If one wants to see how the economy is taking a toll on the concert industry, look no further than the Metal Masters Tour. What was supposed to be a top-notch alternative to the sedentary 2008 version of Ozzfest for the elder set, the Metal Masters came out of the gate with a uninspiring showing (attendance-wise) at Camden's Susquehanna Bank Center on August 6.
I felt almost embarrassed for some of rock's royalty as Judas Priest, Heaven & Hell, Motorhead and Testament kicked off the month-long slate to a less-than-packed amphitheater. Given that the Priest included codes for free lawn seats inside their latest offering, a double-CD of conceptual tales about Nostradamus, it didn't appear as though the idea paid off as well as it could have. Add to that the fact that seats undercover in the shed were practically being given away at the bargain price of $9.94 the day of the show, and its clear that music on the road is in need of more than just a few band aids. The fact that I can’t get a single ticket for the Jonas Brothers at the same facility certainly has to be one of the signs of the apocalypse.
When it comes to Testament, I must admit that I am an MTV snob in this department, wanting to hear the songs that the band put out as videos and/or singles (should metal bands actually do the latter). Whether the group allowed it to happen for those brief moments as a late afternoon opener for this tour, word on the street is that they were giving fans the opportunity to pick their setlist. Had I known that was the case I would have stuffed the ballot box with as much as I was familiar with (“Practice What You Preach,” “Souls of Black,” “Trial By Fire,” and the like). I still have trouble seeing guitarist Alex Skolnick running his fingers up and down the frets after he abandoned thrash in recent years to focus on his jazz trio. I cut him and a cancer-surviving Chuck Billy a break though, thanks to closing out the set with “Disciples Of The Watch.” As anxious as I was to see Testament after nearly 20 years, supporting their recently released The Formation of Damnation, had I blinked I would have missed the squad almost entirely.
Lemmy Kilmister and Motorhead, who were out promoting Motorizer, wasted little time ripping through their hour of power. Even though they have the pedigree and loyal following, the band just isn’t my cup of tea. Sure, I can appreciate songs like “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill” which finished off the set and provided the soundtrack for a vicious mosh pit on the lawn that quickly devolved into a whirling dervish of a blinding dust bowl, but somehow I cannot give this devil his due.
I suppose it has something to do with Lemmy himself who doesn‘t look as though he‘s changed much after more than 30 years on the road with his band. A great character for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, one that seems to make few concessions, not to mention the same album year after year, Kilmister is the anti-front man. The guy is far from a pinup prince, plays the bass like a tempestuous kid who refuses to give up on his lead guitar aspirations and has the singing voice that is, well, anything but. And yet, this guy can still draw crowds and endless admiration.
In the simplest of terms Lemmy, who ended his stint with, “Don’t forget us…we’re Motorhead and we play rock ’n’ roll,” shows everyone that anyone can be a star, no matter how much they lack the supposed qualifications.
It may be a loose and wacky metaphor, but I consider Heaven and Hell to be much like a bag of potato chips, in that they should never be sitting out in the sunlight because they just won‘t have the same bite. Hitting the stage before dusk, with the sun beaming in from behind the Philadelphia skyline over the Delaware River, not only prevented me from viewing the band on the video screens, it also drained much of the group’s mystical aura.
Songs like “Children of the Sea” and “Sign of the Southern Cross” simply didn’t have the same feeling as they do in a darkened arena no matter how many fog machines are turned on or evil gargoyles with laser eyes defend the sanctity of Ronnie James Dio’s stage.
Tossing in a new song, “Ear in the Wall,” from The Rules of Hell box set was a gutsy move, yet one that needed to be made in order to justify yet another money grab for a band that has not produced an all-original record since 1992’s Dehumanizer. The inclusion of the new song also provided Vinny Appice an opening to begin a ho-hum drum solo. Apparently the guys at the mixing board were even less impressed because they cut directly into “Time Machine” before Appice had a chance to ring up his gong, the drummer appearing rather stunned that he had been short-changed.
How about this: trade in the Appice and Tony Iommi solos for “Neon Knights” instead, then get back into the studio and give us a real ‘new‘ album to tour behind.
I couldn't decide if I felt sorry for Rob Halford or cheated by his lack of explosiveness when Judas Priest finally made it back to the big stage. Underneath some hulking leather garb and aluminum foil ensembles, Halford ambled not far from center stage and when he did, he did so with the grace of someone who owns one of those walkers with the tennis balls mounted on the bottom to prevent slippage.
During “Devil’s Child” Halford decided it was time to stretch his boundaries a bit, but his clumsy trips up and down the left staircase showed off a vulnerability and weakness that is difficult to envision in such a mighty musical force. Guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, who dragged out their old black and red leather duds from the Screaming for Vengeance days, settled in for a nostalgic take on “Breaking the Law,” the former stoic and sure and the latter swinging his thinning perm.
Honestly, the whole Nostradamus thing is a cute idea, creating a double-CD that tells the story of 16th century French prophet from a headbanger’s point of view, but thank goodness the group did not subject us to one of those infamous “in its entirety” nights that put such a damper on a band’s unparalleled history. I sucked up it during “Dawn of Creation” and “Prophecy” because I knew the classics were just around the corner.
If ever there was a song that proved to be prophetic it is “Metal Gods” because Halford possesses one of the most distinctive voices in all of rock, whether he’s belting out “Painkiller” or the Fleetwood Mac cover, “The Green Manalishi” which the group did on this night.
Halford wheeled his trusty, gleaming motorcycle out from under the drum kit of Scott Travis, launching into “Hell Bent for Leather” during the encore. Once again, his frailty was transparent as he barely got off his hog. The sing-along rants of scaling “yeah, yeah, yeahs” on the road to “You've Got Another Thing Coming” had me surrounded by a kennel full of Pavlovian Dogs who were impressed with their own obedience. As much as that particular song says there’s still something more…that was actually all there was for the Metal Masters.