Thursday, June 24, 2010

The 'Big Four' Hit the Big Screen

A show like no other hit hundreds of theaters on June 22, 2010. The four most influential bands of thrash metal played the Sonisphere music festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the event was broadcast to cinemas around the world.

The Big Four—Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica—shared a stage for the first time ever. Not only was this a dream come true for metal fans everywhere, it was surprising that these bands could come together because of a handful of issues that could have easily gotten in the way. For instance, who knew that after 27 years Dave Mustaine of Megadeth and his former bandmates from Metallica would work through their animosity and play a show together? Also, Anthrax has had a big question looming over them for a few months now--Joey Belladonna or John Bush?

Anthrax, who were recently reunited with lead vocalist Joey Belladonna, opened the Sonisphere show with “Caught in a Mosh.” As soon as they started playing, I could tell Anthrax is a band that’s still “got it.” Their energy was great, and I was very impressed with Belladonna’s vocal abilities. (I will say that he now looks about 15 years older than all of the members of Anthrax combined. His long hair worn in an outdated style makes it worse. This was just the first thing that came to mind when I saw him.)

Anthrax continued their set with their hits “Madhouse” and “Got the Time,” but the biggest highlight of all was their tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio during “Indians.” At the bridge, the band began to play part of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell.” This was an emotional moment (almost tearful) for me, because “Heaven and Hell” is my all time favorite metal song.

Megadeth took the stage next, and they opened with “Holy Wars.” I had the pleasure of seeing Megadeth in concert last November, and I was definitely curious to see them again after bassist (and co-founder) David Ellefson returned to the band after an eight-year absence. Other than hearing some weakness in Dave Mustaine’s voice on occasion, their set was fantastic and solidified the reason why this band was the one I came to see. Chris Broderick is a fantastic guitarist, and I absolutely love watching him play onstage.

Megadeth’s set featured several of their biggest hits such as “Hangar 18,” “Sweating Bullets,” and “Symphony of Destruction.” The band also played “Head Crusher” from their latest album End Game. However, their final song “Peace Sells” elicited the biggest response from the crowd of thousands of Bulgarian metalheads. They shouted the words to the song’s memorable chorus “If there’s a new way/ I’ll be the first in line” right back to Mustaine with incredible energy and feeling.

Slayer followed with their opener, a new single called “World Painted Blood.” Without a doubt, Slayer is the heaviest and angriest of the Big Four. And also, unfortunately, I know the least about them. I honestly have never been much of a Slayer fan. Please don’t take away my metal card yet! I think Dave Lombardo is an incredible drummer, probably one of the best ever. The rest of the band is very talented, and with songs such as “Mandatory Suicide” and “Hell Awaits,” it is no wonder why metal fans are so captivated by Slayer and their songs’ subjects.

Going into this show, I thought I would have little interest in Slayer, but I actually enjoyed their set. I liked hearing “Raining Blood” performed live and seeing the crowd’s reaction to the legendary track. I also discovered that Slayer is quite a visual band, especially guitarist Kerry King who sports a unique look with his pattern of tattoos and porcupine-inspired wristband.

Metallica, who is arguably the biggest of the Big Four, closed the show. The pickiest of thrash fans will be happy to know that Metallica’s setlist was comprised mostly of “pre-Load” songs. They opened their set with “Creeping Death” from my favorite album of theirs Ride the Lightning. The audience—both at the festival and in the theater—seemed ecstatic to hear that opening riff to such a classic thrash song.

The band continued their set with “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Harvester of Sorrow,” and “One.” Audience members in the theater even got out their lighters (dangerous, but cool) for their beautiful rendition of “Fake to Black,” which was my favorite of Metallica’s set.

Due to a technical difficulty at the Knoxville, Tennessee, movie theater where I attended this concert broadcast, my viewing of the Big Four was cut short. At the end of “Enter Sandman,” which is probably Metallica’s biggest hit, the movie screen went black. (Irony!!!) The extremely unhappy audience yelled things like “this is bullshit!” at the projector booth. Most everyone, including myself, got out of their seats and proceeded to leave because it appeared as if the show was winding down anyway. It was already past midnight at that point, as the theater was late getting the show started. It was supposed to begin at 7:30, and all of us rockers were subjected to horrible elevator music for nearly an hour before the metal madness began.

