Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Big 4, Indio, California April 23, 2011

So I’ve been trying to get these words out of my head since I landed back in Chicago after my ‘Big 4’ weekend of April 22-25th.  I’ve written about the gig for a website called AntiMusic and that can be found HERE.  But until I “None But My Own” the event and what it meant to me, I won’t be able to move on.  So thanks for the barrage of emails asking for my opinion, here we go. 

If you’re of a certain age group I think at one point or another one of the bands that make up the ‘Big 4’ was probably “your band.”  You know the one that you really identified with and the one that made life livable throughout your late adolescent years.  I was one of those kids that, at one time or another, ALL four bands were the only one that mattered.  I wasn’t alone. 

As the years flew by, all of these bands would either continue to stimulate me by way of live shows and/or recordings (Metallica/Slayer) or at the least remind me of a much simpler time in my life (Megadeth/Anthrax).  Still the idea of all four sharing the same stage was something I really thought I’d never see.  So almost 10 months to the day since the first ever "Big 4" concert became a reality, it was time for the US to finally witness the historic bill some 25+ years in the making.

I flew out on black Friday, April 22 landing at LAX and met upon arrival by my friend of over fourteen years Brian Subterfuge.  When the Southern California concert was announced earlier this year there was a list maybe five people in the world that I would have picked to see this show with, he was way up there on that list.  We met via tape trading and a specific addiction to the band Vio-Lence.  This was 1997 people, there weren’t that many of “us” around at that time, he’s been a brother from another mother ever since.  

So think about it, before this “show review” even begins I’m already kicking it with one of my favorite people in the world.  This would not be the only highlight of the weekend…

We made the two hour drive into Indio on Saturday, day of show to check into our hotel and could already sense the anticipation.   Indio seems to survive off the festivals and events in the area so having different divisions and masses descend on the town seems normal to the locals as far as I can tell.  As far as the weather, I left a rainy 45 degree Chicago day some 24 hours earlier so the 11:00am desert sun was incredible.  I was in a great mood and I couldn’t wait to get to the festival site.

I was set to pick up my credentials early so we faced none of the horrific tales of Coachella festivals gone wrong, the throngs of people all entering the site at once ala Woodstock.  So I check in, pick up my ticket and we begin our day.  My day and mood goes from great to unfuckingbelieveable when I meet another Bonded via Metal friend, Brian “├╝mlaut” Lew.  Please, see some of his work HERE and HERE and watch for THIS coming fall of 2011.  Long story short, Brian looked out for me and basically handed me the keys to the kingdom.  This review, cheesy as it sounds is dedicated to him. Cheers .

As I walked through the security laden entrance of the Empire Polo Club, site of the aforementioned and massive Coachella Festival everything seemed so intense.  I was excited to be there, no doubt, but so was everyone else.  I’ve never experienced European festivals but sometimes you think by watching your US Festivals, California Jams, Wacken videos you’d be “used to it.” The electricity present was very real and I was just in total awe to be at such a place. 

As I walked towards the main stage area it meant passing through the food and merch vendors and multiple bars. As I stepped onto the grass the sounds of Exodus’ “Piranha” was blasting through the PA.  I took it as a sign; it would be one of those days.  It wouldn’t be too long before the music started, but I was ready to hear something loud. It had been far too long since my last show and I wanted it, make that needed it.  

Anthrax kicked things off promptly at 2pm.  It was Scott Ian’s opening chords of “Caught In A Mosh” that kicked off the first ever “Big 4” show in North America and it was kick ass.  Anthrax was into it and the roar of the crowd was all the approval they’d need.  The set would be a series of highs and lows and really, everything that you either love or hate about Anthrax was well on display.  For the highs there was standard ‘Thrax fare such as “A.I.R.,” “I Am The Law,” “Among The Living,” “Metal Thrashing Mad,” and “Madhouse.”  

For the lows there were “Got The Time,” “Anti-Social” and Joey Belladonna.  I know the guy is trying his best and performance wise he’s doing a helluva job but still.  I mean isn’t it strange to have him coming in early (or late) on songs he’s been playing since 1987?  However, his timing aside it’s his stage persona, song intros and general rapport with the crowd that’s unbelievably bad.  I mean I’m writing this piece three weeks after the event and I still can’t believe they (Scott and Charlie) let him say a fucking thing in between songs.

Still Anthrax played a solid set I’ll give the band that. They played new song “Fight Em Til You Can’t” and you’ve gotta wonder how much longer they can fight? If the Belladonna sung ‘Worship Music’ fails to find followers will that be the knockout blow?  They’ve been staggering and receiving standing eight counts for an extremely long time now, some would say since the Elektra years.  Even Jake LaMotta eventually hit the canvas, guys. 

