Thursday November 23rd 2017

The Big Four: Indio, California

They say time travel is currently impossible.

They…were not in Indio, CA this past weekend. For the uninitiated, most of what I’m about to recount, will not resonate the way it does for those who know.

This past weekend, Rock history was made. The four bands acknowledged as the most influential in the history of Thrash Metal assembled to recreate that which was seen on their double-platinum selling DVD: The Big 4. I’m talking about (household name) Metallica, (slightly less known) Megadeth, (universally protested) Slayer, and Queens’ own Anthrax.

This…is “The Big 4.”

And although the debate rages about the exclusion of other bands who’re considered equally important to the genre (Motorhead), and the discussion of what “other” bands should’ve been included to make it less exclusionary (Exodus, Testament, Overkill), as of 11pm Saturday April 23rd, there can be no doubt who are the greatest.

The setting was a small desert-resort town. Two hours outside of Los Angeles. A town, that comes alive a couple of times a year. The most nationally well-known event is the Coachella Music Festival, a three-day hipster pilgrimage to see hundreds of bands/DJs do their thing, and toss glow sticks high in the air.

On this day, the Empire Polo Club, which should give you an idea of the regular vibe of the area, became a sea of Metalheads that spanned generations. It’s hard to think about the fact that Thrash Metal is now not only eligible for airplay on Classic Rock radio (are you listening Q104?), but is already in the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame (whose legitimacy is admittedly dubious at best).
Over 50 thousand strong paid an average ticket price of $99 (plus the ticketbastard charges) to see this show. Economically speaking, this was a bargain. It’s $10 just to get IN the Café’ Wha? on a Saturday night. $25/band to see these four is something that should NOT go unnoticed.

You could say that Metallica doesn’t need the money (and you’d be correct), but you have to understand the economics of the concert business. After operating expenses, insurance, travel, hospitality, production etc…This was not a cash-grab by any means. Being fortunate enough to have been backstage, I can tell you that major dollars went in to making this a first class event on every level.

Which brings me to the bands…

Let me just make this clear; These four bands are better than EVERY metal band out there today. Godsmack? Disturbed? Slipknot? Avenged Sevenfold? Stop it! If you want to hear this genre of music, you need only these bands’ catalogs.

Approaching their 50s, all four of these bands continue to bring unbridled energy and musical proficiency that remain unmatched. That’s one of the overlooked aspects of this style of music. It is not easy to play. It takes perfect timing, discipline, and more stamina than the average NFL player can muster.

Which makes the intensity at which Anthrax began the day that much more impressive. Second lead vocalist in the Anthrax family tree, Joey Belladonna returned to the band a while back, and his voice sounds better than ever. Unlike the cookie-monsters currently growling on the indie-metal web page of the moment, Belladonna has range, and dynamics, and brings musicality to balance the machine-gun like rhythms laid down by arguably the tightest band musically of the “Big 4.” Anthrax haven’t seen the mass-exposure success that the other three bands have. That’s not to demean them. It’s just a fact. However, I think it’s kept them hungry, and credible. They continue to put forth the effort to impress upon you the fact that they mean business…while never taking themselves too seriously. It’s obvious they can play brutally fast, and tight. But although there’s aggression, there’s no anger. Anthrax are a powerful band. And they let everyone know they remain hungry and worthy of your attention.

I cannot say the same for Megadeth. Something about Megadeth disconnects. They get onstage, and plow through an amazing set of phenomenal music. Years ago, they were cast as “The World’s State-Of-The-Art Speed Metal Band.” That remains true. However, they lack personality. Band leader Dave Mustaine is one of the most colorful figures in hard music. But onstage, he’s almost portraying himself as being constricted by his own music. It’s a great set. But after the loose aura of Anthrax, it seems a little vanilla. Megadeth lets their music do the talking. And, in a live festival atmosphere, I think it speaks loudly, but some people take it as going through the motions.

How to explain Slayer? Power. Aggression. Cult-like. There is simply no band like them. That cannot be said about many bands in the world. They are exactly what you would expect a band called Slayer to be. They step upon the stage and lay waste to it. They’re exactly the opposite of Megadeth. You feel Slayer. You don’t hear them. It’s a rumble that sounds like the earth is opening up to swallow all who stand before them. Lead singer/Bassist Tom Araya has emerged from some recent physical issues strong, and looked fit and fully prepared to bring the hell. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt would sit in for injured Slayer axeman Jeff Hanneman, who suffered from an infectious spider bite and is recovering. He would make an appearance later in the show. Nothing new can be said about Kerry King. He is one of the ubiquitous figures in Metal. He looks every bit the tough-guy you would expect a Slayer guitarist to look. It’s no surprise to find he is a fan of the Oakland Raiders. Stereotypical? Yup. However, his guitar playing on a couple of tracks 26 years ago on a record by a little known hardcore band who were making a stylistic change, is one of the most under-reported footnotes in music history. Perhaps you’ve heard the song. It’s called “Fight For Your Right (to Party)” by a tiny band called Beastie Boys. Yes, Kerry King is the guitarist on that, and also “No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn.” Slayer are the second most “evil” band of all time (next to Black Sabbath), and their fans are simply crazed. It is a true example of how intense music creates intense reaction.

But this is Metallica’s house…

If anyone tries to tell you Metallica have lost it, got old, lazy, too rich for their own good…Tell them to f*ck off!

Metallica are simply legendary. They deserve to be mentioned among the greatest of all time. Every song was an anthem. Every move…graceful. Every smile…genuine. Metallica are comfortable being the kings of the hill. To see the band on this night was like a revival meeting. They preached from the pit. The masses sang the hymnal. The energy was positive. The songs were crushing. It was perfection.

And that’s not even getting in to the sound quality. I’m not sure what happened. But, this sounded like a stereo in your car. Whomever Metallica have running their live show, should be rewarded because this was aural orgasm.

I could go on for another hour about how brilliant Metallica were. But, you will get a chance to hear for yourself soon enough. I spoke with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who told me there are plans afoot for a series of Big 4 shows on the East Coast soon. I suspect the new Meadowlands will be the site in the Tri-State area.

I know what you’re saying…”What about the jam?” Honestly, I think the Big 4 Jam was a nice idea. But, I didn’t find it as incredible as people are reporting. Those jams rarely are. It was historic to see Mustaine onstage next to Hetfield. But overall…it was kind of like the sight gag you knew was coming and wouldn’t meet expectations. I don’t want to make it sound like it sucked. It didn’t. But the show cannot possibly be graded upon that 4 minutes. They played half of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” (which is where Slayer’s Hanneman made his presence known), and then hustled offstage for Metallica to finish their set.

Start saving your pennies now. We cannot turn back time. We cannot stop time. But we can spend time. And the Big 4…is time well spent.

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4 Comments for “The Big Four: Indio, California”

  • Rob says:

    Great show! I loved everything about it. I am a major Megadeth fan, but Metallica stole the show. I stopped going to their shows in the late 90s “Load” era through “St Anger” years.

    I am ABSOLUTELY back on the Metallica train!!!!

  • Nick says:

    I cannot believe I have never got a chance to meet Lars.

  • Lex says:

    I went to indio and I feel bad for the folks that wreaked on the road tryin to get there dudes u missed a great show mosh pits everywhere when metallica got on stage and played fade to black OOOHH What Powerful song especially when ur right there live the weekend after I got the tattoo on the back of my left arm the week after I got MetallicaSlayerMegadethAnthrax inside a guitar pick and a small guitar pick onthe inside of the bottom with the big 4 logo dudes keep rockin and meltin faces

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