Apparently technical difficulties weren’t exclusive to the Knoxville showing of the Big Four concert special. While I was waiting impatiently for my show to start, I saw the post on radio host Eddie Trunk’s Twitter page saying “Sound and power out during my screening. Metal fans not happy!” followed by, “Rockaway NJ just had power outage and cleared the theatre in the middle of Anthrax set. That's all I'm getting of Big 4!” Luckily, there was an encore presentation on June 24th, and I hope Mr. Trunk made it to that one.

Due to the screen glitch and my leaving early, I missed what had to be the most epic moment of the Big Four at Sonisphere. Members of Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer joined Metallica onstage to perform Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” Because of the magic of YouTube, I fortunately got to see the performance later on. Before the bands started playing, they greeted each other with hugs and handshakes. Even Dave Mustaine and members of Metallica seemed genuinely happy to be sharing a stage.

"Am I Evil?" kicked off with killer riffs courtesy of Kirk Hammett, and the guitarists of Megadeth and Anthrax soon joined in. All the bands' drummers pounded away (Dave Lombardo was the only Slayer member present for this) while James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, and Joey Belladonna took turns singing.

"Epic" is the one word that comes to mind when describing this scene. I just can't imagine what it was like for the audience members in Bulgaria who were witnessing this legendary coming together of metal gods.

After the Big Four finished "Am I Evil?" Metallica resumed their set and finished it with "Seek and Destroy." It's almost easy to forget that Metallica had a continuation of their set because of the epic meeting that had just taken place. Since it was such a big deal, maybe they should have saved "Am I Evil?" for a grand finale. Despite this, I think Metallica did an excellent job of blending in with the other bands, even with their obvious commercial success and overwhelming popularity.

Theater experience aside, I am thrilled I was able to attend the screening of the Big Four concert. It was exciting to see Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica share a stage. Each of these bands is unique, but they have one thing in common-- they are all originators of thrash metal. Like most fans, I am hoping for a Big Four tour, and I certainly can't wait to see the DVD and relive this moment in music history.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The School of Shock Rock is Still in Session

The father of shock rock, Alice Cooper, and his 21st Century counterpart, Rob Zombie, spread their respective brands of horror and theatrics across North America as they embarked upon the “Gruesome Twosome Tour” in spring of 2010.

On Tuesday, May 18, the team played the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, Tennessee. The show—which I attended with Lady Rock—was filled with stunning visuals, and of course, great music. Both performers certainly outdid themselves, and two things were proven that night—1. Alice Cooper still has it, and 2. Rob Zombie has filled some big shoes.

I was so happy to join the Rock Maiden at the Knoxville date of Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie’s “Gruesome Twosome Tour,” and I’m even happier to join in reviewing the show! This was my 11th Alice Cooper show, and as usual, this performance topped the others in its own ways. Alice himself was in incredible voice and expected energy, and ruled the crowd’s attention with an iron fist!

Alice Cooper has always been one of my favorite artists, and this wasn’t my first time seeing him live. He constructs setlists well—mixing the older material with the new, and giving the die-hard fans a deep cut. Having been performing since the late 1960s, one might guess Mr. Cooper would be a little worn out, never having taken a long break from recording or touring. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

This man just keeps topping himself! I’ve seen him from all different perspectives and distances. I’ve seen the secrets behind how he gets guillotined and hanged, but this night, Alice shocked me all over again! Killed FOUR times over the course of the show, and though I do hate to ruin any surprises, two of them were very recent sparks of genius. I’ll just say that one of them was particularly surprising considering how much Alice Cooper himself hates needles!

Alice jam-packed 22 songs into an hour and a half, but I’ll include just a couple of the highlights.

“Eighteen” has the very same inspired blues groove from its 1971 origin. It’s just as impossible not to fall into a slow head sway until our leader starts to yell, “I’m EIGHTEEN!” and feel just as angsty as the song implies. This song was simple evidence that Alice’s legacy isn’t going anywhere.

The highlights of every Alice Cooper concert I’ve been to have always been the deep cuts he’ll resurrect! Other die-hards in the audience and I were thrilled to death that he played two songs from his From The Inside album, “From The Inside” and “Nurse Rozetta.” His costume for these songs included an appropriate nod to Brian “Renfield” Nelson, Alice’s personal assistant and close friend who passed away unexpectedly last year. Alice wore a t-shirt reading “Renfield Nelson Asylum.”

