A Fitting Tribute and more: Metal Allegiance, Marty Friedman, Gus G rock Grove of Anaheim

Review & photos by Andrew Bansal

Billy Sheehan & Phil Demmel jamming together for Metal Allegiance

January 20th 2017, City National Grove of Anaheim, Anaheim CA: Formed in 2014 primarily as an all-star cover band, Metal Allegiance, led by bassist and songwriter Mark Menghi, went on to release their self-titled debut album of all original material in 2015, featuring the core lineup of Menghi, Alex Skolnick (guitar), David Ellefson (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums), with guest appearances on vocals as well as additional guitars and bass by the who’s who of heavy metal. The live shows continued to be a mix of original and cover tunes. In 2016, the band released a three-song covers EP ‘Fallen Heroes’, as a tribute to some of their favorite musicians. Extending this very theme, Metal Allegiance performed at the Grove of Anaheim last night, treating attendees to quite the star-studded ensemble of splendid musicians.

Doors opened at 7 PM, and ticket holders walked in to the strange, unusual sight of a band playing in the lobby. This band was Long Beach CA thrash quartet Railgun, and despite their massive backdrop with the band’s name spelled out in clear, decipherable letters, the popular question doing the rounds in the room was “who is this band” because let’s face it, reading is only for nerds. The band played on the floor, the sound quality in the lobby was terrible to say the least, as it’s not made for live music, so it’s best to reserve any judgement about this band until they perform in a proper setting. For their sake, one only hopes they didn’t pay to play this event.

The rest of the live music for the evening was on the main stage, thankfully, and first up was New York based band Martyrd. Again, reading is not a popular activity, as apparently no one read this band’s name on the event flyer which was posted everywhere online, and those that did, could not make the distinction between “Marty” and “Martyrd”, as people were clearly upset that this band was on stage instead of Marty. “We want Marty!” were the chants. Musically, Martyrd certainly exhibited flashes of talent and had their moments, and in front of this very hostile crowd, did well to even finish their set.

Gus G featuring James Paul Luna on vocals

Shortly after, guitarist Gus G of Firewind and Ozzy fame took the stage for a 30-minute set of Firewind and solo material. Gus showcased his skill and class on the six-stringed instrument effortlessly through the solo sections and instrumental tracks in the set. But he also brought an excellent band with him, comprising Marty O’Brien on bass, Alex Bent on drums, and Holy Grail singer James Paul Luna on vocals. Luna lends the traditional/power metal element to the otherwise modern shred-heavy band that is Holy Grail, and he came across as the absolute perfect fit for Gus G’s music, a match made in heaven. The crowd was happier than during Martyrd’s set but still mostly passive, although that didn’t stop Gus, Luna and co. from giving it their all. A fine performance.

Marty Friedman

Gus G’s set only turned out to be the calm before the storm that was Marty Friedman and his band, who hit the stage with unrelenting fury and instantly woke up a crowd that had clearly proven to be hard to entertain so far. Speed, skill, precision, energy, power and presence, this band had it all. Even though led by one of the most admired guitarists in metal, this was by no means a one-man show. This was no Yngwie Malmsteen band where the support cast was subjected to a corner one-sixth the size of the stage. Marty Friedman enthralled the audience not just with his playing, but that of his band mates, drummer “Chargeeeeee” and his ’80s glam metal moves, young rhythm guitarist Jordan Ziff, and undoubtedly the most incredible bass player you’ll ever see on a stage, Kiyosi Manii, so much so that the woman almost stole the show from the main man.

That said, the band was very much a team and gelled together brilliantly, performing mostly the Marty Friedman solo material, with ‘Tornado of Souls’ thrown in for good measure. Whoever thinks instrumental live music is not as engaging as music with vocals needs to rethink, because Marty Friedman and his band ruled the night, and put on the kind of performance that would make even the most diehard Megadeth fans admit that Friedman’s parting ways with that band was, in fact, for the better.

Marty Friedman photos:

At around 10:35, headliners Metal Allegiance arrived onto the stage with two original songs before delving into the covers they had selected for the 20-song set, and even though they began 20-25 minutes behind schedule, the music flowed non-stop once they did, and the turnover between various musicians entering and leaving the stage was commendably quick. The gear and backline was arranged in a manner that allowed them to do so, and kudos to them and their crew for that, as it is often the weakest link in an all-star show of this nature. Failure to organize these logistics has lead to bad events. Not the case with Metal Allegiance, this not being their first rodeo of this kind.

On vocals, Mark Osegueda of Death Angel and Chuck Billy of Testament were at the peak of their powers as they unfailingly are at all times, but it was a bit of a surprise to see Chris Jericho playing a huge part in the set and singing as many as six songs. Now, it would be an understatement to say that not everyone is a Fozzy fan, but Jericho’s love and dedication for metal can never be doubted, and more than anything, the pure enjoyment he was clearly getting out of singing Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Queen, Megadeth, AC/DC and Deep Purple songs led to him delivering a solid performance.

