Spinal Tapped

In which our heroine observes a Sabbath

"Heeey maaan, you got a cigarette for me?"

The question comes from a tall, skinny, glassy-eyed kid in a Megadeth T-shirt, and it's directed at my friend Chazz, who could easily be his father. Chazz asks the kid if he's gonna buy him a beer.

"Yeeah, maaan, I'll buy ya big fuggin' beer! Hey, you like Megadeth? Fuck yeah! Gimme some skin!"

Mike Gorman

That's the way it is with metalheads these days. It doesn't matter if you were born 25 years apart, if you have long hair, or if you broke somebody's favorite bong — if you're metal fans, you're fucked-up family. The only rift that comes between headbangers is the frequent (and, frankly, tired and pointless) argument over what qualifies as "real" metal.

In the six years we've been friends, Chazz and I (an avid metal fan too) have never had that argument. We just rock out and save the discussions for the important issues, like how much each of us should chip in for a bag of chronic, or why Alice Cooper's radio show rocks harder than Dee Snider's "House of Hair."

Chazz is in his early 40s. He had a really long mullet up 'til a few years ago. Nobody had the guts to give him shit about that, though, because he's been known to whoop some serious ass in bar fights.

A self-professed redneck with a big beer gut, Chazz loves NASCAR, fishing, football ("Raiders, baby!"), and partying. But what he loves more than anything is the metal, particularly Megadeth and Black Sabbath — which is why we're here, downtown at Dodge Theatre, on a Sunday night.

Tonight marks the first show on the nationwide "Heaven & Hell" tour that features Machine Head, Megadeth, and Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio. Chazz has a pass that puts him right in front of the stage for the first three songs of both Megadeth and Black Sabbath's sets, and he is super fuckin' stoked.

We watch some of Machine Head's set from our seats; singer and guitarist Robert Flynn works the crowd like he's inciting a riot.

"I want everybody in the crowd to hold up your fucking drinks! Cheers, Phoenix!" he shouts. "Now I wanna see a fucking mosh pit out there! C'mon, Phoenix, show us what you got!"

When the band barrels into another one of its malevolent melodies, ushered in by thunderous drumming and ear-pummeling power chords, the lights come on over the pit to spotlight a sea of bouncing bodies slamming into each other. The crowd keeps moving until the end of Machine Head's blistering set.

As we head for the balcony bar, Chazz chuckles and taps me on the shoulder. "Hey, it's that dude from earlier."

I look over to see the kid in the Megadeth shirt with his arms thrown around a couple of guys wearing Arch Enemy shirts. "Yeeah, maaan!" He's saying. "Fuckin' Arch Enemy is baaadaaass, dude! I fuckin' love them too!"

A few minutes later, Megadeth comes on, opening with "Symphony of Destruction." Frontman and Phoenix native Dave Mustaine is shredding solos on his Flying V, indulging in breakneck-speed noodling while snarling lyrics from the latest album alongside classics like "Wake Up Dead" and "Holy Wars."

Fresh from the front row, Chazz comes running up behind me screaming a short time later. "NIKI D!" he shouts. "That was fucking awesome! That was amazing! Best birthday present ever!"

Chazz's birthday really is a couple of days after this show. He's turning 12.

"Ohmygod, Niki, first I went up there, and then the lights went out, and then Megadeth came out, and I was so close to Dave Mustaine," he says, out of breath and speaking faster. "And then the guitarist looked right at me and then he made a great face and then some dude's hair hit me in the eye . . ."

Chazz takes off again in a flurry of excitement before Black Sabbath starts, and Machine Head drummer Dave McClain sits down nearby. As the former skin-hitter for Sacred Reich, McClain's got ties to Phoenix, too, and his family is seated around us. Several young women recognize McClain and ask for photos with him. He obliges and chats for a bit, but once the lights go down for Black Sabbath, he's all about watching the show. And what a show it is.

Ronnie James Dio is one of the most revered singers in the history of metal. He also popularized the "devil horns" hand gesture, which now universally means "rock on." Dio says he adopted the sign from his grandmother, who used it to guard against the evil eye. Tonight, everybody throws up the devil horns when the spotlight beams down on Dio, a very small man who looks like he might blow away if you sneezed in his direction.

Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi wrote the riff to "Iron Man," which is right up there with Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" as one of the most memorable metal riffs ever. And thanks to the rhythm section of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice, every seat in the house had to be vibrating. I can't help but applaud as the band sails through its set of doomy, old school metal with a precision that comes from being among the originators of the genre.

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