Photos by Wild Don Lewis
SLAYER, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, MASTODON, FIREBALL MINISTRY
at the Universal Amphitheater, December 17
It was Slayers bleak über-metal that pummeled Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega into surrender by blaring outside his palace, and that later propelled Bush Seniors battalions when they swarmed across the Kuwaiti border. Slayers last studio album, God Hates Us All, was released on September 11, 2001. And after two decades together, they remain untainted by commercialism or compromise loyalty to the dark art that has earned them a fearfully rabid fan base.
Given all this, few opening acts are worthy. The best tonight are locals Fireball Ministry, whose truck-stop rock, though cluttered with clichés, is redeemed by curveball pop instincts, robust not-so-Thin-Lizzy harmonized guitars, and the vocal gloss of guitarist Emily J. Burton and bassist Janis Tanaka, whose angelic harmonies and bartender glam juxtapose nicely with the bikerlike stance of burly front man James A. Rota.
While supertattooed MC the Lizardman performs tired Jim Rosestyle between-set stunts, cries of "Do it for Dimebag!" ring out, the first references to former Pantera guitar master Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott, murdered onstage in Ohio December 9. (Panteras final tour was with Slayer in 2001.) T-shirts commemorating Dimes life are already on backs.
Atlantas Mastodon prove a dreary disappointment. Lurking between crust-core and prog rock, their expansive instrumental workouts are distinguished only by escaped boy-band drummer Brann Dailors consistently adventurous groove interpretations. Bizarrely bearded vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders has some "spare some change?" charm, but Mastodon hand over little memorable music tonight.
Killswitch Engage are also forgettable. Despite much scampering around, their weighty schizo-metal seems fazed and confused. Amid floundering sounds, Amish-Elvis guitarist Adam D.s elfin prancing becomes a welcome distraction; only a Dimebag shout-out ignites a serious pit.
Though this L.A. crowd isnt as vociferous as most Slayer gatherings, theres brief chaos when the veteran foursome emerge. Slayers militaristic precision and multibannered mini-Nuremberg presentation offer a rigidly structured Wagnerian order that provides succor to their legions of (mostly male) fans. Opening with the God Hates Us All standout "Disciple," Slayer set out their quasi-Satanic stall: Hovering Apache kick drums, locust-plague guitars and boiling-kettle solos swarm bassist/vocalist Tom Arayas unending negativity ("I hate everyone equally . . . No segregation, separation, just me in my world of enemies"). Guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King strut like barrel-chested WWF victors, the bearded Araya adds knowing Rasputin authority, and returned drummer Dave Lombardo lives out his legendary dexterity.
Arayas understated tribute to his friend Abbott ("I want to take this time to say goodbye to somebody") elicits deafening "Dimebag!" chants from the sold-out amphitheater. There were mutterings beforehand that, in the light of Abbotts shooting death, the "wall of blood" finale (involving gallons of fake blood being poured over Slayer during the set-closing classic "Raining Blood") was in poor taste, but fans questioned on the night universally disagreed. There was no call for controversy; the blink-and-you-miss-it, Spinal Tapworthy non-event was more like "dribble of ketchup." Slayer dont need fake blood, they need fresh blood in terms of songs and challenges. While their recorded work has retained its shuddering primal savagery, tonight they were more comfy institution than menacing insurrection.
at the Silverlake Lounge, December 22
Its way rock & roll to be arrested onstage à la Morrison, but what about when you leave the stage to ensure anothers arrest? Is it rock & roll or like something out of a bad Law & Order intro? There was no deadpanning Jerry Orbach around to speculate while Wifey guitarist Jason Soda talked with two cops outside the Silverlake Lounge, but a story quickly materialized: Minutes prior to Wifeys set, a man walking by the club had flown into a rage and, without provocation, punched Soda, as well as Alaska!s Imaad Wasif.
With the suspect safely ensconced in the back of a squad car, Wifey returned, thrilling from their key role in the drama. "Stuff like that doesnt happen very often to us," singer Audrey Moshier panted. With that, Wifey launched back into their thing, which veered from sturdy bar-band smoldering to what sounded in lesser moments like Jack White mounting and pounding away on the collective corpse of the Black Crowes.
By the time Alaska! took the stage, the crowd had worked itself into a state effervescent from sneering about the pig intervention and grateful to be with friends one last time before the Xmas onslaught of family. On Emotions, Alaska! balance California flip-flop rock with an icy undertone befitting their namesake state, but live, they traded it all in for NYC-style thrash and propulsion. After Wasif announced that Alaska! was in the studio recording a new album, he paused thoughtfully and added, "Its all trial and error, music." Law and order, trial and error Alaska! had just enough of each.
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at Spaceland, December 14
Royal Trux was Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty. Theyve split, and tonight its Jennifer with four musicians as "RTX." With no Sonny to her Cher or is it the other way around? Herrema stands, swagger or fall, on her own: The band may be a group, but its obviously hers to command. Not that undiluted Herrema is a desirable thing. For instance, with Hagerty out of the picture, theres no high end on the vocals, just Herremas nonstop, barely melodic sneer. Couple this with Herremas current musical concept stiff beats and dork riffs, steeped in 70s/80s pop metal, played by Guitar Instituters plus rock champion Paz Lenchantin on bass and weve got Metal Skool by Harmony Korine: what would happen if the kids from art class got damaged on paint thinner with the remedial-class hessians, making sloggy-bottom songs out of variations on Slash riffs. On record, the hooks are audible and enjoyable in a Blackhearts kind of way, but live, the beats dont swing, the vocals go completely unintelligible, the twin guitars keep chugging away in the key of generic. Yeck. Yet, due to Herremas presence or pose arm resting on microphone, laughing, lit cigarette, albino hair, hoody sweat jacket, two bottles open, three sheets to the wind, playing back-to-back with Paz leaning on her this out-there, wink-free take on arena rock is strangely compelling in its sheer audacious wrong-weirdness. Total Gummo, man.