The Metal Masters tour. An audacious name for a concert tour. Matched by a star-studded lineup of some of the biggest names in metal from the 70's and 80's. But would the bands be up to the par indicated by that audacious tour name? I wondered that even as I stepped into the venue. But as I found my way to my seat, I found myself thrilled that I would be evaluating the validity of the tour's name in a prime seat, that would have cost over $130 if I had paid for it (a factor I felt important in determining the strength of the experience).
Testament was first in the lineup, and were quick to remind the audience of their dominant role in the late 80's thrash scene with a few older hits which left no doubt as to why they were standouts back then. Interspersed with older hits were a few tracks from the new album, but only a couple, which is no surprise given the band only played for half an hour. Unfortunately, despite the energy put in by the band, the performance never really clicked with the audience. Doubtless, this is in part due to the lack of an audience presence when they came on (probably less than 1/3 full), and due to the fabulous Arizona heat beating down so intently on those of us there that it was impossible to do more than sit and enjoy the music. So with these factors in mind, Testament did not perform as I was hoping such a Thrash legend would, but given their role as an opener, they were more or less successful in getting the crowd excited for what was to come.
Motorhead was next up, and I was a bit anxious about this performance, as the last time I had seen them was about eight years ago, and I had fond memories of it, but I had read that on this tour they were more or less an incoherent wall of noise. Perhaps my saving grace was the earplugs I was wearing, the band was certainly mind-bogglingly loud, but I quite enjoyed the performance, and the performance was not bogged down in a wall of incoherency. The fact of the matter is that Lemmy is god, and so I was relieved to see that such a god is able to maintain his performance standards over the decades. One of the highlights of this performance was the out-of-nowhere drum solo that came in the middle of a song and was surprisingly quite decent, and then the solo flowed well back into the close of the song, it was well-practiced and very entertaining. The band was also very good at extending and enhancing their songs live, adding dimensions not present on their albums. Additionally, a few rows in front of me were the cutest father/son grouping. Both going wild and singing along to every song. It's good some parents raise their children on good music.
Heaven and Hell I knew would be somewhat of a disappointment going in. As awesome as Dio is, there are just some Black Sabbath songs you really want to see when you see Black Sabbath, whether or not Ozzy is singing. No War Pigs was in fact the biggest disappointment, though I knew it coming in. That being said, I also confess an embarassing unfamiliarity with the Dio-era Sabbath material. I would say I only recognized about half of the song played during their set. But the set itself was great, whether or not I knew the songs. However, for all the elaborate stage setup, little was used in the performance (a combustible metal flame and gas-breathing gargoyles were among the stage props tested prior to the performance which never made an appearance in the show). All the same, the general environment set up on the stage defined a remakably evil setting which may not have enhanced the music, but it did look pretty awesome. These guys were also great with the live performance of their songs, as those songs I did know came off much better live, and I left inspired to dig into Dio-era Sabbath.
Judas Priest I had the highest expectations for. Not only were they the headliners, but they're big enough that even non-metalheads know of them (the same can be true of Sabbath, but Sabbath wasn't really on tour). Despite the high expectations I was pretty blown away. From the constantly changing backdrops (reflecting the album of origin for the song being played), to the extended live versions with a few extra guitar solos, to the motorcycle on stage, it was really all anyone could want in a Judas Priest concert. The set list was also great. A few tracks from their latest album, but I like for the most part I was listening to a "best of" Judas Priest compilation. As this was my first time seeing them live, I was more than content with such a playlist, in fact I was more or less thrilled to hear most of my favorite songs in one set. I think their decision to end the normal set with Painkiller was a bad one though, it would have been a better encore piece.
But at the end of the day, was this really a showcase of metal masters? Well, all the bands on this tour have certainly paid their dues, and the performances ranged from solid to outstanding, so rest assured their mastery was prevalent and clear, but was it a $130 worth mastery? Well, that depends on the size of your pocketbook.