Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Run To The Hills

The Battle of San Bernardino
Iron Maiden / Megadeth / Anthrax / Testament / Overkill
September 13, 2013

This show went onsale over 4 months in advance back in April, which seemed like a 100 years in the future back in the Spring... but now the day had finally arrived.  This was the type of bill that would only happen in Europe when I was a Teenage Metalhead in the 80's; one that we could only dream would happen in America.  That was over 30 years ago, so better late than never I guess.

After taking a late night flight out of Oakland I found myself in a hotel parking lot at midnight and it was still almost 80 degrees outside.  There was a car with Slayer, Anthrax, Exodus, Testament, Iron Maiden, and "All I Want To Do Is Listen To Heavy Metal" bumper stickers on it.  As I walked past this Metal Mobile I said "Hi" to the kid who was leaning against it.  He replied with "You going to Maiden?"... and I said "Fuck yeah"... and he nodded and replied with "Fuck yeah.." Then I walked past a car with 2 kids making out in it. Then I got into the elevator with 3 kids, one wearing a Metallica tee, who reeked of doobage. They suddenly bailed out of the elevator before it closed; maybe they thought I was a narc despite my Motörhead shirt. The kidz are alright.

The next day when we arrived in the amphitheater parking lot the Maiden tail gate parties were already in full roar with tents and even campers set up.  Gathering of The Tribe! The tone was set early on when we walked past a Maiden fan wearing a Maiden hockey jersey in the 90+ degree heat but who also had an artificial leg with The Trooper art painted on it (!).  Metal!  Despite how the day would unfold, I was overwhelmed a couple of times by a sense that I was amongst "my people".

Anyway, I became involved in some Will Call drama that makes this story kind of convoluted, so I'll try and relate this tale as organized as possible.   First off, we had tickets so English Bob and I made it inside and watched Overkill play on a small side stage crammed into a corner of the concourse.  More importantly, we made it inside to get a cold beer after standing in the hot sun at Will Call.  Unfortunately, Overkill sounded like shit and we couldn't really see them.  The next hour or so was a blur of heat and beer combined with some nice conversations with a couple of Bay Area friends who had also made the trip (Hey Liz and Tiyo!) and some other Metalheads who we randomly met.  One of them was wearing an Orchid tee and his friend without warning told me she had given the guy wearing the Orchid tee a copy of Murder In The Front Row for Christmas.  Wow.. They had given no indication they knew who I was up until then.. Thanks for the support! Then Testament opened up on the main stage.

Our Bay Area heroes unloaded into the sunburned face of San Bernardino with a short and concise 30 minute set.  The newer song 'Rise Up' opened things up followed by old standards like 'The New Order', 'Practice What You Preach', and 'Into The Pit'.   A half hour was criminally short for a band of Testament's stature but it was clear that the crowd understood it was quality over quantity this time.  Thankfully Chuck Billy & Company are hitting the road in the U.S. again this Fall because they were just getting heated up in San Bernardino when they had to unplug and head back to the comfort of backstage.

Anyway, back to my Will Call drama:  Yes, I had tickets but my name was not on a certain guest list for a pass as it was supposed to be.  Back in the ancient times before The Internets and mobile technology you couldn't call or text someone to help you with a Will Call problem.  You could try to slip a handwritten note to someone backstage via a security guard, but unless you were a cute girl the odds of that working weren't that great.  For all of the things technology has ruined here in the 21st Century (record stores, etc..) it's also made situations like this much easier to deal with... as long as you have a cell signal... which was very hit and miss at this venue (Trivia:  The US Festival was held on this same site in 1983).  So during the time after Testament played the following happened...

Despite my initial Will Call setback, the Metal Godz once again proved they work in mysterious ways.  One thing led to another and I contacted an old friend (via text) who lives on the other side of the country.  This friend (Hi Patrick!) contacted a mutual band friend (who we've known for years) whose band happened to be playing today.  Then this band friend passed on his contact info to me and I contacted him directly.  Then after trading messages back and forth with this band friend and his assistant this was delivered to Will Call for me:

Unfortunately I only saw the first song of Anthrax's set ('Caught In A Mosh') since I used the plastic to go backstage and thank my band friend before his set.  Considering that (1) his band was playing direct support at the show and (2) it was his birthday and he had his family with him, the fact that he went out of his way to help me was amazing.  Then this happened:

Pretty cool.  Anyway, after a short chat my band friend told me to come back after their set.  I just want to say this:  No matter what Dave Mustaine's politics or opinions might be, the bottom line is he still treats me like a friend after 30+ years... and that's all that matters to me.  He genuinely remembers the Old Metal Days... and he still shreds.

