By Sean Palmerston
When it was announced that “The Big Four” (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) would be doing their first ever shows together earlier this year, there was a lot of resentment from North American fans that these four American bands had decided to do so in Eastern Europe and not at home. The bands were brought together by the organizers of the traveling Sonisphere 2010 festival, who were smart enough to make one of the performances available as a one-time theater experience, filming the entire performance from Sofia, Bulgaria in HD and then broadcasting the event later that same day to select North American cinemas.
Arriving to Hamilton’s Silver City about 20 minutes before showtime, we were all bemused to see the Anthrax line check being shown on the silver screen. Their drum tech was hitting all the skins while the sound was being adjusted, with everything set and ready to go just before the announced 7 PM start. And right on time, NY’s finest first wave thrashers hit the stage, with the recently re-appointed Joey Belladonna again fronting the band. Anthrax was the perfect opener for the show, they were full of gusto and tore through a number of their greatest tunes, including “Caught In A Mosh”, “Madhouse” and “Antisocial”. The band played tribute to Ronnie James Dio during “Indians” when they tore out a few verses of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” and it sort of seemed like Belladonna didn’t want it to end, later ripping out some of “Man From The Silver Mountain” too. After ending on a high note with “I Am The Law”, they bid us adieu and there ended what was arguably the best performance of the night.
If there is one thing that is really nice about watching a full show in a movie theater, it is that all the waiting in between bands is done away with. Almost as soon as the Anthrax set ended, a big flash came across the screen announcing Megadeth’s imminent arrival. By this time, the nice weather that had been near perfect for Anthrax was replaced by a wicked wind-driven downpour that, at least in the olden days, would have had Megadave running for shelter and passing on playing. Not so these days however, with the new 2010 line-up of the band just dealing with it and getting down. With the recently returned Dave Ellefson on bass once again, the band was as furiously tight musically as they have been in many years, heading right out on stage with the one-two lead off of “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” and “Hanger 18”. This clearly demonstrated the quartet to be the most musically muscular of the four bands involved. The only real problem with their performance was the vocals. I don’t know if being out on the road for most of the year has taken its toll on Mustaine or if he was just having a bad day, but the vocals were strained, sometimes off key and the only thing that stopped them from being the band of the show.
The first two bands of the bill both gave great performances, setting the bar high for the second half of the show. Sadly, neither band managed to reach such heights. Slayer got off to a shaky start, muddling their way through “World Painted Blood” and never really clicking into gear. Befuddled by a poor mix – the guitars were buried back in the mix for some reason – at times it was difficult to even tell what song they were playing until it came time for the chorus. That’s pretty sad when you figure that I’ve been listening to them for over 20 years and couldn’t recognize some songs. It got better as the set went on, with the set closing tandem of “South Of Heaven” and “Raining Blood” being the peak of the show, but this was probably the most disappointing Slayer performance I have ever seen. However, having said that, even an off Slayer is better than most bands at their peak.
Metallica finished the night, as expected, and put in a workmanlike set that met expectations. Although they have written many a fine song, Metallica have never been an exceptional live band. The drumming has always been a problem for me and it just wasn’t that good this evening either. The rest of the band was on it, but there were times when Mr. Ulrich was playing so far behind the beat that it was dragging the band down. The set list was decent however, kicking off with “Creeping Death” and including songs like “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Hit The Lights” and “Seek and Destroy” it was sure to make every old school Metallica fan very happy. Add to that an encore of “Am I Evil” which featured members of all the other bands on stage playing, including Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield sharing vocals on a song for the first time in almost 28 years, and this was a set that will be hard to forget even if the band didn’t play their best.
It was a neat experience to see this concert in a movie theater. A few of my own pals hummed and hawed about going, wondering why it wasn’t made available as a Pay-Per-View event, but I personally liked it better seeing it at the movies. No home distractions, no interruptions from the outside world and being in those big, comfy Silver City chairs with all the legroom you could ask for made this a more enjoyable experience than it would be with ten of my friends crammed into my living room. And I didn’t have to clean up afterwards either. Of course, now I understand that the whole concert will be released on blu-ray disc later this fall before Christmas anyway, so that mess I missed is still bound to happen. Oh well, judging by how good this experience was at the movies I’ll be glad to relive it again. The only difference being, next time I’ll be able to Fast Forward through select portions here and there.
Oh yeah, one more thing before I go. Kudos to the five very young teenagers that decided to start a pit during Metallica’s encore. Glad to see the kiddies were digging it!