By Adrien Begrand
Has thrash become the “dad rock” of metal? Judging by the staggering number of grey hairs that could be seen on this night (including just a couple on the temples of yours truly!), it certainly seems to be the case. Of course, if there was a concert to bring out the old school headbangers in full force, some with their kids in tow, it was this one. Not only was Megadeth bringing along fellow Bay Area thrash legends Testament and Exodus along for their spring tour of North America, but Dave Mustaine and crew were set to perform the classic Rust in Peace album in celebration of its 20th anniversary, while Testament had promised to play their great 1987 debut The Legacy in its entirety. Three hours of music, with 95% of the songs coming from before 1991? For someone like myself, who had long lamented passing on a Motorhead/Exodus/Exciter triple bill in the summer of 1985 (I was a 14 year-old idiot) and missing a Megadeth/Testament show in 1991, this was a nice opportunity for some sort of atonement, but more importantly a chance to bask in music that was so dear to so many of us during our teens, and looking around it was more than evident that I wasn’t the only one thinking that.
That these three bands are still able to draw big crowds of younger listeners is a testament (sorry) to their longevity and the timelessness of their classic material, and it was great to see such a diverse mix of ages pack into Saskatoon’s Prairieland warehouse Park on this foggy March evening. It’s not often that you get an opening band that is plenty capable of headlining a show of their own, but when you’re seeing the mighty Exodus as the first band of a triple bill, you know you’re in for a memorable show. Seasoned pros that they are, the band swaggered onstage and wasted no time in getting the pits moving, thanks to a bevy of tracks focusing primarily on their 1985-89 era, kicking into a hugely impressive run of “Bonded by Blood”, “The Last Act of Defiance”, “Fabulous Disaster”, “A Lesson in Violence”, and underrated Pleasures of the Flesh nugget “Brain Dead”.
Exodus‘s post-2005 rebirth has been very pleasing to witness, and it’s great to see vocalist Rob Dukes settling nicely into his role as frontman. He’s a terrific foil for longtime guitarist Gary Holt and his energy is contagious, igniting circle pit after circle pit (“The Toxic Waltz” was pure mayhem), and as usual, instigating a wall of death during “Strike of the Beast”. In fact, tonight Dukes would be the centre of attention in more ways than one, as two days after celebrating Megadeth guitarist Chris Broadrick’s birthday onstage in Calgary, it was his turn, as Chuck Billy and his Testament mates brought out the ubiquitous birthday cake, which, of course, got the inevitable toss into the rabid crowd, inciting a food fight so vicious the entire floor smelled of cake and frosting for the next half hour.
Testament, meanwhile, was beset with problems from the get-go. Eric Peterson’s guitar failed to work for a good chunk of “Over the Wall”, the mix was rather muddy, and Chuck Billy’s vocals were so drenched in reverb that they were near incomprehensible. Still, this is Testament after all, and it’s hard not to have fun even if there are the odd snafus. With former Megadeth guitarist Glen Drover ably filling in for Alex Skolnick, the guys carted out The Legacy‘s nine tracks in sequence, standouts being “The Haunting”, “Burnt Offerings”, and “Curse the Legions of Death”. Billy needed some help hitting the high notes during the über-catchy “Alone in the Dark”, but the band pulled the song off nicely. Although we all expected “Aplocalyptic City” to end their set, the band did toss in one surprise inclusion before doing so, treating the jubilant crowd to the classic “Into the Pit”, making sure the Testament fans in the hall went home happy.
Megadeth concerts are always fun, but we all know MegaDave can be a bit predictable when it comes to his setlists, often merely churning out the hits with few or no left-field song choices. So although we knew full well we’d get the requisite material like “Peace Sells”, “Symphony of Destruction”, “Wake Up Dead”, and “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”, the prospect of finally hearing some Megadeth deep cuts was absolutely tantalizing. With bassist Dave Ellefson being welcomed back into the fold it was all the more reason to look forward to this show, and the packed crowd gave him a huge ovation when he strode onstage with his mates to kick into “Set the World Afire”. After a tight run-through of “Wake Up Dead” and “In My Darkest Hour” (it always takes Megadeth a few songs to get going), the Rust in Peace festivities began, and as expected, the highlights were those rarely-played mid-album gems: “Poison Was the Cure”, with Ellefson’s memorable intro, the murky groove of “Lucretia”, and especially the wicked “Tornado of Souls”, with some of the sickest riffing and solos in Megadeth’s deep catalogue. Hell, even Ellefson and drummer Shawn Drover jammed on “Dawn Patrol”, giving the dude a good couple minutes in the spotlight.
After “Rust in Peace…Polaris” brought the middle portion of the set to a rousing finish, the boys carted out a few more staples in the form of Endgame standout “Headcrusher”, the fan fave “Trust”, and the requisite one-two of “Symphony” and “Peace Sells”. Mustaine must be in a better place these days, as he seemed surprisingly jovial during the entire show, graciously acknowledging Exodus and Testament, his stage presence less prickly, his vocals often more impassioned than usual. What spoke volumes the most, however, was when he let Ellefson stride onstage alone to thank the crowd himself and introduce “Peace Sells” with that bassline that only sounds right when heard through his own rig.
When the baby boomers got wrapped up in rosy-hued Sixties nostalgia 25 years ago, those of us in what would come to be known as Generation X scoffed at such shameless living in the past. My, how the tables have turned, as those of us in our 30s and 40s now can’t get enough of these retro gimmicks. But when it’s all done as well as Megadeth, Testament, and Exodus are doing on this can’t-miss tour, we won’t hesitate to live in the past for a few hours. For this music writer, though, it’s back to the present day, to listen to and write about killer new albums by Armored Saint, Overkill, and Ratt, and to remember to snag a presale ticket to Iron Maiden this summer. Wait, what year is it again?