Gigantour 2012 A Winning Deal For Fans; Usual Headache For Press
Band Photo: Megadeth (?)
It’s hardly necessary to point out why Gigantour, the recurring metal mini-festival on wheels led by Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, is such an – ahem – gigantic draw. My last time seeing the band perform was for the tour’s third incarnation in April 2008, with support from In Flames, Children Of Bodom, Job For A Cowboy, and High On Fire. Round four boasts a package at once further streamlined and brawnier in industry clout, making this show a no-brainer for any heavy music fan within reasonable driving distance. With this firmly in mind, my photographer Tanya J. Kawecki and I set out for Lowell, Massachusetts on Sunday, January 29th. Our destination: UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center, named – in the words of my colorful colleague Matt Dasher – “for the guy who famously didn’t become President in 1992.”
After conducting a pleasant interview with Signores Andrea Ferro and Cristiano Migliore – vocalist and rhythm guitarist, respectively, for opening act Lacuna Coil – we embarked on an emergency errand to replace a vital piece of equipment. The delay forced us to miss “Our Truth,” “Upsidedown,” and “Fragile,” the first three songs of Lacuna’s set – which we nonetheless felt thundering through the walls as we endured an irritating phalanx of security measures before hitting the massive floor. As per general industry standards, official photography was limited to these three songs, and we were unceremoniously barred from entry to the pit.
Thanks to this situation, it became difficult to thoroughly enjoy the remainder of Lacuna’s brief but powerful set. We made the best of it, however, as the band cranked out booming renditions of new tracks “Kill The Light” and “Trip The Darkness” (from their new career-topping release “Dark Adrenaline”), and the satisfying singalong “Spellbound.”
Allow me to make a genteel observation of our experience as Lacuna vacated the stage to make way for Denmark’s Volbeat: Gigantour’s photography policy really, really sucks. As with many major packages, the distribution of photo passes is strictly regimented, with a separate pass issued for each band – pending approval of the individual photographer and the publication he or she represents. This made obtaining access an utter nightmare for Tanya and me as we haggled with personality-deficient staffers to overlook our pass restricting us to Lacuna Coil.
This debacle dragged on up to, and past, Volbeat’s emergence onstage. Their straightforward brand of hyperdriven hard rock and traditional metal in the “Black Album” mold had to be put aside as we fought up the chain to a mid-level event organizer. After a hectic period of negotiating, we rendezvoused in a restricted service tunnel, where Tanya and I were predictably, at long last, denied photo access. At that point, with little to lose, I lost my sense of proportion and asked to speak to the promoter. The outrageous request had barely escaped my lips before the harried middleman looked at me as if I had penises sprouting from my ears.
Returning to the floor empty handed, we bucked up and caught the rest of Volbeat’s set. This quartet of suave, uniformly black-clad Scandinavians balanced the raucous energy of an opener with the calculated showmanship of a headliner, and to impressive effect – they gained at least two new fans. They even translated the village-bicycle classic "I Only Want To Be With You" into a ripping live metal tune; largely responsible was the stoic, determined, Hetfieldian performance of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Michael Poulsen.
The next band barely needs an introduction. As a British New Wave pioneer and consummate rock icon, Motörhead provided the extra clout to set this current Gigantour apart from all that came before. Their set was largely free of unnecessary banter, and was damn fine for it – guitarist Phil Campbell’s quip “We play a lot of shows” and vocalist/bassist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister’s classic announcement “We play rock ‘n’ roll” were more than sufficient. The music spoke for itself. With the exception of new track “I Know How To Die” (from 2010’s “The World Is Yours”) and “The One To Sing The Blues” and “Going To Brazil” (from 1991’s “1916”), the band stuck to time-tested material at least three decades old. Standouts from “Overkill,” “Bomber” (including B-side “Over The Top”), and “Ace Of Spades” were the primary focus, with the exception of 1984 single “Killed By Death.” A little more imagination would’ve been nice, but Motörhead is Motörhead, and it’s hard to complain during a Mikkey Dee drum solo sandwiched between the pair of “1916” tunes. The whole affair felt rather quick, like a surprise ground strafing, but therein laid the point. This was rock ‘n’ roll, not a Ken Burns documentary. Far from relics, Motörhead will be a current and relevant band until Lemmy draws his last breath.
The same sentiment applies to the band hosting the main event. No matter how many times one has seen Megadeth, the collective mouth-watering anticipation never fails to grow thick and palpable. In this case, a translucent shroud was hoisted to conceal the stage and tease the crowd like hungry dogs. The dimming lights and thumping drumbeat of opener “Trust” only heightened things to a fever pitch, and when the lead riffs kicked in, the shroud was released and dropped swiftly into the photo pit.
It’d be a lie to describe a Megadeth performance as visibly exciting. It really isn’t. The music itself is the star of the show. That explains how despite an endless revolving door of members over three decades, the band remains an institution in its own right. Surrounded by the best lineup he’s fashioned in years, frontman Mustaine led Tsongas through a rather predictable, but still fan-approved, trio of cuts: “Wake Up Dead,” “Hangar 18,” and “Sweating Bullets.”
Stylistically, Megadeth’s song selection fit the big-arena environment like a glove. The mid-tempo rockers seemed to have the most bombastic sonic impact, and much of the rest of the set hovered at, or fairly near, such a pace. “Angry Again” and “She-Wolf” led to a cooling-off period in the form of interlude “Dawn Patrol.” Here, bassist David Ellefson took the reins momentarily before the band loosed a trio of cuts from the recent “TH1RT3EN” album: “Public Enemy No. 1,” the slightly ungrammatical “Whose Life (Is It Anyways?),” and “Guns, Drugs, & Money.” Aside from this new material, none of the set postdated 1997, but Megadeth at least chose more broadly than Motörhead. On the home stretch toward the show’s end, it was back to the classics, including an obligatory duet with Lacuna Coil’s lovely Cristina Scabbia for “A Toute Le Monde,” and a clapping chant for “Symphony Of Destruction” and “Peace Sells.” It’s puzzling why Mustaine even bothers going through the motions of an encore when the choice is invariably “Holy Wars (The Punishment Due).” Which, of course, it was. Regardless, the band’s sound was tighter than a hangman’s noose that night, and Ellefson and shredder Chris Broderick made valiant efforts to engage the audience amidst Mustaine’s famous taciturn stage presence.
For me, seeing Megadeth this time around stirred a bizarre cocktail of euphoria and disgruntlement – however irrational that may have been in hindsight. While stringent photography policies tend to be common when dealing with bigger bands, my gut kept telling me that the author of a song titled “We The People” ought to put his money where his mouth is, and adopt a more egalitarian attitude toward the industry food chain – which includes his fans. Like it or not, his is the sneering face of the bureaucratic apparatus that made our professional job more difficult and stressful than it needed to be.
On the upside, from a fan’s perspective, this Gigantour was a razor-sharp winner, with a nicely rounded and diverse bill that represented four nations and four separate, vibrant styles of heavy music. For that reason alone, it’s worth the price of a ticket.
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