The Big 4: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax
by Tom Trakas
While different incarnations of the "Big 4" bill have played/toured together over the years, April 23, 2011 would be the first time all four would perform together in North America. The setting for the event was the Empire Polo Club in Indio California, well known for being the monstrous site of the annual multi band/day Coachella Festival. It would turn out to be the perfect locale.
Kicking things off promptly at 2 pm was Anthrax. Of all the four bands they easily have the most to prove and mightily stormed the stage with "Caught in a Mosh" from their 1987 release, 'Among the Living.' From the first note of co-founder Scott Ian's axe the early arrivers braving the fierce desert sun went off! All it took was one note and the once tranquil mass of people was ignited. Warriors of the sun were treated to 'Thrax classics like "Madhouse," "A.I.R.," "Indians" and "I Am the Law." Each song was delivered with the same precision the band was founded on some thirty years ago. New song "Fight 'Em Till You Can't" proves to be much more than just a title for the band as year in, year out they continue to battle. Even a hiccup here and there from returning vocalist Joe Belladonna couldn't damper what was a very respectable set.
Megadeth arrive to the somewhat confusing opening number "Trust," and proceeded to take the multiplying masses up a notch. Guitarist/Vocalist Dave Mustaine, a man who owns stages for a living, instantly claims another on the massive Coachella structure and delivers his message loud and clear. "In My Darkest Hour," follows the peculiar opener and to many, remains one of the finest Megadeth songs in existence. From there it was strength on top of strength with "Hangar 18" and fan favorite "Wake Up Dead." The Megadeth machine rolled along with a highlight reel of tracks spanning their impressive career and ended it with the timeless "Holy Wars The Punishment Due."
During the Megadeth set change, the energy level began to grow to electric proportions, slowly and steadily it grew. At first it was an almost jovial kind, the kind that makes you punch a friend in the arm. As the time ticked away the jovial atmosphere had given way to something a bit more sinister. Well before the, slightly dropping sun lit stage was bathed in red, the mood was now serious. There was only one band capable of this fervor spreading over the crowd of over 50,000+ and that band is Slayer.
Opening with the title track from their 2009 release, 'World Painted Blood' it didn't take long for Slayer to turn the festival site into their own private battlefield. One of, if not the most consistent of all the "Big 4," Slayer tore through new burners like "Hate Wordwide," and "Snuff" to bona fide classics like "Black Magic," "Raining Blood," and "Postmortem" Slayer once again demonstrated why they're the best at what they do.
Their set list was well balanced in representing a wide variety of eras and the response to the band was nothing short of fanatical. There was something rather brutal about seeing Slayer in a "death valley" type atmosphere and of course the band delivered, they always do. Guest Guitarist Gary Holt of Exodus blended in perfectly with the band. His reputation as one of Thrash Metal's tightest riff machines elevated the band in a way I've never seen before. The ever cool of Bassist/Vocalist Tom Araya was present as was the commanding assault of Guitarist Kerry King's demonic riffage. Behind the kit, back with the band for over eleven years now was the often imitated, never duplicated Dave Lombardo who paced the band through levels of intensity bands 20 years their junior will never produce.
Missing in action, Guitarist Jeff Hanneman made a surprise appearance during the set's encores of 'South of Heaven' and 'Angel of Death.' Hanneman sounded sharp, looked great and was totally in the moment, months of inactivity might have dulled a lesser player, not this one.
Metallica. I mean really, what more can be said? Opening with "Creeping Death" the biggest Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band in the world sounded like they were in the middle of a year long tour instead of playing a one off gig in the middle of nowhere. That's quite a compliment as they tore through monstrous hit after hit with the intention of delivering 30 years of music to every single soul in attendance.
For a band that could switch to auto-pilot at the drop of a dime and still conquer stadiums, arenas and yes, vast wastelands, Metallica were far from phoning it in and delivered one of the best sets I've ever seen from them. "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Ride the Lightning," "Fade to Black," meshed perfectly with 'Death Magnetic' numbers "Cyanide" and "All Nightmare Long." A brutal and heavier than all hell "Sad But True" from their gargantuan 1991 self titled album was aired as was many, many more Metalli-classics.
I have to say, with all the bands given ample opportunity to bring something out from "left field," you know something special and really surprising it was Metallica that dropped the hammer. "Orion," the instrumental from their 1986 release, 'Master of Puppets' was that number and let me tell you it was the purest definition of "epic."
Bassist Robert Trujillo honoring the life, music and spirit of long departed Cliff Burton while guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett harmonized in perfection was something as a Metallica fan as well as a fan of music I will never forget. The night was highlighted in what is now known as 'The Big 4 Jam' which, if you've seen either the DVD or broadcast from last summer's Sofia, Bulgaria concert you know what that is. The joining of all four bands performing the Diamond Head classic 'Am I Evil?" and I will admit how much cooler this was in person. Trust me; don't judge this until you're in the same "room" with this "jam."
In closing, I can't imagine anyone walking
away from the first ever 'Big 4' show in North America disappointed in
anything. It was exactly as advertised, the pioneering bands once at the
forefront of the American Thrash Metal movement putting on a show you've
either dreamt about or didn't. Those there with me, all 50,000+ once had
this dream and what can we say? It came true.
Tom Trakas is the former editor-in-chief of Midwest Metal who was gracious enough to cover this event for antiMUSIC. His current writing and interviews can be read at his blog None But My Own. He can be contacted at midwestmetal AT Comcast DOT net
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The Big 4: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax