On 19th March 1995, a certain 16 year old got only his second live experience of one of the thrash scene’s ‘Big Four’. The venue was Newport Centre. The band was Megadeth, and on that night, the band’s lead singer, Dave Mustaine, was a fiery ball of ginger-tousled bile.
Fast forward 18 years (and eight albums) and that same kid is getting a little bit excited about seeing that same band again after all this time. Older, wiser, and maybe a little more drunk, it was time for me to get to Manchester Academy to witness a legend reborn.
Having missed metalcore marauders Bleed From Within when they’d recently played in Manchester, I head down to the Academy around 20 minutes after the 8pm doors opening time to make sure I catch them, but it soon becomes apparent that I haven’t got a hope in hell. I knew the gig had sold out, so that’s nearly 2,500 denim and leather-clad booze hounds to get into the venue, but I’ve been to sold out Academy shows before and I’ve never seen queues that stretch back past The Manchester Museum, especially when the doors were open. Walking down to the Academy itself to check stage times, I notice the key problem; the doors aren’t open at all.
Now, for those of you not in the know, Dave Mustaine can be, shall we say, ‘temperamental’. He’s thrown his musical toys out of his pram a fair few times over the years and this has added a sense of danger (or more recently frustration) to Megadeth‘s live shows during their 30-year career. It’s unfortunately no surprise then that despite the support act being due on stage at 8.25pm, there won’t be anyone in there to see them.
Popping to perennial favourite pre-gig watering hole Big Hands, I strike up conversation with fellow fans who are equally unsurprised that the night is already looking like a bit of shambles. More worrying though, Megadeth are due on stage at 9.15pm, and as the time approaches the queue is still taking an eternity to get into the venue. As I finally shuffle on in, the bars are already heaving, the main hall looks suspiciously over capacity and the heat is stifling. But this doesn’t prevent a raucous welcome when ‘Prince of Darkness’ heralds the band onstage only five minutes late.
The crowd’s enthusiasm is easy to spot when even ‘Trust’ from the much maligned ‘Cryptic Writings’ album is so well-received, but it’s ‘Hanger 18’ which really gets things going. ‘Kingmaker’ from the band’s latest CD, ‘Super Collider’ doesn’t sound completely out of place alongside such a legendary thrash anthem and another ‘…Writings’ track, ‘She-wolf’, also seems familiar to most.
As Dave announces the band are going to celebrate defining album ‘Countdown To Extinction”s recent 20th anniversary by playing material from that record, the crowd roar shakes the venue. The album’s title track and ‘Architecture Of Aggression are still killer, polished mainstream thrash classics, but then, suddenly…silence.
The stage is dark, the band have departed, and only six songs in, the audience are left stunned. After five minutes, guitarist Chris Broderick emerges to tell us that the band are ‘fixing some shit’, but after ten minutes I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to be phoning up for a refund the following morning. Then, after a full 15 minutes of hanging about, the band return, and we’re told by Mustaine that they had to ‘send the guy on the spotlight packing.’ Apparently Dave was concerned that we couldn’t see the band due to the lighting guy being a little ‘off’. Twisted logic there, we can see even less of you when you storm off in a huff over a minor, unapparent to everyone bar yourself issue and then come back out acting like a dick.
Mustaine then proceeds to identify an ‘Eminem wannabe’ in the crowd flipping him off and orders security to escort him out. Ironically if he’d bothered being on stage for the previous 15 minutes he would’ve seen a lot more fans giving him the bird, and you’d think he’d be used to it after all these years anyway.
Anyway, when we do finally get some music again, it’s in the shape of ‘Sweating Bullets’, ‘Ashes In Your Mouth’ and ‘Dawn Patrol’, with the triumvirate reminding us once again what a great band this used to be, making it even more sad to see such static performances of incredible songs.
‘A Tout Le Monde’ feels a little rushed tonight, losing some of its majesty in the process and although ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ recovers the set a bit, a rendition of new album title track ‘Super Collider’ manages to somehow sound worse than it does on record. There’s just something nagging away that the songs aren’t played with enough honesty to really get you to connect with them, instead it all feels like a band going through the motions.
The sound is admittedly its usual Academy 1 muffled self with the guitars muted and drums too high in the mix, but even so, Mustaine doesn’t help matters, refusing to name check the city he’s in once, or mention that the show is a sell-out. Two easily achieved and cliched pops admittedly, but fans love that kind of stuff and just saying we’re ‘beautiful’ repeatedly doesn’t really cut it. Instead, you’re left wondering if Mustaine actually knows or cares where he is. The backdrop videos playing throughout smack of paranoia and insecurity as they force the lyrics of the newer tracks down the audience’s throats, whilst the only positivity from the band comes from long-suffering bassist Dave Ellefson who does his best cheerleading act. Unfortunately a few fist pumps can’t hide a largely by-the-numbers, cliched performance.
There’s even a bass solo for crying out loud. A piece of understandable padding at a festival show, but unforgivable when we’ve already lost 15 minutes due to the aforementioned hissy fit.
After a highly insincere apology to the earlier Eminem wannabe who appears to have snuck back in, ‘Symphony of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’ and Holy Wars’ are always going to be lapped up despite what goes before. To be fair, they do still sound great and deserve the warm reception they receive, but the set’s close is a little too late in the day to just throw in the big guns and hope everyone goes home happy.
The overall song selection tonight, despite the ‘Cryptic Writings’ tracks seems overly safe, and played with skill rather than true passion. It seems that Mustaine is largely oblivious to the slew of top quality bands around in 2013, and for that matter bands who easily match live what they are doing on record, and the show feels somewhat dated because of this. Someone really needs to sit him down and have a quiet word, telling him that it’s no longer okay to charge £30 a ticket, create an organisational mess and hope the fans will still turn out in their droves; Megadeth are really going to struggle to stay relevant if that type of form is anything to go by.
I hate to say it, but this night smacks of a band that could well be on their countdown to extinction.