It was cool in a geeky way to see Scott Ian break out the “S.O.D.” Jackson, which I’ve never seen him play before.  They did their job of warming up the sun baked warriors but in some way I think they could have done something a bit special for the show.  Especially seeing they have the most to prove of all the bands, but I guess that’s just me. 

At the conclusion of Anthrax’ set we ventured into the general admission bars and we grabbed $9 beers.  Happy to say these would be the first and only $9 beers of the event as not long after someone let us know of the “VIP” bar area with $4 beers and well, life is good.  In the same area as the bar were clean toilets and no lines, loving this day. 

Photo by Umlaut

Time between sets wasn’t that long, enough time to re-group with friends old and new and of course have a drink or two.  Throughout the day I would meet so many people, so many very cool people obviously having just as good a day as myself.  Many moments, many conversations and yeah, I was looking forward to seeing Megadeth

Opening with one of the weirdest songs for this or any other Megadeth era since its release in 1997’s “Trust” wasn’t the song to open with, Dave!  I mean whatever, again but fucking “Trust?”  Opening??  Well regardless, Megadeth take the stage and gladly the opening was a distant memory as they tore into “In My Darkest Hour,” one of Mega’s finest. 

Dave Mustaine a man who owns stages for a living didn’t need too long to claim another on the massive Coachella structure.  Looking pretty cool, calm and collected, Mustaine was armed and ready with a custom double neck Dean as his weapon of choice for the first few songs.  “Hangar 18” and “Wake up Dead” deliver the goods as the ever increasing crowd begins to swell.  

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the current line-up of Megadeth - Mustiane, Ellefson, Broderick and Drover is their best, ever.  They hit strides throughout the show that were scarily good.  Anthrax didn’t hit that stride, Megadeth hit it several times.  They were truly “on.”  

Megadeth played many of their fan favorites old and new as a unit they were really commanding and played an excellent set.  Closing with their “big 3” of “Symphony Of Destruction,” “Peace Sells,” and the timeless “Holy Wars…the Punishment Due” Megadeth bid farewell.

The time spent between Megadeth and Slayer was in the bar and in the band compound area of trailers and “personal space.”  Again just a gaggle of people like Eddie Trunk (“Stumble the Trunk” by the end of the night), Brian Slagel, Ross “Gross Halfwit” Halfin, Chris Jehrico, Brian Posehn, Don Jameson from That Metal Show Mike Portnoy, Chuck Billy, John Tempesta, Mike Inez and Jerry Cantrell, etc. etc. walking around.  More on that later. 

It’s funny how no matter the situation, opening or closing, indoors or out, night or daylight when it’s Slayer time, it’s SLAYER time.  Seeing them in the pre-dusk hours did little to subdue the largest crowd of the day, so far.  Opening with the title track from their 2009 release, 'World Painted Blood' it didn't take long for Slayer to turn the festival site into their own private battlefield.  Tearing through new burners like "Hate Wordwide," and "Snuff" to bona fide classics like "Black Magic," "Raining Blood," and "Postmortem" Slayer were killing it.
Guest Guitarist, Exodus’ Gary Holt was flawless in his attack on simply everything.  I arranged myself on his side of the stage so I could get a clear sound of what he adds to the band live, it was fucking heavy.  He blended in with Kerry King almost seamlessly and the results were pure Slayer.  While I was surprised at the amount of new songs played it wasn’t long before the classic material took over. 

Bassist/Vocalist Tom Araya, the ever cool frontman of the band continues to be vocally intense and spot on with his timing and delivery.  I think the surgery and his being unable to headbang has resulted in excellent vocal performances still so essential to the Slayer experience.  “Silent Scream,” and “Anti-Christ” were perfect examples of this.  

Behind the kit, back with the band for over eleven years now was the often imitated, never duplicated Dave Lombardo.  Lombardo  paced the band through levels of intensity bands 20 years their junior will never produce.  I must say seeing Slayer perform “Seasons In The Abyss” in the desert was and will always be pretty memorable.  

Encore time was something of a surprise.  As the pre-recorded “South Of Heaven” tape rolled, stage right was filed with a familiar sight.  Jeff Hanneman out of commission since late 2010 had taken his rightful position.  Jamming on both “South” and set closer “Angel Of Death” he looked re-energized and far more animated than I’ve seen from his side of the stage in many years.  No matter what, it was great and totally Slayer-like to have him out there and say not a fucking thing about it.

Between the bars and the fun I was about as ready as I could get for Metallica.  I was in the photo pit and was talking to the people who had been on the barrier since maybe 11:30 AM, some seven or so hours.  There was a group of people from Romania and they were there for one reason and that reason was Metallica.  One of them told me “I hate every other band on the bill, I am here for Metallica!”  I thought that was great.  Fanaticism makes the world go around, it’s taken me to many places myself and for these people, I was happy as hell for them. 

When the intro “Ecstasy of Gold” concluded and Metallica took the stage with “Creeping Death” the roar from the now estimated at 55,000+ crowd was simply deafening.  I remember turning my back to the band to face the crowd during the “Die-Die-Die” chants of the song and it was fucking intense.  So much passion for this band, so many still boiling,  this was going to be a memorable set.  

For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Ride The Lightning,” and “Fade To Black” were next and it felt like Metallica had a switch to control the masses of people in the palm of their hand.  They sounded heavy as all hell, really it was almost bludgeoning.  Being up in the photo pit, the bass sound was unreal.  New ‘Death Magnetic’ material “Cyanide” and “All Nightmare Long” blended in nicely, being only two of three songs from the years 1992-1997 to be played tonight; it definitely was a greatest hits sort of night.  Not that anyone minded.

A brutal and heavy "Sad But True" from their gargantuan 1991 self titled album was aired alongside Metalli-classics “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “Master Of Puppets” and “One.”  All great songs, timeless Metal classics but it was around this time Metallica did what the other bands wouldn’t or couldn’t do.  

Pulling out an ace of spades, they go into “Orion.” For the first time ever in America, they throw down with fucking “Orion!”  The 1986 instrumental was delivered with class with Bassist Robert Trujillo honoring the life, music and spirit of long departed Cliff Burton while guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett harmonized in perfection.  This was something as a Metallica fan as well as a fan of music I will never forget.

If you’re here you know what all that means to me and it was probably THE song of the entire festival for me.  I remember when Trujillo went into the first bass break everything sort of hit me.  Where I was, whom I was with, what I am, who I am.  Things like - just how fucking fast time flies and it was just a general intense moment for me “alone” in the desert night.  I actually found a star in the sky and was grateful for everything and [almost] everyone that had brought me to this point. 

“Blackened” began the descent of the set for Metallica.  Still brilliant after 23 years, the post apocalyptic ditty reaches new levels of vitality in the festival setting.  The night was highlighted in what is now known as 'The Big 4 Jam' which, if you've seen either the DVD or broadcast from last summer's Sofia, Bulgaria concert you know what that is. The joining of all four bands performing the Diamond Head classic 'Am I Evil?" and I will admit how much cooler this was in person. 

Trust me; don't judge this until you're in the same "room" with this "jam." It was again, something you never thought you’d see in person.  But like I said, seeing it is feeling it. 

One complaint, Joey Belladonna.  Dude STILL doesn’t know the words to “Am I Evil?” What the fuck is wrong with him? 

Metallica then ended the night with the one-two punch of “Hit The Lights” and “Seek And Destroy.”  That was it, 20 some songs later and the first North American “Big 4” show comes to a pyro-tastic finish.  After the show it was off to the bar to see where the night took us.  Meeting up with SF-by-way-of-Chicago friend Marc Paschke is always a good time. 

After a few drinks and general chatter about the day was when I had the strangest “how weird is this” moment.  At one point in the evening it felt as if I had walked into a Metallica book. Throughout the day I had come into contact with several important characters that participated in the bands world domination. 

Umlaut, Vader, Subterfuge and Gibson (Exodus).
From Brian Slagel, to Brian Lew to Mike Alago to Steffan Chirazi to to one of the bands first tech’s, Dave Marrs to former fan club president and Metalli-author K.J. Doughton.  The original Metalli-video guy, THE main source for the ‘Cliff Em All’ footage, Otto from Detroit was there too. Fuck, right?  Earlier in the day I had spoken with Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo, just hellos and whatnot, but again, fuck. 

I know I’m forgetting people, but that’s the downside of getting this off my chest so long after. But in closing it was one of the greatest concert experiences I’ve ever had.  That’s say’s a lot and means a lot.  I always wanted to do one of those massive festivals, but was never crazy about being one of the 55,000 all clamoring for the same space.  This was a flawless day, in every regard.

So that’s about it.  It was epic to the truest sense of the word and that’s all I have to say about that.  They say a picture say’s a thousand words?  Well here’s a thousand more. 

Fuck yeah.