After the release of the debut Mammoth WVH album, Wolfgang Van Halen (read our recent Cover Story here) doubled down in the studio, dropping a follow-up album a few months ago that is even more impressive than its predecessor. Perhaps impressive is an unfair descriptor – heavier might be more appropriate; most of the material on Mammoth II flirts more with metal than the majority of his debut. Whether he continues down this path remains to be seen; I was keen to hear tracks from the new album live. He unabashedly professed his love for TOOL before launching into “Optimist” in Toronto with a shrug and a smile, saying he wasn’t afraid of showcasing some metal.
This evening was unique as it represented Mammoth’s first Toronto headlining show, a point Van Halen brought up early into his performance, given his past two dates in the city were as an opener and a co-headliner. He beamed at the audience, declaring, “I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight. Toronto showed up – On a Monday!!” Van Halen was joined onstage by Frank Sidoris (rhythm & lead guitar; backing vocals), Jon Jourdan (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Ronnie Ficarro (bass, backing vocals), and Garrett Whitlock (drums). Mammoth is a force to be reckoned with on stage: five talented young men performing at the top of their game. Two albums in, and they already have a setlist to die for that touches on numerous elements of hard rock and heavy metal.
The Mammoth set was dimly lit and featured very little by way of flashy production, Something I’d bet is intentional on Wolfie’s part. Mammoth showcases musicianship over everything else; it’s a ballsy thing to do, given all of the modern accoutrements available to artists for their touring set-ups. It bothered me while I was photographing, given the brighter lights on Nita Struss an hour earlier, but I preferred it while I was standing in the venue watching the performance. Marvelling at Whitlock’s drumming and everyone else’s abilities on their respective guitars put a smile on the audience’s faces – no snazzy video/lighting was needed. If you closed your eyes at this gig, Mammoth felt like a well-established band; they are on their way to glory – get on board and see them on this tour up close and personal before Mammoth are trampling hockey arenas at three times the price when they lumber through your city.
The secret sauce on this show was a forty-minute opening set from the incredible Nita Strauss, a powerhouse guitarist of the highest order. She mentioned this evening was her third time this year in Toronto, once headlining solo and again this summer with Alice Cooper. Strauss graciously complimented Mammoth WVH on the technical prowess of Wolfie as a musician, thanking the band for taking them out on the road to showcase songs from her second full-length solo album, The Call of the Void. Nita is more of a stunt guitarist (to coin a label attached to Steve Vai), and her ability to dance her fingers up and down the frets of her guitar will humble any fan who worships electric guitar music. Joined on the road by fiancee Josh Villalta (drums), Johnny Young (rhythm guitar), Christopher Dean (bass), Katt Scarlett (keyboards), and Deadlands vocalist Kasey Karlsen, Strauss played a set that was 50% instrumental and 50% done with Karlsen on vocals. She played her number one rock radio hit “Dead Inside” second last in her performance, evoking a sing-along from fans familiar with her material. Shortly after her performance, she was at the merchandise booth with Karlsen and Villalta, signing merchandise and taking photos with fans.
The concert was over by 9:40 pm, with both bands leaving the audience wanting more. If this tour routes through your town, snag a ticket and prepare to be amazed!!
Nita Setlist Toronto:
Our Most Desperate Hour
The Quest / Drum Solo
The Wolf You Feed (with Kasey Karlsen on vocals)
Through the Noise (with Kasey Karlsen on vocals)
Dead Inside (with Kasey Karlsen on vocals)
Victorious (with Kasey Karlsen on vocals)
Mammoth WVH Setlist Toronto:
Miles Above Me
Like a Pastime
Think It Over
You’re to Blame
Take a Bow
Another Celebration at the End of the World
Don’t Back Down