We stopped in Catering to grab some waters... and it was surreal seeing 2 members of Maiden casually hanging out with crew and guests.  I ran into another Bay Area friend who's on the Testament crew (Hey Walter!) and also managed quick chats with Alex and Chuck of Testament as well. We also finally met up with Photo Ray and the day's Bay Area circle of Metal was finally complete.  All of the earlier crazy from the heat Will Call drama was forgotten.

Right before Megadeth came on they played Diamond Head - 'Lightning To The Nations' and Exodus - 'Bonded By Blood' back to back over the PA... which was a nice old school touch.  Then the houselights went down and Megadeth tore into 'Hanger 18' and then 'Wake Up Dead'.  The band's production consisted of video screens behind them and on the back line which worked very well with the band's set of precise Metal.  Over the next 50 minutes Megadeth were my favorite band for obvious reasons.  The band executed a tight set that included a great version of 'In My Darkest Hour' as well as solid versions of 'Symphony Of Destruction' and 'Peace Sells' that closed the main set with the encore of 'Holy Wars' nailing it all down.  Solid.

I missed the first 3 1/2 songs of Maiden's set because I was at Mustaine's birthday cake party in his trailer.  The symphony of destruction of Dave's birthday cake:

For the record it was a chocolate cake with a creme filling shaped like a Flying-V.  Deliciously Metal.  Yes, we sang 'Happy Birthday' to him.  It should also be noted that Accept was playing on the stereo during the birthday cake party.

After the Mega-Birthday party we returned to our seats midway through '2 Minutes To Midnight'.  Ironically today was Friday the 13th... and according to the Umlaut Archives this was my 13th time seeing Maiden.  Trippy.   This was also the 3rd time I've seen Maiden on this tour and, despite having missed the beginning, it was the best performance out of all of them. Maiden were on fire, with Bruce sounding especially strong and the sound was pretty much perfect; the huge crowd sang along loudly to every song. Epic. The version of 'Wasted Years' was special.   As during the previous shows I saw on this tour last year, the middle section of 'The Trooper' into 'The Number of the Beast' into 'Phantom of the Opera' into 'Run To The Hills' had the most impact. However my favorite tonight was the epic complex progressive hammer of 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' while 'Wasted Years' and 'Aces High' were the emotional highlights for me. Is there any more life affirming concert moment than singing along with 30,000 other Metal fans to 'Aces High'?!  Nope.  "Fly to live!!  Do or die!"

There was a group of 4 young Hispanic Metal kids sitting right in front of me.. all decked out with denim vests, patches, and band tees... and they sang along to EVERY song. They were going nuts the entire time and knew all the songs and not just "the hits". I almost got teary eyed watching them sing along with Maiden during 'Wasted Years'.. They stood on their chairs every once in a while to bang their heads.. If it had been any other show I would have been the annoyed old guy, but they were just like me at their age. It was awesome. The kidz are alright.

The next morning I was preparing to return to The Bay Area when the Metal Godz provided us with one final blessing for the weekend.   While packing up I texted my farewell to a friend who then mentioned how I was only 15 minutes away from the grave of.... RANDY RHOADS.  WTF!?  Since we had time before our flight, English Bob and I found an awesome old school diner for breakfast (Tole House Cafe... Open since 1951!) and jetted the rental car towards Mountain View Mortuary & Cemetery... where we quickly found the final resting place of Randy Fuckin' Rhoads:

I was speechless.  I worshipped Randy Rhoads during his short time with Ozzy and had been lucky enough to have seen him onstage twice. However, it had been almost 32 years (!) since the last time I was in the same venue as him.  Seeing "1982" etched into his tomb profoundly reminded me how much time had passed since he left this world.  ALOT has happened since then and it felt like my Teenage Metalhead had come full circle (again).  Over the mountain, man... Over the mountain.

Number of strangers who told me they were Murder fans as I walked through the crowd at Maiden = 2.  On the way back to San Francisco, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags.  As with the epic Big 4 show a couple of years ago it took me a couple of days to decompress from this monumental day of Metal... but I didn't have a lot of time to reflect because a couple of days later I was attending the fancy U.S. red carpet premiere for the movie by a local Metal band called Metallica... but maybe I'll rant about that later.

"Run to the hills... Run for your life.."