Testament - October 3, 2008 - Rex Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
By: David E. Gehlke
Aside from Halford's gangly, uncomfortable stage presence and Vinny Appice's slow-footed butchering of the bulk of Heaven and Hell's set, the resounding memory from the August 10 Metal Masters stop in Pittsburgh was Testament singer Chuck Billy and his exclamation that, "I didn't know Pittsburgh was so metal!" What, Billy didn't know Pittsburgh was so metal? What rock has he been hiding under? Then again, Testament hasn't made a headlining stop in the 'Burgh since the mid-90's in support of Low, so we'll forgive Billy for his lack of Steel City metal wherewithal. And yes - we were joking about the city's metal-ness - there really is none, folks.
The cavernous, yet charming Rex Theater is one of two legitimate concert venues in the city and often subjects concert-goers to extremely high volume levels of which ear plugs are a total necessity. Located in the city’s South Side area, the Rex is a prime location for drunkards, college yokels, and scenesters, of which there were only a few, thankfully. On this particular night, the mostly full venue first throbbed to the tune of opener Soilent Green's Southern-fried extreme sludge metal. Led by the ever-energetic Ben Falgoust, SG focused primarily on their newest effort, Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction and cuts from the excellent Sewn Mouth Secrets. Special nods to underrated drummer Tommy Buckley, whose kit provided enough crackle and pop to match his fluid drum skills.
With only a poultry 30 minutes on the Metal Masters tour, a full set from Testament could have gone either way: play it safe and air choices from the first three seminal albums or, throw in some odd-ball choices from Low and Demonic intermixed with classic cuts. Tonight, the set was wonderfully predictable, although this scribe laments the absence of any Low-era tunes.
Now that lead guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick and bassist Greg Christian are back in the fold, a trip down memory lane was taken during opener "Over the Wall," a frenzied, juvenile thrasher that is both fun and indictive of the band's late-80's thrash roots. Naturally, Skolnick was all over this, shredding and playing up to the throng, an obvious change of setting from his reserved solo jazz outings. "The New Order" saw Billy lead the crowd in some fist-pumping, while "Practice What You Preach" was the perfect mid-paced thrasher needed to offset the speedy "Into the Pit" and "DNR." Only three tunes from the new Formation of Damnation were played: “More Than Meets the Eye,” “Hatred’s Ride,” and the title track.
Billy remains an imposing figure in the live setting, as his deep bellows were often magnified by the soundguy for added effect. Drummer Paul Bostaph was suitably impressive during "Souls of Black" and the aforementioned "DNR," although he had a few noticeable flubs at the beginning of set closer "Disciples of the Watch." “Electric Crown,” “The Legacy,” “Three Days of Darkness,” and “Alone In the Dark” were additional set highlights, each of which had allotted shred time for Skolnick, for which Billy obliged by recognizing the shredder in-solo, by simply by stating: "Mr Alex Skolnick everyone!" We all clapped and roared. Extra kudos for Skolnick for grabbing the mic from Billy and giving a “Yinz guys!” shout-out to the Pittsburgh faithful, a product of the city’s much-maligned dialect, of which yours truly bears no speaking resemblance to…thank God.
It’s been a long, slow buildup for Testament since 1999’s The Gathering. When you consider Billy’s cancer scare, the numerous lineup shuffles, songwriting delays, and the sudden resurgence of thrash, the timing could not be better for the Bay Area’s finest to scalce the globe in support of an excellent new album and a near-legendary back catalog. It was good to have Testament back in Pittsburgh. Methinks it won’t take another 15 for them to come back.