I've travelled across the pond at my own expense (for a change) to see this mini festival at a warm & windy Palm Springs and to witness history being made in the heavy metal calendar. The previous night I celebrated my birthday at The Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Strip and sat opposite a table consisting of Sebastian Bach, Vince Neil and Ron Jeremy, that was a surreal moment right there!!!
Nestled in the desert among meticulously trimmed golf courses, the Empire Polo Club became a mecca for approximately 50,000 metal heads awaiting the arrival of The Big 4, mingling among the bemused faces of many aging golfers.
Anthrax burst onto the stage and immediately the roar was like nothing I've witnessed before. Joey Belladonna covering the stage like a man possessed and Scott Ian spending more time in the air than on the stage. 'Caught In a Mosh', 'Madhouse', 'Indians' all got the metal masses moshing mad. There was even time for a new one 'Fight 'Em Till You Can't' which was pure Anthrax at their best. Finishing the set with 'I Am The Law' the first of The Big 4 had certainly combined with the Californian sunshine to warm the crowd up good and proper.
With all animosity between Metallica seemingly forgotten Megadeth were next up and immediately their technical proficiency was on full display. Opening with the surprise choice of 'Trust' it wasn't until 'Hanger 18' and the quite apt 'Wake Up Dead' got played did the crowd begin to liven up. With Mustaine's snarling vocals combining with Dave Ellefson's solid bass they perform a stunning 'Symphony Of Destruction' followed by 'Peace Sells' together with a 50,000 strong chant. 'Holy Wars…The Punishment Due' ends a triumphant moment in history.
With the same line-up for their entire career it's a little weird not seeing Jeff Hanneman stage right, half of thrash metals hardest playing duo. Instead, standing opposite Kerry King is Gary Holt from Exodus, a more than worthy stand in. Without a doubt the most intense of the four bands today, Slayer rip this sleepy retirement resort apart from the very start. 'World Painted Blood' and 'War Ensemble' are brutal in their delivery. 'Raining Blood' sees the 50,000 raised fists puncture the Californian sunshine. As the sun sets the set becomes more brutal and then the place erupts like krakatoa for the last two numbers with the appearance of Jeff Hanneman, thankfully recovering well from a pretty bad spider bite which has left him with numerous skin grafts. Closing the set with 'South Of Heaven' & 'Angel of Death' this is the most brutal Slayer I've seen in quite a while.
Images from 'The Good, The Bad & The Ugly projected onto the big screens can only symbolize one thing…it's time for the biggest of the four; Metallica. An explosion of pyro and the opening riff from 'Creeping Death' sends Indio into a sea of ceremonial headbanging. 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' prompts James Hetfield to acknowledge their fallen bass player Cliff Burton who he says is always with them in spirit. Then the set thunders along like an unstoppable behemoth, the surprise inclusion of 'Orion' sends shivers up the arms which soon makes way for the pyro show for 'One'. All four horsemen play with feverish enthusiasm trading solo's and covering the vast stage at every opportunity. Ending with 'Enter Sandman' we are left waiting for the backline to be assembled for the coming together of all four bands to rip into 'Am I Evil'. With hugs & back slaps all around Dave Mustaine cannot get to the other side of the stage quick enough (maybe not all is healed). A Metallica encore of 'Hit The Lights' and 'Seek And Destroy' complete with an avalanche of beach balls sees this leg of the Big 4 an absolute success.
Mark 'Tosh' Davies