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Friday, September 16, 2011

Concert Review: The Critic's Day Off

The Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax) at Yankee Stadium
Metallica play "Seek and Destroy" at the end of a seven-hour concert.
Photo by the author, taken from the Grandstand, Section 420, Seat 17.
Whether it's Metallica or Turandot at the Baths of Caracalla, playing music in a stadium built for football, soccer or baseball is a problematic situation at best. For the Big Four, the occasional festival bringing together '80s speed-metal bands Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, filling Yankee Stadium with the sound of white noise proved a serious technical challenge.

The bands provided speaker stacks on the empty infield, rising up toward the grandstand like siege towers on a battlefield. The audience was in the seats and on the outfield, with the stage at dead center. And the stadium security, convinced of the risks of peace-loving metalheads, made it hard for some audience members to get into the stadium to see their beloved bands.

As a result the venue was half-empty when Anthrax took the stage at 4pm. The New York-based band came on in re-branded Yankees uniforms, celebrating the venue and the declaration of "Official Anthrax Day" in the Bronx. They tore into "Fight 'Em if You Can't," the first single from their new record Worship Music. A too-short set featured two covers: "Antisocial" and Joe Jackson's "Got The Time.  Brisk punk energy boiled and mosh pits started as Scott Ian and Frank Bello did their best to mask the cracks in singer Joey Belladonna's voice. However the singer found his groove with "Indians" and the crowd led the way in a strong "I Am The Law."

Megadeth came on next, playing with their trademark precision, despite singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine's recent recovery from neck surgery. Chris Broderick's laser-like guitar solo over "Hanger 18" set the tone early. "A Tout le Monde" got the stadium singing, and "Sweating Bullets" took the set to a new energy level. Band mascot Vic Rattlehead showed up, "calling his shot" Babe Ruth-style. Their set ended with "Holy Wars/The Punishment Due" with strong double riffs from the two guitarists.

Slayer remain one of the darkest bands in the world. Sure, other groups with lamer names play faster and sing pages out of medical textbooks, but no-one matches the California quartet for sincere observation of the evils of men. Their subject matter ranges from the insanity of war ("War Ensemble", "Mandatory Suicide") to the banality of man: "Dead Skin Mask" chronicles the depradations of serial killer Ed Gein with a guitar line that sounds like a sobbing child.

Fittingly, the band played in total darkness except for the stage lights: eerie and effective. With one hour to squeeze in 14 songs, some (slightly) slower tracks ("South of Heaven," "Dead Skin Mask") were sped up to fit them all in. Bassist/singer Tom Araya can't headbang anymore (he has a steel rod in his neck) but his scream was intact on the closer, "Angel of Death" (about Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele.) Kerry King and guest guitarist Gary Holt (subbing for Jeff Hanneman, who is recovering from illness) led the charge with pell-mell soloing and tight riffs.

Metallica solved the problem of having to follow Slayer by breaking out their "A" material. The band tore in to "Creeping Death" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls", never letting up in a 18-song set that featured four songs each from classic records Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets. The surprise: the nine-minute instrumental "Orion" as a tribute to late bassist Cliff Burton. (My eleventh show in 22 years and I've never seen them play it.) Often-grim singer James Hetfield was positively jovial, grinning as the crowd responded and cracking a (rare) onstage joke.

Spectacular visuals: fire-pots for "Fuel", cannon-shots for "One" and a criss-cross of lasers during "Blackened" cemented the band's status as hosts of the evening. The encore started with most of the "Big Four" coming back onstage to jam on the Motörhead classic "Overkill." Then Metallica finished with two more songs: the high-speed "Battery" and the crowd favorite "Seek and Destroy." As the last song played with the lights on and the crowd throwing inflatable black balloons, the message was clear: Metallica had hit one out of the park.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.