Mammoth WVH, with support from Nita Strauss, Lived Large at the Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Van Halen's down-to-earth, boyishly charming personality was on full display throughout the night. He frequently engaged with the sold-out crowd through storytelling, including how "Optimist" was essentially inspired by...

Words and Photos: Elliott Gordon

@PlacemarkPhoto

 

On a miserably stormy Tuesday night in Georgia’s capital city, the historic Buckhead Theatre welcomed Mammoth WVH back to Atlanta. Mammoth WVH, which last performed here back in January with Alter Bridge, is now on the road headlining their Mammoth II Tour with support from versatile guitar virtuoso Nita Strauss. Built in 1930, this 1,800-capacity venue was originally designed in a Spanish Baroque style and has a general admission floor setting with an upper, seated balcony area, which I heard happened to be sold out on Tuesday. When the doors finally opened around 6:00 pm, it was clear that the miserable weather forecast would not keep dedicated concert-goers away, as dozens of fans had lined up outside the venue early to secure their rail spot.

At 7:30 pm sharp, and with a near-capacity audience already in place, Strauss and her band took to the stage and immediately launched into “Summer Storm,” the opening track from her latest release and sophomore solo album, The Call of the Void. While more mainstream rock fans know Strauss from her lengthy involvement with legendary shock rocker Alice Cooper, as well as her more recent touring collaboration with Demi Lovato, experiencing her guitar-shredding energy in a more intimate venue setting is always a delight, especially when rounded out with stellar musicians like Josh Villalta (drums), Katt Scarlett (keyboards), Christopher Dean (bass), and Johnny Young (guitar).

After “Summer Storm,” Strauss revisited her first solo album, Controlled Chaos (2018), and delivered four hair-tossing, face-melting, head-pounding renditions of the tunes “Our Most Desperate Hour,” “Mariana Trench,” “Alegria,” and “The Quest.” Of note, the show was paused for a few scary moments before “Mariana Trench” when Strauss noticed that there was a commotion in the crowd. Apparently, someone had passed out, causing a slight panic, and Strauss did not want to continue until it was made clear everyone was alright. The show proceeded once she received the thumbs up from the audience.

Following a meaty drum solo by Strauss’s fiancé Villalta, the back half of the set pivoted to now include Kasey Karlsen on vocals, allowing the band to power through raucous performances of four songs off The Call of the Void in “The Wolf You Feed,” “Through the Noise,” “Dead Inside,” and “Victorious.” The band took their final bow after an exhilarating 40-minute set, leaving the crowd fully amped up for Mammoth WVH.

With the 30-minute stage turn complete and the Mammoth WVH “pill” logo as the backdrop, the band appeared at 8:40 pm and rolled into “Mammoth” from their 2021 self-titled debut release. As most rock fans know, Mammoth WVH features Wolfgang Van Halen (son of the legendary Eddie Van Halen) on vocals and lead guitar, with Van Halen being joined on tour by Ronnie Ficaro (bass), Jon Jourdan (guitar), Frank Sidoris (guitar), and Garrett Whitlock (drums).

Given that I missed the opportunity to catch Mammoth WVH live back in January, when they announced this fall headlining date for Atlanta, it became a massive circle on my calendar — and they did not disappoint. While Van Halen’s multi-instrument talents and songwriting abilities have been well-documented, seeing Mammoth WVH live just takes their music to another level. Van Halen’s melodic rock voice and seemingly familiar guitar tone simply reach down into your soul, which was ever-so-evident in the delivery of one of my favorite tunes, “Miles Above Me.”

Van Halen’s down-to-earth, boyishly charming personality was on full display throughout the night. He frequently engaged with the sold-out crowd through storytelling, including how “Optimist” was essentially inspired by one of his favorite bands (Tool), while subsequently joking later if people in the audience had seen Mammoth WVH’s latest “stupid video” for “I’m Alright.” The middle of the band’s set was also anchored in what I could deem an emotional trifecta. It began with “Think It Over,” a song Van Halen said was his dad’s favorite, followed by an acoustic-only solo performance of “Distance,” which brought a sea of audience cell phones up into the air. The trifecta was then rounded out by “Waiting” off the recently-released Mammoth II album, a song that Van Halen reflected he felt was the perfect companion piece to perform live following “Distance.”

Mammoth WVH then picked up the pace and closed out their main setlist with “You’re to Blame,” “Feel,” and “Take a Bow,” all of which at various points highlighted the amazing vocal harmonies and tight musical hooks shared across this five-piece band. Following a brief stage exit, of which Van Halen comically called “stupid but part of show business” when they returned for their encore, the crowd was treated to back-to-back bangers, including “Another Celebration at the End of the World” and “Don’t Back Down.”

With a final band bow and a throw of Van Halen’s sweaty Mammoth WVH-logoed wristband into the audience, the band exited the stage and left the Tuesday night crowd screaming with appreciation and adulation at the end of the show. The back half of this tour continues through Saturday, December 9th, when it will conclude at The Belasco in Los Angeles, California. Give yourself the gift of live music and catch this tour if it rolls through your town this holiday season.

 

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