Led by metal’s elder statesman, Dave Mustaine, Megadeth headlined Tuesday’s ‘Metal Tour of the Year’ stop, with Lamb of God offering up a ‘novelty’ set featuring a replacement lead singer. Review, photos.
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Megadeth singer, guitarist and wiseass frontman Dave Mustaine had just wrapped the shredly complex guitar jiu jitsu of “The Conjuring” when he took the mic, swept the hair from his eyes and addressed the crowd for the first time that night.
“God, it’s so nice to be out of that f—ing Orbit Room,” he snarled.
It seems Mustaine might’ve conjured his sense of humor with the previous number. Tuesday was the first time Megadeth ever headlined Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena, after countless times – a half-dozen? More? – at the Orbit Room, the mall-flanked suburban 1,700-seater that’s now a defunct husk of a building.
(Notably, the same place I saw Megadeth 32 years ago, my first-ever heavy metal concert, and one of those definitive life moments. It was called Club Eastbrook at the time. I loved the Orbit Room. It was also perpetually a little more than halfway toward being a dump.)
That doesn’t reflect Megadeth’s career arc in any way, really.
It wasn’t until the band paired up with other metal acts for bigger-ticket tours that they graduated to monster-truck barns: case in point, its current co-headlining jaunt with less-elder statesmen Lamb of God.
Openers Trivium and In Flames enjoyed 40- and 35-minute sets, respectively, the former doing a passable heavy verse/melodic chorus post-metalcore boring American thing, the latter never bothering to dip into the deep early catalog that marked them as true innovators among Sweden’s many melodic death metal bands. I was disappointed by both.
Someone somewhere dubbed this assemblage of bands “The Metal Tour of the Year,” which makes more for a cool T-shirt than a reflection of the state of heavy metal reality: It roughly half-filled Van Andel Arena. But that seems about right: Three years ago, Slayer’s final tour drew maybe 1,000 more, with a far mightier lineup of Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament and Napalm Death. But that was the metal tour of 2019, so I guess they’ve got us on a technicality.
You’ll soon find out that I’m an unapologetic Megadeth apologist. But before one gushingly admires Mustaine’s gunslinger skills, career durability and standing as one of metal’s honest-to-Satan godfathers, we must address an elephant in the room, or perhaps the lack of one, if one wants a more literal metaphor.
A FILL-IN LEAD SINGER FOR LAMB OF GOD
Earlier that day, Lamb of God announced that its frontman, Randy Blythe, tested positive for COVID and couldn’t perform. (His symptoms were reportedly mild, but as you’re well aware, protocol says to isolate, and the show must go on.) He was replaced by friend-of-the-band Mark Hunter, vocalist for broken-up Cleveland nu-metallers Chimaira, who arranged cue cards in front of stage monitors and joked about how he was at home watching “The Batman” yesterday when he got a call from LoG guitarist Mark Morton.
“How do metal singers cram for exams?” the good-natured Hunter cracked, between frequent comments about being “honored” to front Lamb of God (who, I must point out, did their share of Orbit Room gigs, too) and “do some metal together” with the crowd.
How’d he fare? If you closed your eyes, you might not have noticed someone was replacing Blythe’s one-dimensional howl. Open them, and Blythe’s high-energy charisma and considerable stage command was clearly missing.
The positive spin is, it was a novelty Lamb of God show like no other. Hunter handled the bulk of the vocal duties – “Walk With Me in Hell” and “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For” were early standouts – while the band called upon the opening acts for an assist.
In Flames vocalist Anders Friden convincingly growled through “Resurrection Man,” while Trivium frontman Matt Heafy grabbed the mic for “512” and “Ghost Walking” and, get this, mostly forewent the Tasmanian Devil oop-ack vocalizing, replacing them with clean, melodic singing. It worked, quite nicely, I might add, although a gent a few seats over from me was less impressed: “F— you! That was terrible!” he lamented, loudly.
Nevertheless, Lamb of God’s Slayer-meets-Pantera median thrash kept the general admission pit in a steady mosh for 55 minutes.
Highlights: towering bursts of flame (what’s an arena metal show without towering bursts of flame?) and the swingin’ southern groove of set-closer “Redneck.” Lowlight: All those big, dumb electronic bass drops, which frequently signaled the band’s entrance into a generic chugga-chugga hardcore breakdown. It keeps the kids in the pit moving, I guess, and less concerned about the replacement singer.
MEGADETH BOASTED ITS STRONGEST LINEUP IN DECADES
By comparison, Megadeth has always been a more intricate and cerebral band, so gone were LoG’s flame pots, replaced with big digital screens and laser lights, wholly appropriate for Megadeth’s one-time proclamation that it was “the world’s state-of-the-art speed metal band.” (It said so on the poster on my bedroom wall.)
At this point, the band is Mustaine and top-shelf hired guns: Belgian drummer Dirk Verbeuren, Brazilian guitarist Kiko Loureiro and bassist James Lomenzo, who left John Fogerty’s band for his second stint in Megadeth, replacing recently ousted four-stringer and founding member David Ellefson. It’s the strongest Megadeth lineup of the last couple decades, cleanly executing the band’s often singular, precision metal.
And yet, it was a slightly bumpy 55-minute set. Megadeth took the stage to brainy barnburner “Hangar 18,” and received cooler reception for its follow-up number, “Dread and the Fugitive Mind,” which sometimes seems like a rewrite of a bigger, better song, “Sweating Bullets,” played later in the set.
“She Wolf” and instrumental “Conquer… or Die!” felt expendable next to the wild tempo shifts and neck-snapping switchbacks of “The Conjuring” and “Dystopia.” A rote run-through of one-time rock-radio staple, “Trust,” allowed the audience to yawn and stretch before Mustaine & Co. wrapped the evening with the Megadeth holy trinity of “Symphony of Destruction,” “Peace Sells” and “Holy Wars … the Punishment Due,” the audience’s heads bobbing in approval.
No argument, Mustaine deserved the closing spot on this tour, being the elder-elder statesman who still collects royalty statements for writing some of Metallica’s greatest riffs, and adheres to an unwavering sense of musical acuity.
And he’s a survivor –- of drug addiction, of nerve damage that almost rendered him permanently unable to play guitar, of throat cancer that has deepened his already-eccentric singing voice somewhat, of cervical damage to his neck from decades of headbanging, of being kicked out of Metallica, of apparently one too many Orbit Room gigs.
That he’s still standing on stage at 60 years of age, crapping on one of Grand Rapids’ beloved dives and executing seething, angry, complex, slashing riffs and solos? I’d say that’s amazing.
PHOTO GALLERY: Megadeth, Lamb of God, Trivium, In Flames at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
SET LIST: Megadeth at Van Andel Arena
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