Live: The Big 4 Go To Bat For Metal At Yankee Stadium


The Big 4: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax
Yankee Stadium
Wednesday, September 14

Better than: “Nationals beat the Mets, 2-0. WP: Brad Peacock (1-0), LP: Mike Pelfrey (7-12)”

Truth be told, the crowd at Yankee Stadium last night didn’t look all that different than a crowd at a Major League Baseball game normally might—lots of dudes in logo-ed t-shirts and caps, drinking beer, cheering lustily for the goings-on down below. There were also a few scattered chants about the suckiness of Boston and the Mets, just for good measure.

But the reason for the 41,000 people in attendance wasn’t a late-season tilt between the Yankees and its American League also-rans; instead, they were united under the banners of loud guitars and pummeling drums, of alienation and anger. The Big 4—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax, four titans of thrash who had seen both triumph and tragedy over the past 30 years—shared a bill for what was said to be the east coast’s biggest metal show.

The day started early, with Anthrax taking the stage at precisely 4 p.m.; “It’s a beautiful day for metal,” frontman Joey Belladonna said early in his band’s set, and indeed it was, with just enough of a breeze to counteract the sunlight-borne heat. The early hour meant that the stadium wasn’t teeming from the get-go, but the general-admission crowd was large enough that people were allowed to, if you pardon the borrowing of a term, get caught in a mosh at four discrete places in in the outfield. Anthrax’s spiky, booming set seemed almost too short, especially since this was something of a homecoming for them (at one point an Anthrax banner borrowing the Yankees logo was unfurled and placed over an amp); their lumbering basslines and overwhelming enthusiasm, though, made up for the short time they spent on stage.

Up next was Megadeth, the paranoid, twitchy thrash act that spun off when lead singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine was booted from Metallica years ago. Mustaine had been staving off neck surgery in order to make the evening—earlier in the week there had been rumors that Megadeth wouldn’t even play Yankee Stadium and would cede their spot on the bill to Exodus—and he seemed somewhat subdued, although he still managed to get off a few grumbled bits of deadpan in between the band’s solo-stuffed, yet taut compositions. (“It is about taking someone’s head and sticking it in a vice and crushing it. So the obvious title is ‘Headcrusher.'”) Megadeth’s muscular thrash got a bit swallowed by the stadium’s cavernous acoustics, but the iconic bassline of “Peace Sells” still managed to slice through the venue, and its anomic lyrics were sneered right back at Mustaine by a crowd that was more than happy to come together in their dissatisfaction.

During the coda of the set-closing “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due,” a fan leapt the barricades and ran across the baseball diamond (which had been fenced off, so as not to give the Yankee Stadium groundskeeping crew too much extra work to do while preparing for the home team’s Monday return), and the crowd near me erupted; he was quickly apprehended by police and was marched off the field in handcuffs. (If only he’d tried to pull that stunt when Anthrax had played “I Am The Law.”)

As the sun began to set Slayer took the stage for a set that was basically the aural equivalent of being hit full-on with a blaster furnace. Drummer Dave Lombardo kept a blistering time for the hour or so; focusing on his rapidfire beat-keeping too intensely can probably elevate a listener’s heartbeat by at least 15 beats per minute. Draped over that were thick riffs that could probably best be described as “bloody”; viscous and oozing, they sped up and slowed down at only those points where doing so seems absolutely necessary. The whole set was a blur of roars and blastbeats, and by the time they’d reached “Angel Of Death” it was hard to not be gloriously spent.

But there was still Metallica, the biggest stars of metal, who are currently in the “Lou Reed collaboration” moment of their long their cult hero to superduperstardom to backlash to redemption arc. (No, Reed did not make a cameo.) They started their set off smartly, with four tracks from their 1984 thrash classic Ride The Lightning making up the set’s first five songs; blasting the eager crowd with so early-career nuggets like the militaristic “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and the alienated-hesher anthem “Fade To Black” even managed to elevate the lesser track “Fuel,” from 1998’s ReLoad, to something better than it might have been in a different context.

While Slayer was probably the most violently competent act on the bill, Metallica had the best stage show; not only was there copious pyro from almost the get-go, their set was arranged in such a way that the crowd was pretty much in their collective palm throughout—even during the few later-period selections sprinkled into the set. Grumble though they might about the band’s aesthetic choices in recent years, Metallica fans are a fiercely loyal bunch. The general-admission crowd bobbed and weaved and thrashed along with every song; lead singer James Hetfield was given what could have been dubbed a 40,000-member backup choir; and when the band dedicated “Orion,” a lengthy, weaving instrumental piece from the 1986 album Master of Puppets that they’d performed live just once before, to the late bassist Cliff Burton, the ovation nearly shook the stadium. From there, Metallica marched through its biggest hits—the band’s maiden MTV voyage “One,” the title track to Puppets, the Yankee Stadium staple “Enter Sandman”—before departing the stage briefly.

When they came back, other members of the bands who’d played earlier (and a few members of Exodus) joined them for a cacophonous cover of Motorhead’s “Overkill”; here, Lombardo once again showed off his drumming prowess enough to make me wish that Slayer would pull out a surprise last set. Alas, it wasn’t to be; Metallica—who, one supposes, put their foot down to have the last word—blasted through “Battery” and “Seek And Destroy,” the latter only coming after drummer/band crank Lars Ulrich had instructed the crowd via Jumbotron to “go the fuck home.” (“Who is he, Tracey Ullman?” the person sitting next to me asked.) But the lacerating riff eventually snaked out of the speakers, allowing the crowd to be sent home on a triumphant note.

Critical bias: The first 1:27 of “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” may be one of my favorite pieces of music.

Overheard: Lots of marveling at whoever was charged with closed-captioning the entire show. Seriously, that person should start a lyrics website ASAP.

Random notebook dump: The dude who decided to maul his date during “War Ensemble” seems like he’d have an interesting OKCupid profile.

Set lists:
Creeping Death
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Ride The Lightning
Fade To Black
All Nightmare Long
Sad But True
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Master Of Puppets
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

Overkill (w/other members of The Big 4)
Seek & Destroy

Hate Worldwide
War Ensemble
Psychopathy Red
Mandatory Suicide
Chemical Warfare
Silent Scream
Dead Skin Mask
South Of Heaven
Raining Blood
Black Magic
Angel Of Death

Hangar 18
Public Enemy #1
A Tout Le Monde
Sweating Bullets
Symphony Of Destruction
Peace Sells
Holy Wars… The Punishment Due

Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t
Got The Time
Caught In A Mosh
The Devil You Know
Metal Thrashing Mad
I Am The Law