By Avinash Mittur
April 12th 2012, Key Club, Hollywood CA: First off, I’d like to start this review by saying that this event was not a conventional concert. It was advertised as an instrument clinic, and to a degree, that’s what it was. What started out as a simple exhibition being put on by some of metal’s greatest performers became a pure celebration of the genre and an absolutely amazing evening of music and expression of love for heavy metal music.
The night began with a short performance from Adrenaline Mob, the new supergroup featuring Mike Portnoy, Russell Allen, Mike Orlando and John Moyer. After being used to hearing Russell sing progressive power metal, hearing more modern hard rock from him was quite a surprise. His voice was as amazing as ever, easily besting his last performance in Los Angeles with Symphony X last February. It was also interesting to hear Mike Portnoy drum in a conventional rock style. Indifferent, the first single from the band’s first album was a highlight out of the original material performed. The song would be a welcome presence on modern rock radio, and showed a different side to Allen and Portnoy. The track Hit the Wall definitely appealed to the thrash fan in me with it’s double time chorus, while their cover of Mob Rules was pretty awesome. Russell Allen covering a track sung by Dio can only be a good thing after all. Their set was a fun, high energy way to kick off the evening, but the show only got better and better.
At the end of Adrenaline Mob’s set, Portnoy came out to chat with the audience for a bit. After thanking the audience for showing up, he introduced Frank Bello, Dave Ellefson, and Charlie Benante on guitar. He then revealed the first special guest of the night, Chris Broderick. Right away, a small mishap occurred with Bello’s pedal rack (the first of a few this night), and the rest of the musicians broke out into Megadeth’s Dawn Patrol. It was a funny moment that made the event seem even more relaxed and casual. When Bello’s bass sound was finally fixed up the band paid tribute to Iron Maiden with renditions of The Ides of March and Transylvania. It was a strange sight to see so many musicians from different bands sharing the stage (it was even stranger to see Benante playing guitar), but it worked well.
After these two songs, Bello came out by himself for a solo exhibition. Bello told the audience about his childhood, his start in music and his heroes and influences in life. Covering topics like his dead-beat dad, the positive influence of Benante and his grandmother, and the almighty power of Sabbath, it was truly an inspirational story. It was very cool to see that someone like Frank Bello still worships his musical heroes; his impromptu tributes to Geddy Lee and Steve Harris were neat, but his bass and drums version of the Anthrax live classic, Got the Time with Benante was even better. With so many metal records being extremely guitar and vocal heavy, it was a delight to hear a classic metal song stripped down to the normally inaudible rhythm section.
Dave Ellefson then took the stage for another solo exhibition. He and Benante immediately broke out into a quick bass and drums rendition of Peace Sells. This even incited the first pit of the night, and the audience was more than happy to supply vocals. Ellefson’s showcase was more technically oriented, as he broke down the musical theory behind thrash metal songs and gave a short history lesson on how he and Dave Mustaine wrote the first Megadeth songs- this was a great contrast to Bello’s more personal showcase. Ellefson even played bass parts from a couple of rarely played Megadeth songs like Bad Omen, The Skull Beneath the Skin and Devils Island. Ellefson then talked a bit about making Megadeth’s masterwork, Rust in Peace from a bass player’s perspective. More than anything, Megadeth fans finally got to see what a talented player Ellefson is. While Bello is usually relatively audible in Anthrax albums, Ellefson tends to be buried in the mix and getting to hear his bass parts by themselves was truly a revelation. Simply put, the guy can shred. My favorite part of his clinic was his breakdown of My Last Words, my personal favorite Megadeth song. Chris Broderick then joined him for a spontaneous jam that was a good deal of fun to hear.
Dave Lombardo soon joined the two however, and the new trio busted out Megadeth’s Holy Wars. Lombardo nailed song with ease as expected, and then began his showcase piece. Lombardo didn’t talk much during his bit- in fact it would probably be more accurate to call it a drum solo. After his quick solo, Lombardo took requests for songs. Silent Scream and Ghosts of War were showcased- these were followed by another drum solo and the intro to Criminally Insane. Lombardo then took the time to answer a couple of random questions. Unfortunately, this Q&A session was a bit clunky and disjointed and simply ended up in another drum solo. As a drummer myself, I had no complaints about hearing Lombardo play solo, but I’m sure many other fans would have liked to hear a more rehearsed talk from Lombardo like Bello and Ellefson did. Lombardo then took some more questions and performed a final jazz drum solo. More than the Slayer demos, this solo showed what an amazing and versatile drummer Lombardo is.
Next up was Anthrax’s Charlie Benante. Like Lombardo, Benante’s bit primarily consisted of a drum solo. Like Lombardo’s bit, I would have liked to hear him speak for a bit, but given that Bello had explained their childhood earlier in the night, I wasn’t as surprised by Benante’s lack of a speech. Benante introduced two young drummers that his drum tech had picked from the crowd earlier in the night. One was a young man named Angel, the other was actually me.
