Concert Review

My 9-Year-Old Son Loved the Slayer Concert at the Arizona State Fair Last Night

Not unlike the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne Saturday night, Tom Araya, Slayer's ass-kicking bassist/vocalist, talked to the fair crowd about the importance of remembering to share the love about halfway through the band's set.

Then he and his band melted the faces off the people in the front row by ripping into "Dead Skin Mask" from 1990's Seasons In The Abyss. Simply put, Wednesday night's Slayer show at the Arizona State Fair was awesome. The greatest living metal band rocked a sizable Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum crowd into submission for almost an hour and a half, playing many of their most beloved songs and bringing along a killer light show.

One could make the argument that Slayer and the Flaming Lips are almost the same band. They are both huge bands with devout fans willing to risk life and limb to have a good time at their shows. Each band has put out a lot of records and has a signature sound, yet to more casual fans, their songs are probably difficult to name outside of token few. And, lastly, each band puts on a fantastic show. Maybe they are the same band? I've never seen them in a picture together, that's for sure.

Back to reality, though.
It was a special night all around. Young Slayer fans, including my own 9-year-old son, Liam, roamed the upper half of the stadium, dragging parents around the general admission section looking for that special vantage point to check out the action. By 6:45 p.m., the crowd was getting restless as AC/DC pumped through the PA and the swelling crowd vociferously yelled for Slayer to get it going. When the lights finally dimmed around 7:10 p.m. or so, and the riffage began. Three white crosses appeared on the screen at the front of the stage and slowly began to rotate until they were all upside down. 

Then they turned blood red and all hell broke loose.

Early on, we sat near the top of the venerable Phoenix arena in section 328, where the sound was not exactly wonderful. At one point about 15 minutes in, Liam leaned over to me and said, "How long is this song?"

They'd played three or four songs by then, so it was time to move. As we made our way to west edge of the coliseum, the sound improved greatly and the band was winding into form. Mixing new stuff with older stuff, Araya (who kind of looks like someone's sort of hippy-ish grandpa), guitarist Kerry King, former Exodus guitarist Gary Holt, and drummer Paul Bostaph tore through one song after another on a rather spooky stage complete with some flavor that would have made any fan of Halloween (the holiday, not the movie) proud. Eight light installations stood on each side of Bostaph's drum kit looking like alien sentinels, punishing the crowd with barrage after barrage of psychedelic lighting.

In typical Slayer form, Holt and King traded guitar leads early and often. No matter how many times you see Slayer play, it always looks like King is just making his leads up as he goes along, but regardless of his unique style, the man absolutely shreds. To be fair, Holt does as well. In his five years with the band after the death of Jeff Hanneman (who was remembered on the screen behind the band at the end of the show), Holt has really begun to own his role in the band, although it will always be nice to see him on stage with Exodus as well. 
Bostaph is not longtime Slayer stick man Dave Lombardo by any stretch of the imagination, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Bostaph definitely held his own on Wednesday night, even if there was no one particular point where he took over the show the way Lombardo tends to do when behind the kit. My son was pleased with Bostaph's performance, though, air drumming at multiple points in the evening and even commenting about how "awesome the drums are."

Slayer ended the night with some of their very best songs, including an excellent rendition of a personal fave, "Hell Awaits" (from 1985's Hell Awaits) which was sandwiched by heavy hitters "Seasons in the Abyss" and "South of Heaven." Liam knew the next song immediately from playing Guitar Hero and was giddy about Slayer including "Raining Blood," so much so that he completely took it in stride when a guy behind us began throwing folding chairs all around our section. As the band was winding into the grand finale, "Angel of Death," Liam asked me, "When does Slayer play again? I want to go."

I couldn't be prouder. 
Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Slayer at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fair

The Crowd: Folks of all ages wearing black T-shirts, although a huge amount of kids in the 6 to 10 range. Lots of smiles. While there were a handful of bad eggs who got themselves kicked out, the vast majority of people seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

Overheard: "I smell bacon." When a member of Phoenix's finest walked by.

Random Notebook Dump: Having seen a wide variety of bands and artists at Veterans Memorial Coliseum over the years, everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Flock of Seagulls to Slayer to the Knack and many more, it's going to be a sad day when the place is gone. The sound isn't great and the place is falling apart, but it is a landmark in Phoenix and part of our history.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon