If you don’t know what the Big 4 is you’ve had your head buried somewhere where it shouldn’t be. Taking four of the biggest metal bands of all time and touring them through European festivals the entire summer of 2010 only taunted those of us back home and begged the question … when the fuck are you guys playing in the U.S.? So when the first teaser came out, you can imagine the anticipation of a full U.S. tour being crushed by the fact that it was only one show which happened to be in Indio, California, miles from anything that would be considered civilization.
Any doubt in my mind that I would be there? Hell no. Boom … plane tickets purchased and hotel booked and tickets secured. The day I signed for the Fedex guy in exchange for me V.I.P. tickets should have been a holiday and when the day came to finally climb on that plane from Oakland, I guess I should have been more surprised to see that Gary Holt standing next to me waiting to board. Certainly this bode well for an epic weekend. I’ll spare the gory details of the naked man wandering around my hotel in the middle of the night before the show, but that should give the flavor of the weekend. As I walked over to the venue, mildly hung-over from the previous night’s festivities, I cursed the beating sun and blowing drifts of sand. But entering the polo grounds was like stepping into an oasis; tents with Metallica-themed food, a massive bar pumping out beer by the gallon and security spraying down the already-gathered crowds with water. Add in the luxury of front of stage access for the VIP’s, a balmy 85 degrees with a steady breeze and you couldn’t ask for a better day for metal history. The residual smell of Coachella hipsters was quickly replaced by sweat, booze and blood and all was well with the world. It was almost as if I had died and gone to hell.
This sleepy arm pit of the desert was turned into metal Disneyland and people were pouring in from all over the planet for this once in a lifetime event. With only one Big 4 U.S. show, a who’s who of the music world showed up to pay their respects and take it all in. I personally saw the likes of Chuck Billy (Testament), Dez Fafara (DevilDriver), Brian Posehn (comedian), London May (Samhain, Tiger Army) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) wandering around the VIP area.
At 4 pm sharp, Anthrax took the stage beginning with the only original member, Scott Ian, leading the way and saluting the eager crowd before busting into an appropriate opener, Caught in a Mosh. This was my first time seeing the Belladonna-fronted band and I was suitably impressed and I know I was not the only one. The crowd went freaking bonkers in a way that said, “this is only the beginning of a very long day and we don’t give a shit if we are completely spent and on the verge of collapse by the time Metallica comes on.” (or something like that) It’s got to be hard to rally a crowd when you’re the opener for such a large event and Belladonna was masterful; making the most of the massive stage and getting as close to the crowd as physically possible without falling off and breaking a hip. And Scotty? What can I say? The guy knows how to rock the fuck out with every ounce of his being. Even the relative sedate Rob Caggiano brought his game. If the opening song got the crowd moving, Madhouse turned them sideways and things didn’t let up through the set which include a song from the upcoming record, Fight ‘Em Till You Can’t. If the adrenaline wasn’t pumping when I got there, it certainly was now. Well done, gentlemen ... well done.
Anthrax Setlist: Caught in a Mosh Got the Time Madhouse Among the Living Antisocial Indians Fight 'Em Till You Can't A.I.R. Metal Thrashing Mad I Am The Law
And then came Megadeth. Let me start by saying, I love my Megadeth. It’s just that Mustaine doesn’t give a lot on stage and, while he may get away with that in a smaller venue, throw that up on an enormous stage in front of 60,000 people and it’s going to come across as unexciting … especially when you’re sharing that stage with the likes of Hetfield, Belladonna and even Araya. I know people out there will disagree with me and that’s fine; you were probably standing somewhere else. And don’t get me wrong … they sounded good and Junior was almost rocking out enough to make up for the big man, but when you open with Trust and by the time a song like Head Crusher comes on more than half way through the set and there’s nary a pit to be seen, you have to wonder what the fuck is wrong. It certainly wasn’t that Anthrax put them to sleep. Thankfully things picked up during Symphony of Destruction whose one-punch was followed by the two-punch of Peace Sells. With a polo-field full of fists in the air, things seemed to be back on track for the day as Mega Dave bid farewell with, “you’ve been great, we’ve been Megadeth.” Thanks Dave.