Earlier in the night, Charlie’s drum tech went out on the floor and asked around for drummers who wanted to join Charlie onstage during his exhibition. During Lombardo’s solo Angel and I were taken backstage and filled in on what to do by Charlie. During this whole crazy process I got to hang out with many of the musicians who performed at the clinic. They were all very gracious, fun and super nice to both me and Angel. With Angel on Portnoy’s kit, and me on Lombardo’s, we then began the short drum duel. Benante and Angel were clearly the better drummers between the three of us- this was extremely obvious during the double bass trade off. In my defense, it was my first time ever attempting double bass drumming, but I still had an amazing time getting to play onstage with one of my drum heroes. The fact that I got to play on the godfather of double bass’ drum kit just added to this unreal event.
This little bit was easily the coolest thing I have ever seen musicians do for their fans, and I am beyond lucky to have taken part in it. As a fan, I am eternally grateful to Charlie and his tech for letting me participate in such a mind blowing experience. As a reviewer, this was still an immensely fun thing to see a celebrity musician do for his fans, and it made what could have been a simple drum solo a neat interaction between fans and the musician.
Benante then brought out Ellefson, Broderick, Portnoy, and Bello to play. After another short mishap with Bello’s bass (the guy took all these problems with an extremely positive attitude), the band decided to break out into a jam of Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick. The song featured solos from all three drummers that all highlighted their respective specialties. Portnoy showed off his cymbal and tom heavy fills, Benante played his signature mixed snare, tom and kick fills and his blast beats, while Lombardo of course played his double bass kick drums like a madman. The three then broke out in a blast beat jam much like Benante had done with me and Angel earlier. Ellefson, Broderick and Bello then returned to the stage to finish Moby Dick. Poor Frankie still had no luck with his bass however.
Immediately as the song ended, Slayer’s own Kerry King came out. The three drummers began the intro to Raining Blood as the much lighting went out in favor of a red hue. The next special guest, Philip Anselmo, came out to handle vocals. Anselmo is still an insane frontman, and he did a great job on Raining Blood and the song that followed it, Angel of Death. His voice may not be what it was years ago, but his energy more than compensated. Phil Anselmo may have the voice of a forty year old metal singer, but he still has the energy and spirit of a twenty year old one. The floor truly erupted for these songs, but the best was still yet to come.
The band then played a solid set of Pantera covers, beginning with Mouth For War. Getting to hear Anselmo sing these songs was an unadulterated pleasure, even with more technical shenanigans. This time Anselmo was the victim with his microphone going out in the middle of Mouth For War. Bello and Anselmo continued to have a fun time about it, and talked to the audience during the ordeal. The band picked up right where they left off though, and the rest of the show was mostly free of tech issues.
A New Level was next. This song was great to hear, but even better what came next. The band played Walk, which had the entire audience singing along and raising their fists to the sky. After a few jokes from Anselmo, Benante came out to help out on guitar duties, and the newly modified band soon began Pantera’s This Love. Anselmo’s tortured singing voice was still completely intact, and even if his shouting was hoarse, he still managed to nail the classic song. After a quick tease of the Cowboys From Hell riff from Benante (and the promise from Bello that they would know the song by the next clinic), the group played the last Pantera song of the night, Fucking Hostile. Once again, the pit flared in intensity, and bodies flew about like there was no tomorrow. Even though King’s guitar went out, this did nothing to dispel the energy this song created. This band had blown through the first half of Vulgar Display of Power, and the audience couldn’t have been more overjoyed.
Right after Fucking Hostile and a quick round of thanks from Phil, the musicians all paid tribute to Armand Butts Crump, Kerry King’s guitar tech who recently passed away. King didn’t say a word to the audience during the whole event; the moment when he held up Armand’s stage pass was more than enough to express how he felt this night though. They all also paid respect to Dimebag Darrell, which might have drawn the largest cheer of the night.
The final song of the night was the best. The giant pile of talent on stage was joined by Geezer Butler for a run through of the Sabbath fan favorite, Hole in the Sky. Seeing three different bassists with three very different styles of playing was very neat to watch, and really, who wouldn’t love seeing Black Sabbath played by these amazing musicians? Broderick did great justice to Tony Iommi’s solo, and the expressions on Ellefson and Bello’s face as they watched Geezer play was absolutely priceless.
In Phil Anselmo’s own words, this show was amazingly “fun. Far from perfect, but goddamn fun goddamn it!” Sure there were a few technical shenanigans, but the show was so laid back and casual that it really didn’t matter. Seeing these musicians have the time of their lives paying tribute to their heroes and friends was extremely entertaining and I can’t wait to attend the next Metal Masters Clinic. For 25 dollars, every fan got their money’s worth and then some.
Also, I got to be Dave Lombardo for a few minutes. How awesome is that?! All the money in the world couldn’t have bought that experience. Thank you Frank Bello, Charlie Benante, Dave Ellefson, Dave Lombardo, Chris Broderick, Kerry King, Phil Anselmo, Mike Portnoy, Geezer Butler and everyone who made the clinic happen for giving me some of the happiest five minutes of my whole life.