Live review/photos: The Big 4 at Yankee Stadium

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  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big 4: Anthrax

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Big Four at Yankee Stadium

Photograph: Beth Levendis

Big 4: Anthrax

The Big 4 at Yankee Stadium, all seven hours of it, basically boiled down to a single question: How do you like your metal? Staged earlier throughout Europe and in California, this package bill honors the shared longevity of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, bands who came up together in the '80s thrash metal scene. Brotherhood was the overarching theme, but you didn't leave the show thinking about unity. The takeaway was how different these four bands really are—and maybe always were.

It was hard not to treat the show as a competition, awarding mini titles like Most Intense (Slayer, by a mile), Most Versatile (Metallica, whose masterfully paced headlining set demonstrated why this band long ago graduated out of metal and into the larger rock & roll pantheon), Chopsiest (that would be Megadeth, who targeted guitar geeks first, headbangers second) and Most Exuberant (hometown favorites Anthrax, whose performance began with a benediction from Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr.). But it's to each band's credit that comparing them seems like a futile exercise in apples versus oranges: Watching them in succession, you grasped that each knows its own specialized skill set and exploits it to the fullest.

Anthrax, the gig's clear underdog, coped well with a tough time slot:The quintet opened at 4pm sharp, playing to a half-empty stadium. (Many local metalheads likely glossed over Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian's warning, transmitted via a TONY feature, about showing up on time.) If the setting was sleepy, the band was beyond amped. Clad in customized baseball jerseys, the members treated the stage like a playground; in between backing-vocal turns, Ian and bassist Frank Bello indulged in synchronized leaps and bounded across the huge centerfield stage. These joyful physical displays reflected the punky energy of the Anthrax back catalog: Sing-alongs like "Got the Time" (a Joe Jackson cover) and "Antisocial" conjured scenes from vintage Thrasher vids. Newly reenlisted frontman Joey Belladonna topped off the skate-friendly mix with potent Ronnie James Dio--esque grandiosity, shining brightest on two tracks from the band's excellent new Worship Music LP. As the band exited to Sinatra's "New York, New York," the message was obvious: For Anthrax, thrash is simply good, rowdy fun.

The party came to an abrupt halt as Megadeth took the stage, charging through several selections before so much as acknowledging the crowd. "Hangar 18," second on the set list, summed up the shift in mood: A tense and eerie midtempo brooder about Area 51, it's the perfect illustration of the distinctly grown-up thrash at which Megadeth excels. No smiles here, just airtight, dauntingly technical metal—the Jumbotron favored the fretboard pas de deux of guitarists Dave Mustaine and Chris Broderick—topped off by Mustaine's gritted-teeth whine. (Perhaps accounting for the sober mood, Mustaine informed the crowd that just the day before, he'd been lying on a hospital bed, receiving treatment for a serious neck ailment.) The pit down front throbbed during Megadeth's signature hit, "Symphony of Destruction," but overall this set was easier to appreciate aesthetically than to rock out to.

Slayer swung the show in a breathlessly visceral direction. Taking the stage as darkness fell on the Bronx, the band seethed with the same ugly ferocity that attracted the attention of Def Jam impresario Rick Rubin back in the mid-'80s. Tattooed muscleman Kerry King and fill-in ax man Gary Holt (of Exodus) hammered their guitars with maximum belligerence—breaking only to tap out busy, demented leads that rained down like sparks—and drummer Dave Lombardo powered through his trademark two-beat, hardcore-inspired oompah. Some of the fast numbers blurred together, but when the band launched into the fiendishly catchy "War Ensemble," the concert hit peak intensity; here you understood why Slayer still boasts impeccable street cred among genre purists. Slower selections like "Dead Skin Mask" and "South of Heaven" delivered creeping, sinister riffs—the sonic equivalent of true-crime horror flicks. The aesthetic distance between these grim textures and Anthrax's fun-loving mosh fuel would be hard to overstate.

Predictably, Metallica's set was a whole other kind of production. While Slayer favored stark red and white lighting, the headliners went the arena-rock route, with gratuitous lasers, pyrotechnics and even a smattering of honest-to-God fireworks. There was an implied arrogance to the presentation—"The kiddies have had their fun; now it's time for the big boys"—but Metallica's performance lived up to the bombast. The set functioned as a methodical demonstration of exactly why this band long ago outpaced the underground: James Hetfield & Co. may fly the metal flag, but their true goal—one they achieve more often than not—is to stand among the all-time-great rock & roll bands.

The early part of the set, drawn largely from '84's Ride the Lightning, threw a bone to the faithful; the slashing opening riff and agonized chorus of the title track reminded you that Metallica could still convincingly inhabit its marauding 1984 self. But a telling moment came during the gloriously depressive power ballad "Fade to Black." Here you realized that for this band, the dreaded "We're gonna slow it down now" breather isn't an invitation to take a bathroom break. Metallica doesn't need thrash to make its point; there's true gravitas even in its downtempo material. From there came a breathtakingly diverse string of career-spanning songs. Fans responded with equal enthusiasm to the brilliantly frenetic "All Nightmare Long" (from '08's Death Magnetic) and the proggy, artful Master of Puppets instrumental "Orion." The subsequent one-two punch of "Master of Puppets" and "Blackened" was almost too much—Slayer may have had the edge in terms of raw intensity, but this material was of a different order: the most highly evolved marriage of energy and songcraft that metal has ever known. As Metallica segued from these daunting epics to crowd-pleasers "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman," you understood fully the band's balancing act: keeping the old-schoolers happy while delivering an arena-worthy spectacle.

There wasn't much to the inevitable all-hands-on-deck encore, a muddy stomp through Motrhead's "Overkill." That might be because when considered as a single unit, the Big 4 is a vague concept, a lumping together of entities that deserve to be savored one by one. It's hard to imagine anyone present for this momentous gig not celebrating the distinctions between these bands, their quirks of mood and method. On this night in the Bronx, you saw clearly how metal could contain multitudes.

Users say

2 comments
Awesome show
Awesome show

TimeOut sells, but who's buying? MEGADETH RIPPED IT!!! Can't top one-two knockout punch of Peace Sells into Holy Wars.

Wilt
Wilt

Amazing concert. It doesn't get any better!