratitude and looking up at the balcony and around the room, acknowledging the fans and giving his thanks. With a quick, “Hit it, Garrett,” they charged right into “Another Celebration at the End of the World,” a raucous rollercoaster racing away at top speed. Giving each member a chance to shine, Van Halen stood watching his bandmates in admiration before ripping away on another solo.

The teddy bear of rock and roll, he gave shout outs to his band, thanked Intervals for opening while mentioning that their influence is all over Mammoth’s sound, told everyone that he loved them and wanted them to get home safe, and sang his thanks again, before sending the night off on a high with “Don’t Back Down.” Surging into a fury that left the guitar ringing in the speakers, they walked off to end a perfect set.
Every influence is noticeable, but uniquely theirs. Bits of metal bass, glam rock guitar riffs, and revved up drums collide in a fusion of all of the best parts of rock from every aspect of his upbringing. For Van Halen to write and record all of the instrumentation on his albums, and then have a band so cohesive that it translates in the live show is a feat that’s most certainly worth catching.

Notable Opener: Intervals, a progressive metal instrumental band from Toronto, started the set off by saying they were, “Going to play entirely too many notes for you guys,” and they weren’t wrong, but in the best of ways. With new record Memory Palace on the horizon, they treated fans to a few tracks like “Mnemonic” and “Neurogenesis.” Featuring speeding riffs, fast and heavy drums, a six-string bass that was most definitely put to use, and little bits of electronic elements, they put on a cohesive set that captured the attention of the crowd and the spirit of current rock music.

You can catch Mammoth WVH touring all over New England as an opener for a few acts later this year.

8/2 opening for Metallica at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA
11/30 opening for Creed at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, ME

Featured image by John Hutchings (file image)

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