Masters of Thrash Still Reign
Slayer & Co. In Concert - Davenport, Iowa, 10/10/03
by Paul Hanson
The Jagermeister music festival rolled through Davenport, Iowa, on Friday, October 10, 2003. Advertised as 25 bands on three stages, the event at Banana Joe's lived up to its name. Luckily, the night was a beautiful one. The moon was full, a gentle breeze flowed through the main stage area, and the beer and Jagermeister flowed. There were three stages -- two inside, one outside -- so if one band sucked, you could go find another. This turned out to be important, as there were some truly awful bands that played -- and one band that ruled supreme.
On the main stage, Hemlock proved why you've never heard of them. The lead singer/bassist led the band through a set that consisted of fast songs and little talent. I was amazed at the sheer cockiness this band possesses to get up on stage and actually think they are good. As an illustration, the lead singer/bassist took his microphone off the stand, holding it with one hand and played bass with the other. Anyone that has seen a bass guitar knows that you have to have, typically, two hands: one for the frets and one to strum. This guy just strummed and didn't play any notes. You could see that the strings were flopping around, looking to me like all he was doing was making noise. I laughed aloud when he told the audience that he wanted everyone to split into two halves with a gap in the middle. Then, when he said, "Now!" both sides were to run at each other "like football." That was the dumbest tactic to get a crowd going that I've ever seen. Maybe my 33 year-old body hasn't seen enough concerts lately to catch onto this trend, but I found the whole scenario to illustrate a lack of judgment. The worst part was when the crowd parted and ran at each other. They were listening to this guy!
After Hemlock went off-stage, a nu-metal band called Dope took the stage. Arch Enemy was advertised as playing, but they were not there. Dope was awful, perhaps more awful than Hemlock, if that's possible. I could only handle the first song and about a minute of the second. There was a guitarist, but no riffs or notes. I didn't understand. Piped through the PA was a keyboard/electronica melody over which the drummer played a mildly interesting pattern while the singer screamed into his microphone. That's about all I can say about them, as I retreated to an inside stage at this point.
The band inside that was playing was awful as well. So much screaming and thrashing around instead of music. I longed for a thrash metal band to play a riff, a vocalist to sing, and the music to not be so ugly. The singer inside tried to incite a mosh pit, which failed miserably. I retreated out of this noise to another band.
Eventually, Hatebreed took the main stage. Their reputation as a hard-hitting band came out in the first song. Powerful drums, screaming vocals and fast guitar riffs. Unfortunately, their act got old quick. I could only tolerate two songs and there was an hour until Slayer was to take the stage. That hour would turn out to pass extremely slowly.
It went even slower when I looked at the crowd. I have children and I couldn't believe some of the kids that were there. I was appalled at the tattoos, the hair, the pierced ear lobes. However, this crowd was a good one; I observed no fisticuffs. If someone accidentally bumped into you, they turned around, said, "Sorry," and kept the peace. That was one of the best parts of the night. Even the kids with the 12" spiked hair were considerate. The bathrooms were where there was no consideration for human occupancy. Let's just say that it was incredibly gross and leave it at that.
Finally, Slayer came on stage. Kicking off with "God Hates Us All," vocalist/bassist Tom Araya made his presence known through the dry ice that shrouded the stage. Slayer was all business, playing all the songs you'd want to hear at a concert. "Mandatory Suicide," "War Ensemble," "Dead Skin Mask," "Criminally Insane," "Payback's A Bitch" and "Angel of Death" drove the audience into a frenzy of fists high in the air and screaming. It was amazing to watch this band play songs perfectly. All the guitar solos by Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were nailed, note for note. Drummer Dave Lombardo played his massive double bass set with fury, nailing the syncopated pattern in "Stain of Mind" and the drum fills in the various songs. Araya doesn't seem to get credit for being an outstanding bassist, but he deserves more praise. His fingers flew up and down the frets effortlessly. At least he made it look like he wasn't straining to play his parts.
Perhaps my only criticism of Slayer's show is the lack of continuity. After two songs in a row, the stage would go dark, but you could see the band members going backstage. Then they'd re-emerge, perhaps with a different guitar, perhaps not. I don't really know what they were doing. Araya then had to keep the momentum going with comments like "Thanks a lot for coming out." When chants of "Slayer" came from the crowd, he smiled. In the end, Slayer was the only band worth seeing on this night.
After Slayer played, Anal Blast and Cattle Decapitation were advertised as playing inside. I watched Anal Blast for a couple of minutes before shaking my head in disgust as they played uninteresting death metal. I should have left after Slayer.