[Review] The Big 4 Festival – Heavy Metal’s Answer To Coachella
The Big 4 Festival just swept through Indio this past weekend, bringing with it [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Metallica[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Slayer[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Megadeth[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Anthrax[/lastfm]. This was a Godsend for us So-Cal metal heads as lineups like this only seem to happen in Europe these days. The American metal scene has been lacking in big festival style shows like this in recent years.
Thankfully, the Big 4 made it happen for us, even if there was only one U.S. show. However, with 60,000+ in ticket sales, this may be just what we need to spark the interest of promoters. Maybe we can even get a 3-day European style metal fest like ‘Wacken’ in Germany (fingers crossed).
All that jumbo aside, The Big 4 ended up being an awesome show. Anthrax started the day off under the blistering 4pm sun at the Empire Polo Field, but this didn’t stop people from supporting one of the oldest surviving metal acts. The field was already packing up with people and spirits were high.
In fact, Anthrax had some of the best sing-a-long reactions of the day during tracks like “Indians” and “Among the Living.” Scott Ian is still as much a presence on stage as he ever was with his stomp-the-ground style of shredding guitar, and Joey Belladona looked to be having a blast interacting with the crowd as he pushed his mic out into the pit for fan vocals.
Next up was Megadeth. Dave Mustaine walked out on stage and started off playing “Trust” with a giant double necked “V” guitar which was pretty cool to see. Also their new(ish) lead guitar player, Chris Broderick, did a great job during the set playing Megadeth’s infamously technical solo work, especially on the material from “Rust in Peace.” One of the highlights of the set was definitely Mustaine and Broderick battling solo’s during the end of “Holy Wars,” which they closed their set with.
By the time Slayer took the stage, the sun was starting to lower and the field was almost in full attendance. It was clear from the moment Slayer opened their set with “World Painted Blood” that they were a fan favorite. I personally witnessed at least a dozen fans getting dogpiled by security as people were charging over the railings trying to break into the pit area. Slayer spawned the biggest and baddest circle pits of the day by far. It didn’t really matter where you were standing, the pits ranged from the front guard rail all the way to the back of the field.
Amongst the chaos of Slayer getting warmed up, I also noticed that Jeff Hanneman (guitar) wasn’t on stage and after doing some investigating, it was explained to me that Hanneman had recently had surgery on his arm due to a spider bite. Because of this, Slayer was using [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Exodus[/lastfm]‘ Gary Holt as a guest guitar player. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed when I first heard this, as one of my favorite things about seeing Slayer live is watching Hanneman and King going back and forth with their face melting guitar shreds. However, Holt turned out to do a killer job covering for Hanneman and the show sounded as authentic as any Slayer show I’ve seen.
Furthermore, to my surprise, Hanneman ended up making an appearance during the song “South of Heaven” and finished out the rest of the set with Slayer. To be honest, if I had my eyes closed, I probably would not have even noticed the transition between Holt and Hanneman, so hats off to Holt! In retrospect, I should never have worried. Exodus is a great band, but Slayer is just one of those few bands that you can count on to maintain a relatively stable roster. Slayer finished off their set with “Angel of Death” and fans went nuts as Lombardo (drums) extended his double bass solo before the final verse of the song. It was definitely one of the highlights of the night.
Finally at about 8:45, 15 minutes late as usual, Metallica took the stage. They opened their set with “Creeping Death” and continued playing classic track after classic track. It was amazing for a Metallica show. I mean, all Metallica shows are amazing, but this night they played every song you could have wanted to hear. Usually I leave a Metallica concert thinking, “Hey, that was awesome when they played such and such songs, but too bad they didn’t play…”. Not this night. It was completely unadulterated fan service!
They dropped “Creeping Death,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Hit the Lights,” “Ride the Lightning,” “Fade to Black,” “Seek and Destroy,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “One,” “Master of Puppets,” “Blackened,” “Orion” etc. It’s probably the closest thing you’d ever get to seeing Metallica in say 1989. I’ve seen them maybe 10 times and never have they played “Orion,” which is a personal favorite.
On top of that, their stage show was totally off the hook as usual with insane pyrotechnics and fireworks blasting throughout the night. This made for an incredible experience, except one thing I kept thinking: This was The Big 4 show, celebrating 4 top tier metal acts that have each been around for nearly 30 years, but Metallica’s production was so much higher than the rest of the bands that you couldn’t help but feel like Metallica was headlining and everyone else was an opening act. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it seemed like the bands were being promoted as equals, and that order didn’t really matter. That aside, Metallica killed it as usual, and showed us once again why we keep coming back after all these years.
To close out the night, they had all the Big 4 bands come out together and do a cover jam of “Am I Evil.” It was quite a spectacle seeing 17 or so metal gods all on stage at once. They all walked out and greeted each other, but I couldn’t help but notice Dave Mustaine walk right past James Hetfield without even a pat on the back. Thirty years and you still got beef Dave? Who knows. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like some of those dudes weren’t really plugged in. It sorta just sounded like Metallica playing the song, but nevertheless, it was definitely fun to watch everyone out together. All in all, it was a great show that I’d see again if I had the chance. We can only pray that the success of this show will hopefully get more acts like this out here in the future.
Review written by our resident metal head, Matt Cardenas, of KROQ Promotions