Chris Jericho & Alex Skolnick

On guitar, Phil Demmel of Machine Head and Alex Skolnick of Testament were nothing less than powerhouses, remaining on stage for the majority of the set and handling the bulk of the task, and joined by Gary Holt, Richie Faulkner, Gus G and Marty Friedman wherever appropriate. Demmel and Skolnick may be two of the most underrated guitarists in metal, and to witness them reveling in the spotlight here was a real treat for the ardent metalhead. It’s often said that less is more, which applies to guitar playing as well. These two players can be heralded for fulfilling their roles to perfection by serving each song exactly what it needed, as the last thing one needs in a covers set is guitarists soloing and jamming endlessly.

Mark Menghi, the least known name but the actual braintrust behind all things Metal Allegiance, was solid on bass himself, but gracefully stepped aside to let David Ellefson take his place for most of the set, except for a rendition of Alice In Chains’ ‘We Die Young, for which obviously Mike Inez was called upon. But the bass-playing highlight, as well as the standout performance of the Metal Allegiance set, was without doubt the wild-as-ever exploits of maestro Billy Sheehan, who wowed the crowd in typically jaw-dropping manner. Even in a show featuring so many stellar musicians, the best players and true musicians are always remembered, and in this event there was none better than Sheehan. Him playing on a Queen medley of ‘Dragon Attack’ and ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ and Thin Lizzy’s ‘Emerald’ was a privilege to watch, while his participation in Exodus’ ‘Bonded By Blood’ was hilariously spectacular. Not a self-proclaimed “metal guy” by any means, Sheehan brought his A game to this metal show and eventually stole it.

BIlly Sheehan

On drums, Mike Portnoy led the charge, not just with his playing but also basically as the MC, introducing people onto the stage as the show went along. For large portions of the set, the two drumkits placed side by stage in the back of the stage were operational, as Charlie Benante of Anthrax joined Portnoy for some songs as well as played drums alone on others. Halestorm’s Arejay Hale also took part in some songs, and Vinny Appice and Mikkey Dee made special appearances towards the end. Just like Jericho, Portnoy is another guy who clearly enjoys playing these songs and it showed in his flawlessly precise yet visually entertaining performance here.

The only blemish of the whole set was a badly placed Pantera cover in an otherwise appropriately compiled set list, and the only positive aspect of that cover was, it wasn’t ‘Walk’. In contrast, the most heart-touching moment was the arrival and honoring of Ray Burton, father of the great Cliff we all love, on the stage, prior to the band playing ‘Disposable Heroes’. This gave so much more purpose and meaning to the song rather than just placing it in the set for the sake of doing so.

Chuck Billy

Metal Allegiance ended the set with all participating musicians getting together to play ‘We Rock’ and ‘Seek & Destroy’, bring to a close what was a thoroughly enjoyable show.

Overall, a wonderful evening showcasing some tremendous performances, and unlike many other such cash-grab so-called all-star events, a truly star-studded gathering and a very fitting tribute to the fallen heroes.

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More Metal Allegiance photos:

Metal Allegiance set list:
01. Pledge Of Allegiance
(Mark Osegueda / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / David Ellefson / Mark Menghi / Mike Portnoy)
02. Can’t Kill The Devil
(Chuck Billy / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / David Ellefson / Mike Portnoy)
03. Suffragette City
(Mark Osegueda / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / Mark Menghi / Mike Portnoy)
04. I Don’t Know
(Chris Jericho / Gus G / Phil Demmel / Mark Menghi / Mike Portnoy)
05. War Ensemble
(Chuck Billy / Gary Holt / Phil Demmel / David Ellefson / Charlie Benante)
06. 5 Minutes Alone
(Eddie Hermida / Carla Harvey / Gary Holt / Phil Demmel / David Ellefson / Charlie Benante)
07.  Murders In The Rue Morgue
(Chris Jericho / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / Mark Menghi / Mike Portnoy)
08. Dragon Attack / Stone Cold Crazy
(Chuck Billy / Chris Jericho / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / Billy Sheehan / Mike Portnoy)
09. Emerald
(Chuck Billy / Richie Faulkner / Phil Demmel / Billy Sheehan / Mike Portnoy)
10. Bonded By Blood
(Chuck Billy / Gary Holt / Phil Demmel / Billy Sheehan / Mike Portnoy)
11. Disposable Heroes
(Mark Osegueda / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / Mark Menghi / Mike Portnoy)
12. Rust In Peace intro / Peace Sells
(Chris Jericho / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / David Ellefson / Mike Portnoy)
13. Chloe Dancer
(Mark Osegueda / Alex Skolnick / Mark Menghi / Charlie Benante / Arejay Hale)
14. We Die Young
(Mark Osegueda / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / Mike Inez / Mike Portnoy / Charlie Benante)
15. Let’s Go Crazy
(Mark Osegueda / Alex Skolnick / Billy Sheehan/ Arejay Hale)
16. Riff Raff
(Chris Jericho / Alex Skolnick / Marty Friedman / Phil Demmel / Gary Holt / David Ellefson / Charlie Benante / Arejay Hale)
17. Iron Fist
(Chuck Billy / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / Gary Holt / Mark Menghi / Mikkey Dee)
18. Space Truckin’
(Mark Osegueda / Chris Jericho / Alex Skolnick / Phil Demmel / Mark Menghi / Mike Portnoy / Arejay Hale)
19. We Rock
(Everyone / Mike Portnoy / Vinny Appice)
20. Seek & Destroy
(Everyone / Mike Portnoy / Charlie Benante)