Sunday, August 5, 2012


Yesterday, I went to Rockstar Energy Drink's Mayhem Festival at the Toyota Pavilion in Scranton (!), PA. It was my first time going to see this particular tour. Mayhem has been going on for five years and I've never really felt the need to check it out, but this year's lineup was too good to pass up: Slayer, Motorhead and Anthrax. It was headlined by Slipknot.

Slayer played right before Slipknot, and it reminded me a little of the first time I saw Slayer, especially since they have not changed much at all in the decades between then and now. The first time I saw them was in 1987 at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.  They were on a multi-band bill headlined by W.A.S.P.  Now, W.A.S.P. was cool and had all this theatrical stuff going on, but they couldn't compete with Slayer's intensity. In fact, a lot of people left before W.A.S.P., and many more who stayed just threw stuff at the band.

It's not an exact metaphor: Slipknot was the clear headliner last night, respected and loved by pretty much the entire crowd. But, like W.A.S.P., they had a lot of visual stuff going on, other than the obvious (their costumes and masks). Clown's percussion riser was going up and down, other members were jumping on it, there was lots of pyro, it was a real spectacle.  They look awesome and sound great.  But in my mind, it's really tough to follow up Slayer.  Last time I saw Slayer was with Metallica at the "Summer Sanitarium" tour -- Metallica are good enough to pull it off. I also saw them on the Ozzfest. The Deftones went on after them, and with all due respect, I felt they were out of their league.

I only stayed for the first few songs of Slipknot - Scranton is far away, and due to traffic it took us more than four hours to get there. But from what I saw, they were tight.  There aren't that many songs that stand out to me, but I was impressed.

Slayer knock me out every time.  Their intensity and focus is just amazing. Even with a fill-in guitarist -- Gary Holt from Exodus subbing for Jeff Hanneman while he recovers from a spider bite that almost killed him -- they are just unreal.  Holt and Kerry King are a tight guitar team, Dave Lombardo sets the gold standard for metal drummers and Tom Araya still bellows with the same fury he did two decades ago.  Before Slayer took the stage, an AC/DC mix played over the P.A. which I thought was fitting.  They sound nothing alike, but like AC/DC, Slayer ignore and outlast all trends, never compromise, and never let their fans down.  If I had one request for Slayer, it would be to do their cover of Black Sabbath's "Hand Of Doom." Other than that, there's no way to improve on what they do. And anyway, how can I complain when they did “Disciple,” “War Ensemble,” “Mandatory Suicide,” “Seasons In The Abyss,” “Dead Skin Mask,” “Angel Of Death” and for their encore, “South Of Heaven” and “Raining Blood.”

In my mind, Motorhead were the headliners.  Of course, when they tour on their own, they don't play venues nearly as big as the Toyota Pavilion, but that's a shame. Like the aforementioned almighty AC/DC, they are oblivious to the trends that they will outlive, and they have a formula that works for them. Like The Velvet Underground, they've influenced so many bands, a very disproportionate amount compared to their record sales.  But Lemmy accepts it.  He's like a metal Willie Nelson, always on the road. Sometimes playing big places, sometimes small holes in the wall, if people are going to pay to show up, he'll blow their minds.  I thought their set was a bit too short, I still heard a lot of classics including "Bomber," "Damage Case," "The Chase Is Better Than The Catch," "The One To Sing The Blues," "Killed By Death" and "Ace Of Spades."I would have dug "Orgasmatron," but as Lemmy himself noted, they had no say in their set time. Honestly, I was just glad to see them playing for such a huge crowd.  They could probably have filled the joint with metal and punk bands who wouldn't exist without them.

Anthrax is probably the band on the bill who I have spent the most time listening to. In high school, they were one of my metal favorites, and I listened to them more than Slayer or Motorhead. I haven't seen them in years: since they reunited with former singer Joey Belladonna.  I was skeptical about them allowing Joey back in the band, but as I wrote last year, their reunion album Worship Music is really good, and Joey sounds great, and also contemporary.  He still is an excellent singer, but isn't sounding like he wishes he was in Journey or Kansas. I used to feel like he didn't fit in, I don't feel that way anymore. Whatever crap has gone down between the members, I think they're over it.  I think they appreciate that they get to play metal year after year all over the world, even if it isn't quite on Slayer's level.  Instead of playing on the main stage, Anthrax headlined the second stage, which was a smart choice.  They might have played to some empty seats on the main stage, but on the second stage, mosh pits erupted everywhere the minute they hit the stage to "Caught In A Mosh." It was a great set, but just too short.  They left out "Bring The Noise," which is one of my favorite things they've ever done, but it was probably smart: I don't know that that crowd would have been into hearing a hip-hop classic. I also would have loved to hear something from the John Bush era, like "Only" or "Room For One More," but they didn't have enough time.  I was glad to hear "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't." That song always feels like Scott Ian's credo: I don't think he's a very technical guitarist, but he makes some of my favorite noises from a guitar. He's like a metal Johnny Ramone. I'm glad they're still fighting.  It was a bummer that his co-founder/co-leader/drummer Charlie Benante wasn't there: he's recovering from a minor hand injury, apparently.  Jason Bittner from Shadows Fall did a great job in his place.

I didn't see any other bands (I caught a bit of Asking Alexandria, which was OK), but I do have to mention one amazing aspect of the festival that doesn't get much press, which is a shame: their "Metal Of Honor" initiative to support our veterans. "Metal Of Honor" goes beyond lip service. (Note: I covered the event for CBS Philly, and the next paragraph is pretty much the same thing I wrote there. All the previous stuff here is a totally different take than what I wrote for CBS).  Besides encouraging fans to text $5 donations to support the troops, a "Metal Of Honor" tent featured a Chamber of Commerce "Hiring Our Heroes" representative to provide attending veterans with information on upcoming Veteran Employment Fairs in the area.  Additionally, all military personnel were allowed early entry to the shows, and they all received a "Metal Of Honor" wristband, along with information on the various charities supporting veteran causes. Concertgoers were encouraged to thank vets wearing the wristbands.  There was also a raffle.  The winner -- Sean May from Operation: Iraqi Freedom -- was honored on the main stage between the Motorhead and Slayer performances. The audience cheered for May as strongly as their did for their favorite bands. He deserved it, too.  My only criticism?  Promote the "Metal Of Honor" more. Not just honoring a guy, but helping our troops when they get home and involving citizens in that effort. Also, they should put the photos of each "Metal Of Honor" recipient on their website, with info about where he or she served, rank, etc.

No comments: