Gigantour 2013 roared into New York City yesterday, and although tourmates Device & Hellyeah weren’t booked for the Hammerstein Ballroom show, Jason Newsted, Black Label Society, & Megadeth more than covered their absence with hours of blazing guitar brutality for the heavy metal masses.
When Dave Mustaine first conceived of Gigantour back in 2005, the idea was a summer tour for true musical virtuosos, ostensibly in response to the then just-fading nu metal fad filling the annual Ozzfest bills. Over years the lineups have shifted with the times, but after last year’s winter Gigantour with Lacuna Coil and Motorhead (read my review here), seeing the mighty Zakk Wylde join forces with Megadeth was every metal guitar geek’s dream come true.
Before Hammerstein even opened its doors, Mustaine and his bandmates were 10 blocks uptown for a private acoustic performance at VEVO headquarters, where they played Symphony of Destruction, Kingmaker, and She Wolf for Twitter contest winners – see photos and watch video clips by clicking here.
But down on 34th Street, the metal faithful were already gathering for one of the heaviest shows of the summer. Black Label Society fans always come out in full colors, and their black and white patches and vests could be seen throughout midtown all day. Fans young and old showed up for a meet & greet, getting merchandise signed by Zakk and later enjoying the show from the safety of the VIP section or pounding beers on the concrete floor. Equally represented were Metallica fans, who came early in order to catch former ‘Tallica bassist Jason Newsted with his new band.
Jason, who just played the Highline Ballroom in May (read my interview with him here), was in top form as he opened the show. The veteran is starting from scratch with his new group, but he sang, stomped, and headbanged with the energy forged from over a decade of touring and singing with the biggest heavy metal band in the world.
The bassist has always embodied metal at its absolute purest and rawest, and I could put up a slideshow purely comprised of Jason’s fierce growls and scowls (check out just a handful in the photos on the upper left of this page). He and his band, which also features Staind guitarist Mike Mushok, crunched through five original songs, and impressively, a significant portion of the crowd knew the words and sang along. The super-doomy Nocturnus stood out as one of the heaviest songs of the entire night, drawing out headbangers from every corner of the slowly-filling floor.
Everything predictably exploded, though, when Jason closed with Whiplash. Fans broke out into the first mosh pit of the night and furiously headbanged and played air guitar as Jason led his band through the Metallica classic. When all was over, necks were already stiffening and the night had barely begun.
Jason Newsted may be the hardest headbanger in heavy metal, but that’s only because Zakk Wylde makes being a metal god look easy. Somehow it’s been over two years since his Black Label Society played a proper show in New York (although Zakk’s unplugged run at the Iridium in June gave fans a nice taste) and the New York chapter of BLS was raring to throw down.
Blasting open with Godspeed Hellbound, Destruction Overdrive, and old school BLS favorite Bleed For Me, the muscled frontman and his band wasted no time pummeling the crowd with monster riffs and shrieking guitar solos, all at an eardrum-shattering volume. Zakk barely spoke a word to the crowd, instead using his axe to whip his fans into a frenzy. His trademark solo squealed for over 10 minutes as he stormed from one side of the stage to the other, fingers never stopping an endless blur of chickin’ pickin’ and double-tapping.
The band has brought black inflatable beach balls as part of their show for years, but last night saw a new first when a BLS roadie chucked a couple of blow-up dolls wearing Black Label t-shirts into the crowd. While Zakk, J.D., Nick and new(-ish) drummer Mike thundered through Overlord and Suicide Messiah, fans grabbed, tore and violated the inflatable sex toys like only New Yorkers can.
Black Label’s set wrapped with the catchy Stillborn as fans raced around the mosh pit one last time, one girl wearing a partially deflated doll around her neck like a knapsack as she bounced around the pit. Leaving their guitars on the stage for over two minutes of pure feedback, Zakk thumped his chest to massive applause, holding up his BLS colors and thanking the crowd profusely, even as the ringing in our ears began to fade.
Longtime fans of Megadeth know that there’s no predicting which Dave Mustaine will show up most nights; the venomous shredder looking for a fight, the perfectionist producer insisting on nothing short of a flawless show, the earnest musician offering appreciative words, or any combination thereof. Mustaine has built a career (and hit single) out of the war inside his head, and last night saw what fans would later agree was one of the best Megadeth shows in New York in a long time.
Mustaine and his bandmates just played here in May, performing the entire Countdown to Extinction album (photos and review here), and Wednesday night’s show borrowed the best parts of Countdown to go with all your favorite Megadeth staples. But first, Hanger 18, Wake Up Dead, and In My Darkest Hour were all knocked out within the first 20 minutes, and Dave and Chris were playing in top form as they shredded through their solos.
The entire ballroom sang along on Sweating Bullets, shouting the chorus louder than the PA system itself and moshing wildly on the song’s hypnotic breakdown. Two deeper Countdown favorites appeared with Architecture of Aggression and the fast-paced Skin O’ My Teeth, and bodies tumbled overhead as fans crowdsurfed towards the guitar gods dominating the stage.
Dave broke out two new songs, Kingmaker and Thin Lizzy cover Cold Sweat, before hitting cleanup with Symphony of Destruction and Peace Sells. Sweat soaked through Mustaine’s white dress shirt as the guitarist covered 20 years of thrash metal hits without missing even one of his thousands of notes and fans roared out the climax of Peace Sells.
Mustaine’s notorious ‘tude peeked out only at the end of the show, when he teased each side of the crowd challenging them to cheer louder, and then soundly mocked the quieter fans. Frankly, a Megadeth show without at least a snarl from Dave isn’t really a Megadeth show, and the 2013 Dave Mustaine seems to have found a happy medium between bad boy and respectful performer.
As usual, Holy Wars ended the night with its explosive solo, and after four hours of explosive heavy metal from three grizzled metal A-listers, fans cheerfully called it a night for Gigantour 2013.
There was a time when it seemed like Dave Mustaine and Megadeth might be past their prime, but it turns out that he and his band are stronger than ever. Haters will always hate, but Mustaine is the metal gift that keeps on giving, and as long as he keeps playing as well as he did last night, Megadeth is welcome to play New York City as often as they’d like. We’ll all be in the pit waiting to headbang.
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