Too bad for the prudish among us, because three-fourths of thrash metal's Big Four suitably defiled downtown Miami with a show that was heavy on nostalgia, but in the best way possible. All three bands are legends, and with reason. With some two-and-a-half decades each under their belt, all three acts continue to perform with levels of skill and energy that make their not-cheap concert tickets well worth every penny.
Opening the night was Anthrax, billed as "special guests" and thus were relegated to a shorter set -- about 30 minutes -- than the other two bands. It was a good quick-hit, warm-up set though. Despite all the confusion around the state of Anthrax and the band's future, together onstage, the guys play as if it were the '80s again (plus some extra wrinkles, and lots of gray beard hairs).
With Anthrax's longest-lasting singer, Joey Belladonna, back as frontman, the set concentrated on his era of material. It's the classic Anthrax canon, and live, it really argued for why Belladonna was and is Anthrax's best singer to date. His voice still soars and remains supple and expressive, and though it can seem over-the-top, his pantomiming of the lyrics entertains. (He could also skip running around in the ceremonial feathered headdress during "Indians" -- "Cry, cry, cry for the Indians!" -- but a bit of cheese is lovably par for the course in metal.)
Belladonna appeared to be having genuine fun, as did the band's backbone, Scott Ian, who comes off a bit cranky in interviews
but sported a big, endearing cheeseball grin as he played. Whatever happens with the new Anthrax album, still in the making, Belladonna should remain on board for the band's tours -- but as Ian said in his interview with New Times, with Anthrax, you never know
. The only complaint about this set: It was far too short, ending at a very early 7:30 p.m.
With both bands enjoying more or less equal stature, Megadeth and Slayer are technically co-headliners on the tour, but last night, Megadeth went on right after Anthrax. The set was something of a slow-burner, starting out strong, plateauing in energy around the middle, then ramping up, surprisingly, at the end. Part of this, perhaps, was because of the nature of the band's set, a run-through of all of its landmark album, Rust in Peace, end to end.
If this is your favorite album, it's awesome to hear it in order, live, but if there are stretches that don't grab you as much, it's also easy to start zoning out. As bands playing classic albums continues as a trend, I may be the only music fan who doesn't necessarily love the practice. It robs the set of some element of surprise, but so be it.
In his sobriety, Dave Mustaine seems as serious as ever, even in attire (for most of his performance, he wore a crisp white oxford button-down). He spent little time on between-song banter for the first half of his set, and when he did speak, it was with a bit of muted sarcasm. On the tour's sponsor liquor, for instance, he mumbled, "Man, that'll make you do some crazy stuff.... Not that I would know," he said, chuckling dryly.
Still, his playing remains pretty untouchable (except by his peers in the Big Four, perhaps). His fleet-fingered solos are so perfect that they sound pre-recorded and not entirely human, and his singing voice remains expressive and intact.
And after Rust in Peace proper finished, Mustaine seemed to let his hair down -- uh, figuratively, as his trademark locks were whipping in the wind from the first note. After a brief break, he reappeared in party gear -- a T-shirt! -- and no less than a double-neck guitar and a newfound sense of almost-fun.
Mustaine always seems very serious and duty-bound, but finally, towards the end, he seemed to regain his sense of humor on "Headcrusher," from the band's latest album, Endgame. How could someone remain dour, anyways, while singing a song so ridiculously metal as to be introduced thusly: "This song is about taking somebody's head and putting it in a vise and crushing it!" The song was performed as a group sing-along, by the way. After that came two more classics, "A Tout Le Monde" and "Symphony of Destruction;" if Megadeth had gone without playing the latter, particularly, there probably would have been a riot.
Slayer's slot as the evening's de facto headliner was right. Nobody can whip a crowd into a froth like frontman/bassist Tom Araya, guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, and drummer Dave Lombardo. The band's breakneck riffs and rapid-fire chants about violence and destruction are, of course, very, very male-friendly. (The gamut of classic Slayer anthems last night displayed a curious power to make dudes rip off their shirts in fits of excitement.)
Live, Slayer is absolutely relentless in speed and volume. Those 30-something Marshall speaker cabinets onstage may largely have been for show, but the sound levels were still there. In short, the band comes on like a full-on sensory assault -- and the effect is actually, in a way, calming. There is so much going on, so loud and so fast, that everything runs together into a total body experience and it is impossible to think about anything else. Slayer destroys all extraneous thoughts; there is only Slayer. It's actually pretty Zen.
That may be a funny thought considering the band's favorite lyrical topics -- war, destruction, the destruction of war, violence, laughter in the face of violence. And the greatest-hits-style set list covered it all, from "War Ensemble" on through "Dead Skin Mask," culminating in a relentless end with "Seasons in the Abyss," "South of Heaven," "Aggressive Perfector," "Raining Blood," and "Angel of Death."
But reveling in that kind of seedy stuff makes it less scary. Think of Slayer as therapy! That's what it seemed to be for most members of the audience who, by the end of the set, were air-punching or air-shredding or lost in some other kind of physical flailing.
More Slayer shows, and we could probably eliminate the need for expensive psychologist bills, and combat the country's obesity problem, to boot.
Personal Bias: In my own personal taste rankings of the Big Four, Megadeth comes in last. I guess I've always preferred the angrier tempos of Slayer and the almost-hardcore-crossover stylings of Anthrax.
The Crowd: Grandmas, grandpas, little kids, dads, fully grown men in Miami Dolphins pajamas, nearly every cool bartender, hair stylist, tattoo artist, and session player of note from Miami, black denim and patches for miles...
Overheard in the Crowd: "Man, that big bald guy with the tattoos can really play!" [To which we respond: Hmmm yeah, because he's Kerry freaking King.]
-"Caught in a Mosh"
-"Antisocial" (Trust cover)
-"Metal Thrashing Mad"
-"I Am the Law"
(Rust in Peace):
-"Holy Wars... The Punishment Due"
-"Take No Prisoners"
-"Poison Was the Cure"
-"Tornado of Souls"
-"Rust in Peace.... Polaris"
-"A Tout Le Monde"
-"Symphony of Destruction"
-"Holy Wars" (reprise)
-"World Painted Blood"
-"Spirit in Black"
-"Dead Skin Mask"
-"Skeletons of Society"
-"Born of Fire"
-"Seasons in the Abyss"
-"South of Heaven"
-"Angel of Death"