Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax at Big 4

Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica
April 23, 2011
Empire Polo Field, Indio

What happens when more than 50,000 metal fans descend on a city? Church burnings, goat slaughter, egregious depletion of the Pabst Blue Ribbon reserves, mass virgin defilement, and/or other miscellaneous acts of amateur armageddon? All good guesses.

But at Saturday's Big 4 concert at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, a different scene was set as thrash aficionados showed up to witness the convergence of metal titans Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica.

Middle-aged men with cargo shorts, backward hats and Slayer muscle tees check their account balances at Bank of America ATMs. Twentysomething metalheads congregate in the halls of Motel 6 at 3 a.m., trying, in vain, to find just the right words to describe the drumming style of Slayer's Dave Lombardo. Record Alley at the Westfield Palm Desert mall suffers a complete pillaging of Anthrax shirts other than size small (metalheads, it seems, have little use for shirts of this cut). A group of motherly types in Slayer garb visit the DIY Bloody Mary bar at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs.

In full daylight, the North American metalhead may seem out of place. Yet, when contextualized with 49,999 devil-horn-raising compatriots, a metal head becomes the part of that mass in black poised in front of the stage.

Here, at the site that held Coachella's bikini-and-neon clad crowds just seven days earlier, the expansive lawn teemed with beards, jean shorts and band shirts. The Metallica Master of Puppets t-shirt appeared to be forerunner of metalheads' sartorial choices, followed by the iron eagle Slayer tee available at Hot Topics everywhere.

The crowd was about 30 percent female; 80 percent of whom appeared to be girlfriends. Hot dog burps stalked through the audience like smelly velociraptors, but no one seemed to care as Anthrax took the stage.

Thrash was the reason for the day, and with Anthrax's Scott Ian, 47, shredding away and original Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna, 50, wailing like a banshee with a skinned knee, heads were a-banging.

Opening with their '80s thrash classic, “Caught in a Mosh,” the gents delivered their punkified metal to the afternoon audience. With a 4 p.m. set time, concert goers were still trickling in from the distant parking lots, where serious tailgating may have had some affect on the punctuality of the crowd. By the time Megadeth began, the field had become packed with fans pumping their fists and chanting “Meg-a-deth” in unison.

Bandleader Dave Mustaine, 49, walked on stage to the rolling drums and driving bassline of “Trust,” and joined in with the anthemic riffery of the '90s track. Megadeth delved into classic songs from the early '90s and Mustaine resurrected that grimey, slightly-psychotic voice on swinging “Sweating Bullets” that Beavis and Butthead loved so much.

Mustaine changed guitars nearly every song and even wielded a double flying V (a flying W?) guitar at one point. He seldom moved around on stage and seemed at times to be a bit nervous. Opening for Metallica, the band he was famously kicked out of for drinking too much (!), may have been a moment of humbleness, but Mustaine has made a career of baring his soul flaws and all.

During “A Tout Le Monde,” Mustaine's introspective lyrics about reflecting on life seemed to resonate with the audience, who sang the chorus back to him. Then just as an un-metal tear was about to be shed, Megadeth got back to shredding with the iconic “Symphony of Destruction.”

While Mustaine may have been the poet of the Big 4, Slayer was the drill sergeant of the apocalypse. Bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, 49, shouted proclamations of war, pestilence, and death over the band's high-speed, controlled chaos. Executing the tightest musicianship of the night, Slayer killed every note with an assassin's precision. Kerry King, 46, and virtuoso drummer Dave Lombardo, 46, meshed whirlwind solos and blast beats into a lockstep death march. “Raining Blood” had heads banging across the fields, even as thrashers waited patiently in line at the Grill Em All truck, anticipating a burger wedged between two grilled cheeses.

Slayer's momentum is unstoppable, it's an inertia that grows with each passing song. Yet, missing from the bands explosive chemistry was Jeff Hanneman, 47, who had been sidelined due to the most metal ailment of all–necrotizing fasciitis, aka the flesh eating bacteria. Gary Holt from Exodus flawlessly played most of the show, when unexpectedly, Hanneman came on stage to finish the show with “South of Heaven” and “Angel of Death.” When they finished, a dedicated group of Slayer fans immediately left the venue, forgoing the Big 4's headliner.

The corporation known as Metallica emerged onstage while a clip of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly played on massive screens. Guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield, 47, stepped to the mic and blasted into the assault of “Creeping Death” from the band's second album Ride the Lightning. The vintage cut set the tone for their nearly two-hour set, which dug deep into Metallica's archives.

Playing only three songs from their last 20 years of music, Metallica focused on the high-octane, heady thrash that made their name back in the 1980s. Hetfield is a hell of a frontman, and even after 30 years of shouting “Hey!” at audiences, his voice sounds better than ever. He holds the attention of thousands and delivers powerful performance as though it as easy as giving a wedding toast.

Pyrotechnics accompanied the Motorhead-on-meth style “Fuel,” and a mock warzone erupted onstage before the epic anthem “One.” But it was the early songs that were most successful. The power of those songs from the 1980s will never lose their luster as stars by which metal navigated for the next 20 years. Metallica can put on a memorable show in their sleep, and as Big 4's headliner, they satisfied all expectations.
When the band returned onstage for an encore, something special was in the works. “We are just waiting on the world's slowest roadcrew,” Hetfield passive-aggressively joked. Then it happened, all the members of the Big 4 bands came on stage to perform “Am I Evil?”

It was musical meatloaf, as all the bands smooshed onto the stage. No song can benefit from four bass players, four drummers, three singers (no Araya), and countless shredders. The seemingly made-for-tv moment of Hetfield and Mustaine onstage at the same time, “putting their differences behind them” as their press release would eventually read, felt a bit half-baked. When they left the stage, Metallica went back to doing what they do best: Melting faces.

Anthrax Set List:
Caught in a Mosh
Got the Time
Among the Living
Fight 'Em Till You Can't
Metal Thrashing Mad
I Am the Law

Megadeth Set List:
In My Darkest Hour
Hangar 18
Wake Up Dead
Poison Was the Cure
She Wolf
Sweating Bullets
Head Crusher
A Tout Le Monde
Symphony of Destruction
Peace Sells
Holy Wars… The Punishment Due

Slayer Set List:
Word Painted Blood
Hate Worldwide
War Ensemble
Raining Blood
Dead Skin Mask
Silent Scream
Circle of Beliefs
Seasons in the Abyss
South of Heaven
Angel of Death

Metallica Set List:

Creeping Death

For Whom the Bell Tolls


Ride the Lightning

Fade to Black


All Nightmare Long

Sad But True

Welcome Home (Sanitarium)



Master of Puppets


Nothing Else Matters

Enter Sandman


Am I Evil? w/members of Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth

Hit the Lights

Seek and Destroy

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