Slayer, Megadeth and Testament
August 27, 2010
About halfway through Megadeth's set last night at Dodge Theatre, it hit me like a ton of bricks: we won!
We actually won!
By "we," I mean thrash metal, of course - the bands, the fans and the music. After nearly three decades of playing the role of scrappy underdog, thrash metal finally seems to have turned the corner and become a more viable form of music than hair metal. The war is over! The posers have been vanquished! Let us all rejoice and bask in the glory of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman's dueling chromatic guitar solos!
Okay, so maybe I'm being a little dramatic, but as I looked over the crowd at a packed-to-the-gills Dodge Theatre last night, I was hard pressed to come up with three comparable hair metal bands that could possibly draw as big a crowd as this veteran trio of thrash acts, especially in this, the shittiest economy of our lifetimes.
Think about it. If we set aside Bon Jovi and Metallica - the two genres' biggest names - as basically a wash, who are hair metal's next best options?
Probably Mötley Crüe. Then Poison, I guess.
Then who? Warrant? Slaughter? White fucking Lion? You've gotta admit, there's a pretty big drop-off after those first two.
Thrash metal, on the other hand, has depth to spare. As great a band as Testament is, their slot on the American Carnage tour could just as easily be occupied by Exodus, Overkill or Death Angel with no significant decrease in talent or drawing power.
Or Anthrax, for that matter, which is precisely what is slated to occur on the second leg of this tour. With three of thrash metal's "founding fathers" sharing a US stage for the first time since the American version of the 1990 Clash of the Titans tour, the pressure will be squarely on Metallica to finally make the oft-rumored dream of a proper "Big Four" tour a reality. You have to figure Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield are keeping close tabs on this tour, and right about now, they must be seeing dollar signs.
Which brings us, finally, to the concert at hand.
Testament kicked things off shortly before 7 p.m. with the opening song from their latest album, The Formation of Damnation, and never let up. Despite the early start time, there was already a sizable crowd inside Dodge Theatre. Unlike co-headliners Megadeth and Slayer, Testament wasn't playing a classic album in its entirety on this tour, so the band was free to cherry pick from their extensive catalog. Surprisingly, Testament only played two songs from their late '80s heyday - a pair of tracks from their 1988 sophomore album, The New Order. The rest of the band's 40-minute set featured three songs from Formation, and, even more surprisingly, three mid-period songs originally recorded during founding guitarist Alex Skolnick's 12-year absence from the band. Lead singer (and cancer survivor) Chuck Billy sounded fantastic on songs old and new, but the absence of such classics as "Over the Wall" and "Practice What You Preach" was curious, to say the least. That said, the crowd responded enthusiastically to Testament's set. During the band's final song, Billy paused to give the crowd instructions on forming a giant circle pit - "Everybody down front, spread out. Okay, you motherfuckers over here, I want you to kill those motherfuckers over there!" - and the audience gladly complied.
Megadeth was up next, and the band immediately launched into their classic 1990 album, Rust in Peace. A few songs into the set, frontman Dave Mustaine issued a warning: "We might go a little long tonight, 'cause I fuckin' love you guys." The former Valley resident prowled the stage with his trademark sneer, tearing off blistering guitar solos and spitting out lyrics in his signature snarl. Like Testament before them, Megadeth eventually took a detour into some later-era material, but the crowd stayed receptive, even during Megadeth Lite tracks like "Symphony of Destruction" and "À Tout le Monde." The band wrapped up their 80-minute set with "Peace Sells," segueing back into "The Punishment Due" to bring things full-circle. Mustaine left the crowd with a simple "God bless you Phoenix" before making way for the night's main attraction.
Slayer, showmen that they are, dispensed with all pretense and got the new shit out of the way early, playing two songs from their latest album, World Painted Blood, before launching into their own 1990 classic, Seasons in the Abyss. For many Slayer fans, Seasons ranks just below Reign in Blood as the band's second-best album. I'm not one of those Slayer fans, but I get the whole 20th anniversary theme going on with this tour, so that's just a minor quibble. It's still fucking Slayer, and it's still a solid album. The band wrapped up their set with four early classics, culminating in (what else?) "Angel of Death." The highlight of the show for this admitted Slayer geek was the inclusion of "Aggressive Perfector," a semi-rarity found only as a bonus track on certain versions of Show No Mercy and in live form on the band's 1985 EP Live Undead.
Overall, there really wasn't much to complain about at this show. You could definitely do a lot worse than seeing three bands with a combined 83 years of experience playing nearly four hours of music. If this tour winds up being the precursor to a "Big Four" tour, as many are predicting, then the fans in attendance last night got a peek into the future. Regardless, it was still great to see three thrash metal bands fill one of the Valley's largest indoor concert venues to near-capacity. Last night, Slayer, Megadeth and Testament proved that you don't need to make a shitty reality TV show or a sex tape with Pam Anderson to stay relevant. Just play some kick-ass songs, and the people will come. Chalk one up for the good guys.
Personal Bias: As I mentioned, I'm not as big a fan of Seasons in the Abyss as most Slayer fans. All things being equal, I'd have rather heard South of Heaven or Show No Mercy. Maybe on the next tour...
The Crowd: Dude, if you have to ask...
Overheard in the crowd: "Slayer!!!"
Overheard in the concourse: "Slayer!!!"
Overheard in the men's restroom: "Slayer!!!"
Overheard in the beer line: "Slayer!!!"
Overheard in the smoking section: "Who's got weed?!?" (Oh yeah, and also "Slayer!!!")
Random Notebook Dump: When it comes to domineering, nasal-voiced frontmen whose guitar wizardry and brilliant songwriting are frequently overshadowed by their perceived egomania, Dave Mustaine is running neck-and-neck with Billy Corgan.
For the Glory Of/More Than Meets the Eye
Dog Faced Gods
The New Order
Trial by Fire
The Persecuted Won't Forget
D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)
Three Days in Darkness
The Formation of Damnation
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Holy Wars... The Punishment Due
Take No Prisoners
Poison Was the Cure
Tornado of Souls
Rust in Peace... Polaris
À Tout le Monde
Symphony of Destruction
Peace Sells/The Punishment Due (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