Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rockin' Out: The Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth & Anthrax) @ Regal Union Square 14 (yes, that is a movie theater) 06/22/10

When it comes to metal music festivals, Europe definitively gets the best there is to offer and it has been like that for as long as I can remember. While American metalheads are green with envy practically ever summer festival season, this year was especially jealousy inducing as it was announced that for the first time in history "The Big Four" of the American thrash metal movement of the '80s would be playing a series of European festivals together. That's right....Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax playing the same stage for the first time in history. Four amazing American thrash metal bands doing legendary Europe. Fortunately for American fans, someone came up with the brilliant idea to film the performances at the Sonisphere Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, edit each band's set to a specific time frame and then rebroadcast it in movie theaters around the world the very same day. [The shows were also being filmed for a DVD.]

I wasn't sure what to expect going to a movie theater to watch a concert. What would the crowd be like? Would people be quiet or would they be rowdy? Would there be the same type of comradery there is at metal show at a venue? How would the bands sound? Well, it turns out that the whole experience was a heck of a lot of fun and something I would do again without hesitation.

My thoughts on the bands' performances:

I expressed my doubts about Anthrax's reunion with singer Joey Belladonna last month, so they were definitely the band with the most to prove to the world with this performance. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at how good they were. Actually, they were better than good...they were great! After seeing this performance, I am now genuinely looking forward to the album they are (hopefully) recording with Belladona.  Speaking of Belladonna, his performance was really going to be the crucial ingredient to making or breaking the band and he delivered in spades. "Caught In A Mosh", "Antisocial", "Madhouse" and "Got The Time" sounded as vital and fresh as ever and the guy looked like he was genuinely having a great time up there. The highlight of their set was when they played a portion of Black Sabbath's "Heaven And Hell" in the middle of "Indians" as a tribute to Ronnie James Dio. The crowd in Bulgaria loved it as did the crowd in the movie theater, but Belladonna seemed to really love it too as he worked in the main lines from "Heaven And Hell" and "Man On The Silver Mountain" into the ending of the rest of the set's songs. Up until that point, there had been some cheering and a little singing along, but the crowd in the theater was relatively calm; however, now everyone was getting fired up. Anthrax wrapped up their set to enthusiastic cheers and devil horns from the theater crowd and now it was time for a 30 second break before.....

Megadeth opened with "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" and the crowd in the theater abandoned restraint. A few folks were now standing up and playing the 'ol air guitar, many were headbanging away in their seats and practically everyone was singing along. The only problem was that Dave Mustaine's voice sounded like crap for the entire set. That being said, with only one misstep in their set list to play new song "Headcrusher", the songs were so strong that his poor vocal performance was overshadowed. "Hook In Mouth", "In My Darkest Hour", "Hangar 18", "Skin 'O My Teeth", "Symphony Of Destruction" and of course "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?" had the theater enthralled. The new guitarist Chris Broderick is a shred machine and had me thinking "Marty who?". It was also nice to see David Ellefson, Jr. back on stage next to Mustaine where he belongs. By the time Megadeth's set was over everyone in the theater was fully fired up and ready for more. Who better to come next than....

Before the movie/show started, I was in the concession line with a friend and said to him that I guessed the over/under on the amount of times we'd hear "SLAAAAAYYYYYEEEERRRRRR!!!!!!!!" get yelled that night would be 100. Literally 10 seconds after I said that, three young metalheads tore past yelling "SLAAAAAYYYYYEEEERRRRRR!!!!!!!!". That put us at 5 before the movie even started. [On a side note, one of these guys was wearing a Death t-shirt and I've noticed those are very popular with the younger metal crowd these days. Not sure how, why or when that happened, but it is good to see the next generation of metalheads are doing their homework on the forefathers of the metal scene.] After such strong showings from Anthrax and Megadeth, the crowd was suitably fired up for Slayer. I lost track of how many times "SLAAAAAYYYYYEEEERRRRRR!!!!!!!!"got yelled, but even I felt the overwhelming urge to yell it which was a surprise to me. Slayer opened with "World Painted Blood" from their new album of the same title and headbanging and air guitar were abundant in the theater. This would maintain throughout songs like "South Of Heaven", "Mandatory Suicide", "War Ensemble", "Seasons In The Abyss" and "Chemical Warfare". While watching all these bands on the big screen, I couldn't help but notice that Slayer make the oddest wardrobe choices out of any of the older metal bands currently out there touring (Dave Mustaine's choice of a puffy white pirate shirt ala Seinfeld not withstanding). The first was from guitarist Jeff Hanneman. He was wearing knee/shin pads like a baseball catcher would. A friend who was watching in another theater texted me and asked if perhaps he had just come from a baseball game. I jokingly theorized that maybe he wore them so he could get on his knees and beg Metallica to do this tour in the U.S. But all kidding aside, it really was a curious choice. I'll also add that he looks like he has packed on at least 50 pounds. I realize these guys are getting up there in the years, but he looked really out of shape. My friend made a joke about "World Painted Fudge" and "Angel Of Death By Chocolate" (or something like that) which were pretty amusing. Tom Araya, who just had major back surgery, on the other hand looked to be doing pretty well. No headbanging per doctor's orders, but his voice sounded great and he prowled the stage a decent amount albeit slowly. Kerry King looked like a very, very, very, very, very, very scary outlaw biker. And Dave Lombardo of course was the best drummer of the evening by a long shot. Lack of fashion sense aside, Slayer killed it as they always do and the entire theater was now worked into a frenzy (a staying in your seat kind of frenzy). The evening's headliners were up next, but first....

This wasn't really an intermission per se, as it was only about 5 or so minutes long, but it was a nice tribute to the recently deceased Ronnie James Dio. Kerry King told a story about making a bet with Dio about the Colts vs. Bears Superbowl a few years back (apparently Dio was a huge sports fan) and then they cut to Lars Ulrich, Scott Ian and Dave Mustaine swapping stories about meeting Dio and their admiration of his music. A lot of people in the crowd were booing Lars and yelling "F$*# You", etc. at the screen. I find it funny that so many people profess to hate Lars, yet they clearly don't hate him enough to stop paying money to see his performances, buy his records, wear Metallica t-shirts and so on and so forth. Lars definitely gets the last laugh and I personally think he rules for it. Anyway, after the Dio tribute, it was time for....

I don't know what I could possibly say about a live Metallica performance that I and countless others haven't already said. They are one of the premiere live bands across any genre of music and their performances are always spectacular. They opened with "Creeping Death" and kept it going strong with "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and "Harvester Of Sorrow". Unfortuantely, I missed out on the second two because after 3 straight hours of sitting in a movie theater and drinking one very large movie theater sized Diet Coke (with a little bit of Captain in it), my bladder was about to burst and I had to run to the bathroom. When I returned, the hits kept on coming and the crowd was loving it. There was a minor uproar when the digital feed experienced some glitches during "Enter Sandman", but fortunately it wasn't too bad. What I was really waiting for was the end of the set though as it had been revealed earlier in the day that all the bands got onstage during Metallica's set and performed with them on their classic cover of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil". I had envisioned a few of the guys from each band coming out, but it turned out it was basically everyone (Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King and Tom Araya from Slayer were missing, although Jeff and Tom appeared for the photos that were  taken after the song was done). Seeing Mustaine and Hetfield shredding away next to each other was truly something special that any fan of metal would appreciate. Joey Belladonna even got to sing some lines (and again looked like he was having the time of his life). There are probably a million crappy bootlegs of this on YouTube (I've included one below), but this alone will make the DVD worth the money. The other bands cleared out and Metallica closed with "Seek And Destroy" and that was the end of the evening. Everyone in the theater seemed to have a permagrin going and I can't blame them. It was a truly fun night. My only complaint would be that it would have been nice if they had an actual real intermission where the lights went on and everyone had time to take a bathroom break. Otherwise, it was excellent.

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