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Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax Rock the Big 4 Fest — Concert Review

Tim Mosenfeld, Getty Images

A collective dream came true for a legion of metalheads this past Saturday. For the first time on American soil, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax shared the same stage for an event billed as The Big 4 Festival.

The setting was the Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif., a venue already used to hosting huge crowds during the Coachella music festival every spring. With ticket sales in the 65,000-70,000 range, the event proved to be a victory for the bands, fans, and promoters.

By the time festival gates opened at 2 p.m., the venue’s main parking lot was already filled with the aroma of marijuana, the sounds of classic thrash albums being cranked from car stereos, and loud chants of “Slayer, Slayer” from the fans in line waiting to get in to the show.

At 4 p.m. sharp, under an unforgiving Southern California sun, New York City’s stalwarts Anthrax stormed the stage. Classic Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna has recently rejoined the group, and his voice hadn’t sounded this powerful since their ‘Persistence of Time’ tour. Unlike many other metal vocalists around his age, Belladonna didn’t dodge any of the higher notes and his commanding stage presence also impressed.

Anthrax’s set list mostly pulled from the band’s mid-to-late ’80s discography, including songs like ‘Indians,’ ‘Madhouse,’ and ‘A.I.R.’ The crowd ate up every second of the performance, singing along to every chorus and forming multiple circle pits along the stage’s perimeter. We couldn’t have come up with a finer opening act for the festival.

Megadeth were up next. After the short orchestral intro to their ’90s single ‘Trust,’ Dave Mustaine stutted onto the stage with his double-V Dean guitar. The now steadily growing crowd graced him with the kind of rapturous welcome usually reserved for a headliner.

The veteran thrashers handled their highly technical material with virtuosic ease. Mustaine and his six-string co-conspirator, Chris Broderick, volleyed solos back and forth like some sort of metal guitar chess match, especially on ‘Hangar 18.’ The rhythm section of bassist Dave Ellefson and drummer Shawn Drover held the tempos steady and heavy while the guitarists had their way with the crowd.

Megadeth’s set never lost any steam, but it was ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’ that gave the band its biggest response. When Mustaine kicked off the song with its signature speed metal riff, the audience’s cheer was deafening. Noisecreep even noticed the famously serious Mustaine crack a smile from the loving response. By the time they walked off the stage, it was clear that Slayer, the next band up, would have to bring their A-game to the festival.

As the darkness of night started creeping over the grounds, the ominous sounds of ‘World Painted Blood’ signaled Slayer’s impending entrance. By this time, most of the field was filled with fans. If you were within 50 yards of the stage, you were in danger of being trampled by someone slam dancing.

Slayer treated the crowd to a lot of their older gems like ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Postmortem,’ but even the more recent material (‘Snuff’ and ‘Americon’) got a huge reaction. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt filled in for most of Slayer’s set since Jeff Hanneman is still nursing an injured arm. In a huge surprise, Hanneman did join his bandmates for the 1-2 punch encore of ‘South of Heaven’ and ‘Angel of Death.’ Although he had one of his arms covered by a long-sleeved shirt, his rapid picking and fluid soloing betrayed a fierce talent and ability. Many minutes after the band ended its performance, the familiar scream of “Slayer, Slayer” could still be heard echoing throughout the festival grounds.

At around 8:45 p.m., the stage lights abruptly shut off and the huge movie screens on the side of the stage turned on. It was a scene from one of Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti westerns, with Clint Eastwood chasing down some bandito to the sounds of composer Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold.’ As soon as the scene ended, the stage lights came back on and Metallica ripped into ‘Creeping Death.’ James Hetfield cut a superhero-like figure, dressed head-to-toe in black and gripping his guitar like he was heading into war.

They might be pushing 50 years old, but Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo ran around every inch of the massive stage, even during their set’s trickier musical moments. Keeping with the fest’s nostalgic spirit, Metallica even played ‘Orion,’ the 1986 instrumental that prominently featured their late bassist Cliff Burton. The band had famously kept the song off their set lists for the last couple of decades. The song’s climactic middle section proved to be too much for some of the crowd. Noisecreep witnessed one young couple weeping as they clung to each other in an emotional embrace.

Much of the rest of the Metallica set featured newer songs like ‘Cyanide’ and ‘All Nightmare Long,’ but it was the late ’80s songs that proved to be the most popular selections of the night. ‘Blackened’ and ‘One,’ both from 1988′s ‘…And Justice For All,’ in particular got a great response from the crowd. Metallica closed their set with their biggest radio hit, 1991′s ‘Enter Sandman,’ but we all knew they would be coming back to the stage.

After a few minutes, Hetfield returned and welcomed all of the bands that played the fest back to the stage. The Big 4 then went into the three-song assault of ‘Am I Evil?,’ ‘Hit the Lights,’ and ‘Seek & Destroy.’ Seeing Mustaine back with his ex-Metallica bandmates was worth the price of admission alone. Although a lot of the guys onstage have had their share of differences throughout the years, on this night they looked genuinely happy to be there, playing these fantastic songs together.

Watch ‘Am I Evil?’ from the big finale of the Big 4 Fest


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