Photos by Wild Don Lewis
SLAYER, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, MASTODON, FIREBALL MINISTRY
at the Universal Amphitheater, December 17
It was Slayer’s bleak über-metal that pummeled Panamanian
strongman Manuel Noriega into surrender by blaring outside his palace, and that
later propelled Bush Senior’s battalions when they swarmed across the Kuwaiti
border. Slayer’s 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 Rose–style
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. (Pantera’s final tour was with Slayer in
2001.) T-shirts commemorating Dime’s life are already on backs.
Atlanta’s 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 Dailor’s 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 isn’t as vociferous as most Slayer gatherings,
there’s brief chaos when the veteran foursome emerge. Slayer’s 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 Araya’s 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.
Araya’s 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 Abbott’s 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 Tap–worthy non-event was more like “dribble of ketchup.” Slayer
don’t 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
It’s way rock & roll to be arrested onstage à la Morrison,
but what about when you leave the stage to ensure another’s 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 Wifey’s set, a man walking by the club had flown
into a rage and, without provocation, punched Soda, as well as Alaska!’s Imaad
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 doesn’t 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, “It’s all trial and error, music.”
Law and order, trial and error — Alaska! had just enough of each.
at Spaceland, December 14
Royal Trux was Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty. They’ve split,
and tonight it’s 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 it’s obviously hers to command. Not
that undiluted Herrema is a desirable thing. For instance, with Hagerty out
of the picture, there’s no high end on the vocals, just Herrema’s nonstop, barely
melodic sneer. Couple this with Herrema’s 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 we’ve 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 don’t swing, the vocals go completely unintelligible,
the twin guitars keep chugging away in the key of generic. Yeck. Yet, due to
Herrema’s 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.