By Niki D’Andrea
Better than: Eye spasms at a titty bar.
The Metal Masters Tour rolled through the Valley last night, with a bill that boasted four titans of heavy metal: Testament, Motörhead, Heaven & Hell, and Judas Priest. Unfortunately, Testament hit the stage at 5:30 and I was stuck in traffic on the I-10 W until about 6. When I arrived at the venue, Motörhead had just started playing.
I love Motörhead (gotta love any band that names itself after street slang for a speed freak), and the band sounded great – just burly as hell. But I couldn’t understand a word Lemmy Kilmister was singing onstage. Kilmister’s got one of the most distinctive voices in metal (like he’s gargling gravel or something), but I honestly couldn’t tell one Motörhead song from another for most of the set (although “Ace of Spades” was easy to differentiate). And Kilmister was wearing black jeans so tight they came dangerously close to being emo jeans. At one point, Kilmister asked the audience, “Is it loud enough for you? Want us to turn it up?” When the audience roared its approval, Kilmister told the sound engineer to “Turn it up, mate.” They were officially The Loudest Band of the Night.
I surveyed the crowd between sets, and decided to sit in one spot for ten minutes and see how many mullets I could count. Six people with mullets walked by in ten minutes. That’s roughly a mullet every two minutes.
Heaven & Hell had some of coolest props I’ve ever seen, including two giant gnarled trees with huge gargoyles perched in them. The props were rigged so that smoke spewed from the mouths of the gargoyles. Even though Ronnie James Dio looks rather like the Crypt Keeper these days, he can still sing his lil’ ass off. He was spot on all night, from the opening song (“Mob Rules”) to the encore (“Neon Knights”). Furthermore, Ronnie James Dio is the king of expert mic twirling and ghoulie gesticulations. He even made a joke, while introducing the song “Sign of the Southern Cross.”
“This song takes its name from a phrase we heard in Australia years ago,” he told the audience. “It was originally called ‘Don’t Pull the Chain ‘Cause We Like to See Them Float.’”
Guitarist Tony Iommi was his usual collected, looming self, cranking out the dark, crunchy riffs for which he’s known. At the end of the band’s hourlong set, he threw handfuls of guitar picks into the audience. Lightning in the Phoenix sky added to the heavy metal vibe.
By the time Judas Priest took the stage, a nasty storm was brewing. Before the band came out, the crew was desperately trying to control the band’s backdrops, which were billowing and blowing all over the place. The primary backdrop was a big, spooky, eyeless banner of Nostradamus, the 16th century prophet about whom the band just made a double concept album. The band’s set started off with a song from the Nostradamus album, “Prophecy.” Singer Rob Halford was on a riser, wearing a shiny cloak and singing through swirls of colorful smoke. His voice sounded impeccable, as he ditched the cloak for the usual spikes and black leather and flexed his three-and-half-octave vocal range through “Eat Me Alive,” “Between the Hammer and the Anvil,” and “Devil’s Child.”
Near the end of “Devil’s Child,” a brisk, cold rain started whipping through the pavilion, and lightning lit up the sky all around us. Halford took note, pointing at the lightning and saying, “This is what happens when you say ‘I think I’m the devil’s child.’”
The rain seemed to reinvigorate the audience, and people started pumping their fists higher and screaming louder than before. When Judas Priest broke into “Breaking the Law,” the entire audience sang along and slammed around.
Through every number, Judas Priest sounded like polished pros – K.K. Downing’s guitar couldn’t have been more crisp, and Halford never missed a note. The storm was just a nice effect. But it looked like the apocalypse.
After the show, a torrential downpour greeted concertgoers. My favorite part of the drive home on the pitch-black I-10 (streetlights took the night off, I guess) was the five minutes I spent crawling through the I-10 E tunnel, which was flooded with four feet of water across the right two lanes.
Random detail: There was a rotund, tattooed biker dude with a braid down his back wearing a shirt that read, “I’d like to help you, but you can’t fix stupid.”
Personal bias: I totally had a mullet in high school.