March 21, 1988 was my first concert. It was Kiss playing on the Crazy Nights tour at the old Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. The opening act was Anthrax, supporting the LP Among the Living. I went to see Anthrax because some of my friends, who came with us to the show, liked them. After the show I bought Among the Living and every subsequent release until Joey Belladonna left the band and John Bush took over lead vocals. I wasn’t prepared for the show Kiss put on. Gene spit fire and shot rockets out of his bass guitar, blowing up a couple of rigged amps. There were fireworks and a huge pyro display. Paul smashed a guitar in half and Eric Carr’s drum solo was unreal. Over the next five or six years I saw shows with Slaughter, Winger, Kiss (again, this time Hot in the Shade), Poison, David Lee Roth, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Firehouse, Tesla, Ozzy (No More Tours, yeah right), and Warrant. There were some epic shows that I missed during those years: Motley Crue (Girls..) with Tommy’s spinning upside down drum set, Bon Jovi where they filmed the video of Lay Your Hands On Me, and Queensryche (Empire).
On June 3, 1991 I saw the Clash of the Titans tour at Bonneville Speedway. Alice In Chains (supporting Facelift), Anthrax (Persistence of Time), Megadeth (Rust In Peace) and Slayer. We left after Slayer started playing because none of us were Slayer fans.
Last night the Big Four of 80’s thrash metal played, together for the first time, in the Sonisphere Music Festival, in Sophia, Bulgaria.
I watched from a movie theater in Minnesota. The show was over by the time I actually watched, having ended about six hours earlier. The presentation was good. Quality of video and editing kept the action going from all sorts of angles. My main complaint is that the Metallica show was cut short by about a third. They didn’t show them playing about 5 or 6 songs.
First Anthrax took the stage, four of the five “original” members who played on Among the Living. The missing member is Dan Spitz, who after leaving the band became a world renowned watch maker. The one who looked oldest was Joey, who surprised me by singing better than I ever remembered he could. He was criticized as a “gutless” singer in the wake of his replacement by John Bush, but it didn’t matter to me. The band I knew had fundamentally changed and they newer stuff was not thrash, but more mainstream, radio friendly. They played all the classics: Caught In A Mosh, Indians, Got the Time, Antisocial, including two songs from earlier albums I never owned, Madhouse and Metal Thrashing Mad. The played a Tribute to Ronnie James Dio, who died earlier this year from cancer, by playing “Heaven and Hell” during the bridge on one of their songs. Joey does a great Dio impersonation. Charlie’s bass drums were emblazoned with the NOT Man, the same image sewn as a back patch onto my acid-washed Levi jacket, when I was 12.
Megadeth was next and I was happy to see Dave Ellefson reunited with Dave Mustaine, who simply walked up to the mike and said, “Let’s go.” They ripped through tons of old classics like Holy Wars, Sweating Bullets, Symphony of Destruction, In My Darkest Hour, Hook In Mouth, and Hangar 18. Dave Mustaine seems a bit like Ozzy, in that your always waiting to see if he’s going to drool on himself. Something about the look, a plastic face, an almost disoriented sort of look. Not that I care, the man can seriously play the guitar and while he’s not a naturally born vocalist, his vocals are one of a kind. Megadeth’s performance was more business-like than Anthrax, who did a nice job of warming up the crowd.
Nobody was more business-like than Slayer. I’m not a Slayer fan, never have been. I bought one of their albums (SOH) in the late 80’s and didn’t really like it – it was the follow up album to their iconic classic, RIB. I’m abbreviating so Slayer fans don’t google this page and leave nasty comments. I have a right not to like them. TA and drummer DL, are the two in the band who don’t take themselves too seriously. TA even smiles. I’ve seen some video interviews of TA talking about how he’s a family guy and how he believes in God and such, then laughs at the Slayer persona in the next breath. Not derisively laughing at it, but laughing about it. I think TA is just a normal guy who isn’t going to bite the juggernaut that’s been feeding him for thirty years. KK on the other hand, I can’t imagine the kind of child abuse that occurred to create this guy. I’m happy to leave Slayer and the rest of the shock rockers on the shelf and fortunately most extreme acts like them remain only in the dustbin and on the fringes of the heavy metal world. During their rise, Slayer quite simply played louder, faster, more aggressively and more blatantly than any other band. The release of RIB, a barely 40 minute LP, galvanized their place in history as the kings of thrash. They weren’t original in their approach, lot’s of bands have looked to push the shock and awe envelope. Honestly, Slayer is a tired act. Their set, save for about three or four cool riffs is monotonous junk. I almost laughed out loud when big, old JH walked out wearing black baseball catcher shin guards over his black leather pants. To me he looked like a 50 year-old mentally challenged Borg from Star Trek TNG. I’m wondering when and if Heineken is going to sue him for Trade Dress infringement for his knock off guitar. DL came off as just a normal guy, beating the living daylights out of a drum kit. TA, again, did his thing, smugly smiling through his hypocrisy. But back to KK, I just have to wonder. But you know what KK? God does NOT hate us all, He actually loves us all, and particularly He loves YOU, even more than you can imagine. And despite the marketing success of such an album title and your Anti-Christ theatrics, your success is hollow when compared to the other three bands on the stage last night. I love Anthrax and their unity, their anti-racism message. I like Megadeth and Dave’s not so subtle jabs at everything wrong with American politics, while being not as vulgar as say, Rage Against the Machine. I love Metallica for knocking me out when I was thirteen with songs like For Whom the Bell Tolls, for letting us all in on their frailty and weakness in Some Kind of Monster, and most especially, for surviving and being there last night to rock, after nearly 30 years.
Metallica’s set was longer but I’ve read that at least 5-6 songs were not included in the satellite broadcast, including one my favorites, Frayed Ends of Sanity. I was really surprised that Lars was playing such a scaled down drum kit. I guess it is a new challenge to make a standard kit sound like your playing Mike Portnoy’s set up. Kirk was good. I still miss Jason’s white walls and helicopter head bang but not his sour puss attitude. Trujillo is weird. Good but weird. He sort of stalks the stage like a giant spider. Most impressive to me was James. He walked out holding a black classic looking guitar. He sort of looked like James Dean, such a far cry from his 1983 angry, thrasher, teen angst look. Singing into those old style microphones completes the look. He sang so much better than I expected, despite one of the other reviews I read this morning. They played the classics: FWTBT, Fade to Black, One, Master of Puppets, Seek and Destroy, Sandman.
The highlight of the show was when James invited the other three bands to all come out and play together on Am I Evil?
I was watching intently the interaction between Mustaine and Hetfield, vaguely remembering some kind of reconciliation between Lars and Dave from ‘Monster, but I don’t know about James and Dave. I saw the two hug briefly and Dave looked genuinely moved. From his Dave’s comments in Monster, I figured he suffered some permanent scars from his violent expulsion from Metallica nearly thirty years ago, before the band ever became successful. Funny that the members of Alcoholica would kick out a member for drinking too much! He must have been one messed up dude at the time. Nevertheless, I think it would have been even more cool for Metallica to have Mustaine stand in on one more song, to let fans glimpse not only the success they could have been, but also to see real forgiveness and friendship, and to see and appreciate that a world without Megadeth would be worse that had things turned out differently. Glad it turned out the way it did.
The Sophia show will be released as a DVD for all of you who didn’t see it. Oh yeah, there is an encore presentation tomorrow night 6/24, at a movie theater near you.
The worst thing about the concert was that part of my $18 bucks had to go into the pockets of Slayer. But for that, it was money well spent.