Megadeth Setlist: Trust 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
Thankfully things were back on track for Slayer … during setup, their logo displayed proudly on the big screens ensuring that there was no doubt of the carnage that was sure to ensue. To say that the Slayer crowd is fanatical would be a vast understatement … people go ballistic and do not breathe until the band walks off the stage. It’s always been that way and it always will be. Exodus’ Gary Holt was filling in for Jeff Hanneman who was out for complications from a spider bite on guitar and delivered spectacularly. I know he’s been at it with Slayer for a few months but he sounded like he’d been in the band for years and meshed perfectly with Kerry King to the point where I actually forgot he was a stand-in. As the sun set on Indio and the beer continued to flow, things reached a fever pit. I only wish I had a picture of the guy in a wheelchair being pushed around the pit as the random GA ticket holder hopped the security-filled moat and bolted into the front-of-stage VIP section. As the band played on you could feel things teetering on the edge of chaos. Stepping off stage for a bit, the encore started with the guitar lead from South of Heaven as the spot alit on none other than Jeff Hanneman on stage. I’m not sure that everyone grocked this significance of his return to metal but must admit to getting a little misty. While Holt was great, he was nothing compared to seeing Hanneman back where he belongs. And if you’re wondering about that “little” spider bite, Jeff had his right sleeve rolled up and his scars displayed like a badge. What I saw on the big screen left no doubt of the serious shape he was in … major scars from wrist to shoulder left no doubt that the guy went through some major shit and only made his return more poignant for me. Welcome back Jeff.
Slayer Setlist: World Painted Blood Hate Worldwide War Ensemble Postmortem Raining Blood Black Magic Dead Skin Mask Americon Silent Scream The Antichrist Seasons in the Abyss Payback Snuff Encore: South of Heaven Angel of Death
While I’m sure that people in the crowd had their favorites in the Big 4 line-up, I have no doubt that pretty much everyone was there for Metallica. Where there had been space in the crowd to breath during the other bands was now a solid mass of flesh from front to back … a spectacle that I have seen on video of the European festivals but have never witnessed with my own eyes. To say it was impressive would be a vast understatement. When the house lights finally went down and Ecstasy of Gold started playing complete with Clint Eastwood on the big screens, the goose bumps broke out even though it was my 23rd time seeing these legends. Creeping Death as an opener had the crowd right in the palm of their hands … sing along chorus and all. I can speculate that it was being out of the round and playing in front of a gigantic crowd in their home country but whatever it was, they laid it out there like I have not seen in a decade or more. Not every note was perfect but I guarantee that no one gave a shit … Metallica was demonstrating right then and there why they were headlining this stage. Breaking out the pyros for Fuel (the only song off of the Load, Re-Load and St. Anger albums), the band played a set focused on the classics with the exception of two tunes off of Death Magnetic (including my person favorite, All Nightmare Long). While I first thought that I was in store for a “best of” set, I was pleasantly proven wrong with a kick ass rendition of Orion which was dedicated to the legendary Cliff Burton and made more significant by the fact that Cliff’s father was in attendance at the show (and I stood next to earlier in the day). Predictability kicked in with the Nothing Else Matters-Enter Sandman-Encore trifecta but that was bearable. Returning from the encore, Metallica invited the rest of the bands up on stage for a louder than loud version of Am I Evil? And while I was far away in the bar, I could have sworn that one Mr. Kerry King joined them for a change. From there Hit the Lights offered up a nice change up in their typical cover song slot before they blasted into their standard closer Seek And Destroy. The beach balls being launched into the crowd was my cue to beat the crowds out the gate … predictability has its benefits.
Metallica Setlist: Creeping Death For Whom the Bell Tolls Fuel Ride the Lightning Fade to Black Cyanide All Nightmare Long Sad But True Welcome Home (Sanitarium) Orion One Master of Puppets Blackened Nothing Else Matters Enter Sandman Encore: Am I Evil? Hit the Lights Seek & Destroy
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