Testament Practices What They Preach: May 16, 2009, Harpo's, Detroit MI
Band Photo: Testament (?)
Testament is currently headlining their own North American Tour, supporting their 2008 album “The Formation of Damnation.” This is after a stint on the Metal Masters tour last summer, when they were disappointingly relegated to be the first band on stage, and ended up playing only 25 minutes a night. While that may seems reasonable when the other bands are Judas Priest, Heaven & Hell and Motorhead, it is still a disappointment to see a band like Testament get the shaft. This tour is the complete opposite, with Testament ruling the night despite strong performances from Unearth and Lazarus A.D. While the openers gave a good shot at upstaging the headliner, in the end everyone knew their place.
Harpo’s in Detroit has a unique setup. First off it is a particularly blighted part of Detroit. The evening starts by going through a metal detector while being closely watched by security guards carrying big hand guns. The doors opened at 6:00 pm, but there was hardly anyone there right at 6:00, and the parking lot had no tailgating. After the show the 24-hour Popeye’s next door was completely empty.
Once inside, the venue looks like a pretty standard concert venue. It is very large for a local concert hall (about 3,000 capacity with no balconies), and there are three sections for the audience. The first one, closest to the stage, is actually about 8 feet below the stage, and had the most active pit I’ve seen in a long time. The middle tier is even with the stage, and the back tier is about 6 feet above the stage and middle tier. The back tier also had a small stage, which had four non-billed local metal bands on it through the night. The first three local bands played before Lazarus A.D., and the fourth local band played between Lazarus A.D. and Unearth. All the local bands were mediocre at best, awful at worst, and nobody knew who they were.
Lazarus A.D. began their 30 minute set around 8:00 pm. Spirited and energetic, they played their Midwestern thrash fast and loud. Unearth followed around 9:00 pm. Their metalcore played well with the crowd, with the guitar leads really getting everyone going. The band members constantly ran around on stage and were clearly exhausted after their 45 minute set. Anyone at the show that had never heard of Lazarus A.D. or Unearth will probably buy an album or two, as both bands were tight, enthusiastic and heavy. Lazarus A.D. was particularly impressive, as they had a good thrash sound, which the mostly older crowd could relate to, along with absolutely killer guitar leads from guitarist Alex Lackner. Unearth was also good, but vocalist Trevor Phipps sounds significantly better in the studio. In the end their energy and repeated homages to Testament saw them through alright.
Testament came onstage around 10:20 pm, and rocked from the very beginning - the first song, “The Preacher,” ripped right out the gates, and it was off from there. All eighteen songs were heavy and relentless. There was a slight relief during the intro to “Demonic,” but that was about it.
Alex Skolnick was in fine form, as expected. His leads were crisp and clean, and he added frequent flourishes and extras that are a welcome element to a live show. Eric Peterson was also on top of his game, grinding out riffs that ripped off faces. Chuck Billy showed off his range from melodic thrash shrieks to almost death metal bellows. But if one member of the band stood out it was Paul Bostaph. His snare sounded like gunshots, the cymbals crashed right in the middle of my brain, and his kick drumming was an intricate avalanche of brutality.
Like many veteran metal bands, Testament is comfortable and confident on stage, and it shows. While Lazarus A.D. and Unearth ran around, jumped up and down, and repeatedly shouted to the crowd to go crazy, Testament let their music speak for itself and the crowd had no problem going nuts on its own. Chuck Billy even got a fantastic wall of death going in the pit during “The Formation of Damnation.” While interest did wane a bit toward the end of the openers’ sets, every person in the room was singing, chanting and screaming the whole time Testament was onstage.
The production, however, left something to be desired. The sound guy must have forgotten to turn on Chuck Billy’s mic at the start of Testament’s set, as his vocals couldn’t really be heard until the third song. Alex Skolnick’s guitar was drowned out into oblivion unless he was playing a solo, and Greg Christian might as well have taken the night off. The mix was so top and bottom heavy that is didn’t take the venue – a big brick building - into account, so when the volume was cranked to hear the middle register rhythm guitars, Peterson’s chords just bounced around drowning everyone else out in a haze of noise. It often took me half of a song to realize what song it was.
Due to the production, the songs from “The Formation of Damnation” and “The Gathering” were the highlights of the evening. The older songs, with their higher tuned guitars and higher register vocals, really got drowned out by the poor production once the volume was cranked up. The more recent stuff, however, has a lower register and more to them dynamically and rhythmically than the 1980’s stuff, which helped them stand out.
“More Than Meets the Eye” was a tour-de-force brain blaster and probably the absolute best song of the evening. “Demonic” was more evil than the studio version, and “3 Days in Darkness” was a fun one that made me want to dance with its syncopated rhythms and almost jazzy melodies.
Unfortunately classics early in the set like “The New Order,” “Practice What You Preach” and “Over the Wall” got drowned out. The production did improve slightly over the evening as the crew figured it out a bit, but that couldn’t save “Electric Crown” or “Disciples of the Watch.”
In the end, everyone still had a great time. Testament did what they came to do, which was play 80 minutes of brutal and fantastic thrash. Most of the fans were still singing, air guitaring and headbanging on the way out. Unfortunately the production made it a distinctly above average show, instead of a show for the ages.
Saturday, May 16 Set List
01. THE PREACHER
02. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
03. THE NEW ORDER
04. OVER THE WALL
05. SINS OF OMISSION
06. MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
07. THE PERSECUTED WON’T FORGET
09. TRUE BELIEVER
10. DO OR DIE
11. THE LEGACY
12. INTO THE PIT
13. SOULS OF BLACK
14. ELECTRIC CROWN
15. DISCIPLES OF THE WATCH
17. 3 DAYS IN DARKNESS
18. THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION
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