To accompany the usual, surprisingly heartfelt “Only Women Bleed,” Alice also brought out a second ballad: “I Never Cry,” which he’s been doing on and off in recent years. The twist? Our hero sings while dressed in drag and with a noose around his neck. And this was Alice’s vocal high point of the night. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard his voice so strong and clean while on stage. And just as he wound everyone into a frenzy of “you know, you know, you know, I never cry,” the trapdoor of the gallows dropped out—

“I Love The Dead” is precisely where Alice’s backing band needs to be recognized. Alice plays with only the best, and though I miss many of those that have moved onto different projects, his lineup supports him better than ever! Damon Johnson (guitars), Keri Kelli (guitars), Chuck Garric (bass), and Jimmy DeGrasso (drums) are not only accomplished musicians but also excellent singers. “I Love The Dead” lay on Chuck’s shoulders, and that man does NOT disappoint… I think the Rock Maiden would agree with me that Chuck is pretty fantastic…

This tour truly represents a passing of the Shock Rock torch, but I’ll let the Rock Maiden give her official metal opinion of the Zombie that rises. I must say though that I never expected Rob to be so much like Alice. His innovations are just as genius and he commands his audience just as thoroughly… how else could I have been unable to take my eyes off a man whose hair looks like he’s been going through my garbage for a week?

Like Lady Rock, I had seen Alice Cooper in concert before, so I was quite familiar with the theatrical shock rock genre. However, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rob Zombie. I have been a casual Zombie fan for quite some time, so I had never seen him perform live.

Rob opened his set with “Sawdust In the Blood” from his 2006 album Educated Horses. This surprised me because I thought he would have begun with something from his latest album, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, or a well-known hit. The second song, “Call of the Zombie,” was when Rob really started moving around the stage and utilizing the space.

A major visual highlight of Rob’s set was when he played a favorite from his White Zombie days—“More Human Than Human.” During the performance, a gigantic robot (the subject of the song) moved around the stage in a slow and menacing manner. Plus, hearing the lyrics, “I am the Nexxus One / I want more life / Fucker, I ain’t done, yeah!” could never get old!

Three-quarters of the way through his set, Rob turned the stage over to his equally talented band. Drummer Joey Jordison (also of Slipknot) played an elaborate solo, and guitarist John 5 lit up the stage with his breathtaking guitar solo. Without a doubt, John 5 is the most amazing guitarist I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing perform live.

Rob closed the first portion of his set with another White Zombie tune, “Thunder Kiss ’65.” This song is best played live because the lyrics become even more slurred together and unintelligible. All you can hear is “Nineteen sixty fiiiiiive… yeeeeah!” and the crowd still goes nuts for it every time. It’s a fun song, and the Kool-Aid Acid Test-inspired background on the stage really added to it.

Zombie closed his show with two encores—with two songs each. The first encore, “Werewolf Women of the SS,” opened with a fake trailer that was featured in the film Grindhouse. Rob and his band completed this spectacle and raised some eyebrows by appearing onstage in long red coats that were similar to Nazi regalia.

What I really enjoyed about Rob’s setlist is that he did an excellent job layering the hits with the new material. Following “Werefolf Women” was the ever-popular “Dragula.” Both that and the recent hit “Sick Bubble Gum” elicited a huge pop from the audience. It was during these encores that Rob surprised us by running out into the crowd with a video camera. He announced he was filming us for a video.

Rob’s grand finale was the most spectacular of all. He ended the show in the same exciting way it started. He received the torch that was passed to him by the Shock Rock God Alice Cooper. He performed his own rendition of the classic “School’s Out.” It was just as energetic and angst-filled as the original, with some unique Zombie flair added to it.

This entire show made me realize how well Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie compliment each other—even more so than I expected. Their shows are similar, but Rob does not come across as a rip-off. Both rockers have run with the idea of placing a huge emphasis on the visual elements of their shows while the music is never compromised.

Both Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie have the power to give their audiences goosebumps and shivers in the middle of a sunny afternoon, and their performances have my heart beating just as hard as the first time I saw Michael Myers’ first murder!

(Note: All words in italics were written by Laura "Lady Rock" Rogas.)