As if the night wasn’t already filled to the brim with aggressive, loud metal, we had one more act before the crowd was able to take a breath, dry their sweat and return back to Earth. It was time for Slayer to take the stage.
I have been a Slayer fan off and on for almost as long as I have been a Testament fan*. And while I was familiar with a large portion of their music, I had never owned any of their albums until a few years ago. It isn’t that I didn’t want to own an album, I just would blank when I got to record stores (kids, ask your parents what those were). Now that we are in the world of digital downloads – legally downloaded, don’t turn me in for anything – I have been able to play catch-up with bands that I would hear and get into but never had. So lately I have had the opportunity to dig back into the archives and surround myself with all the music that I’ve always been into, and discover new. Slayer is one of those bands.
Ok, another brief background done, on to the show.
Because of work, other side projects, etc. I have always missed the Slayer shows when they have been in town the past several years. This has been a disappointment because I just knew that a Slayer show is not to be missed, and tonight my thoughts were proven right.
A huge white sheet covering the stage and a little light show projecting images while stirring up the crowd even more as ‘Delusions of Saviour,’ the opening track of their latest release (Repentless) blasts out of the speakers while the guys take up their positions ready to provide a full aural assault for the next almost 2 hours. The sheet came down as they hit the first notes of the song ‘Repentless.’
With the sheet down and out of the way us photographers scrambled to the front of the stage to get our shots. One thing I have found is that when shooting a band you really like it sometimes makes it a little difficult to concentrate on the shooting. You want to get into the music and take in the performance – the sights and sounds of the entire venue – but you have to stay focused, there is time for that after the third song.
We were navigated back to 1986 with ‘Postmortem’ and then quickly followed by a little 1990 action with ‘Born of Fire’. From there it was a dizzying road between 1984 and 2015. The crowd exploded when they started up ‘Chemical Warfare’ and ‘Dead Skin Mask’. But don’t be mistaken, out of the 20+ songs they played, the audience at no point slowed down. Whether it was ‘Hate Worldwide’ ‘God Send Death’ ‘Payback’ or one of my favorites from “Repentless” – ‘You Against You’ the crowd was with them every note, every thump of the bass that you could feel in your chest. As expected “Repentless” was showcased more than their previous albums.
One other element I really enjoyed was that they didn’t do the typical encore that bands do. You know how it goes, the band finishes a song, thanks the crowd for showing up and then leaves the stage only to return a few minutes later after the crowd is chanting their name. Slayer took a different approach. Instead of leaving the stage the guys just keeps blasting out tunes. There was a slight pause in the show with a spotlight on Tom center stage as he just looked around smiling at the sea of sweaty happy fans. After about 30 seconds they launched into ‘South of Heaven’ which was then immediately followed by “Raining Blood’ ‘Black Magic’ and then finished with one of their signature songs – and one of their most controversial songs – ‘Angel of Death. The crowd went insane once cymbal hit and Kerry started thrashing on the strings in those first bars of the song. The audience screaming along with Tom, this is where everyone sprinted to the finish line and giving it their all, both the audience and Tom, Kerry, Paul and Gary. “ANGEL OF DEATH” the audience screams along with Tom ending the song and there is nothing left to give. How do you follow up those four songs? The answer is you don’t. You left that be the final lasting impression. Incredible.
These guys have been making music for the past 35 years and, if tonight is any indication,they show no signs of hanging it up and walking away. Their energy and sound on stage is incredibly tight, Slayer is definitely in their element on stage. With a live performance they are able to really transform their songs into something more fluid and alive. Slayer live adds layers of intensity to their songs not only by watching them tear up the stage and and flood our ears but the songs become a third tangible element with the band and the crowd. Don’t dismiss my words as silly flights of fancy. Watching the crowd as the band plays and absorbing everything pouring from the stage you can see how each song affects everyone there. This isn’t just a bunch of people coming to watch guys with instruments play, this was a community sharing in an experience that you have to be there to understand.
One thing I hear far too often is that heavy metal all sounds the same, just someone screaming words you can’t understand and just pounding on the instruments. I wish those ignorant people would come to a show like this. It only took a couple of the starting notes of a song before people in the crowd cheered because they knew the song and are excited to hear it. No this wasn’t just people cheering a song for the sake of cheering, these guys (and gals) would be yelling out the name of the songs and the lyrics. I was there with a friend of mine and multiple times she would jump with joy, look at me and call out the title before whipping her head around to the beat of the song. And that’s what I am by saying, the songs live provide a different experience for the crowd and the band.
Yeah it might sound like I’m spending too much time on the ‘feel good’ elements of the show and not talking too much about the specifics of who did what during XXX song, but I think this is important to document. We have all been there, hearing comments about shows – much like comments about the music itself – that all it is is a bunch of noise and people running into each other, it isn’t anything but a bunch of loud angry sounds to stir up people and make them loud and angry – it is just noise and anger. Well, I won’t completely disagree with some of that but there is more to it than that. The people at the show tonight are loud and angry but they don’t have an outlet for it. When Slayer, Testament, or Carcass takes the stage this is the opportunity for fans to experience the songs they enjoy live (see previous paragraph) but it also gives them an outlet for their anger. They can let go for a couple hours and get lost in the music, raise their fists and scream lyrics along with the band … and about 2000 of their closest friends. There are many songs Slayer has that speaks out against corruption on political, religions, and well any other power grab element of society. This is the crowds opportunity to exercise their frustrations in a controlled and cathartic environment. I think the bands know this and I think when you look at their faces they aren’t just happy to see a crowd chanting and screaming along with but they experience that energy – positivity out of negativity.
All that said, I can only imagine how the guys on stage feel when they play a song that the crowd is behind 150%. However, if Tom’s face during the entire show was any indication it is such an amazing feeling. Most of the time he was not at the mic singing he was gazing around the crowd with a smile on his face. He was looking up at the balcony and making eye contact with the fans all around the room. This evil Jerry Garcia looking dude screaming out “God hates us allllll” having a smile on his face isn’t what one would necessarily expect. Aren’t they suppose to be evil and angry and no redeeming value? Nope, they recognize what they are accomplishing taking the stage and they know what it means to us fans that they are up there busting their asses to create that music we have spent, for some of the crowd the majority of their lifetime listening to.
So I spent more time talking about the experience of the show and what I think it all means versus the specifics on stage. I don’t mind the fact I did that, a concert is more than who plays what and in what order. A concert is a shared experience by all who attended and I feel sharing my experience and what it means to me helps to convey how the show was. My goal in the photos is to try and make you: (a) feel like you were there and remind those that were there what it was like or (b) make you wish you had gone and kick yourself for not going. I approach my reviews, or as I tend to refer to them, my write-ups with the goal of helping you experience the shows through my experience and how it affected me. This show (hell all three bands) had an impact on the crowd that night and the impact was different for each person. This was my story.
Slayer – Fillmore