Was that a musical?

Or a movie?  Or a concert?  I’m not sure what to call Tuesday night’s showing of “The Big Four” but whatever it was certainly was a good way to spend a not-so-quiet night with my son.

If you’re not a fan of heavy metal over the past 20+ years then some sort of introduction is probably required here.  “The Big Four” refers to Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer, who collectively represent the most influential American metal artists since at least the 80’s.  Tuesday night’s performance at the Sonisphere Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria was shown same day via satellite in over 450 theaters across three continents.  In simple terms,  this is a really big deal if you’re into their music.

It’s not as though it’s something anyone could have ever expected to actually happen.  There’s enough history, bad blood, and general ego issues between the four bands to launch an MTV reality series and still have enough drama left over for a couple of spin-offs.  Let’s see here, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine was an early member of Metallica & feuded with them for more than a decade after being fired, he’s also swapped nasty verbal jabs with Kerry King from Slayer quite often as well, but then again Mustaine isn’t known for really getting along with his own bandmates either, which come to think of it happens with Scott Ian & former Anthrax members.  Back in the Slayer camp King has taken shots at Metallica in the past and seems to enjoy randomly picking fights with other groups at random so any moment for him seems to have potential.  Some Kind of Monster covered the internal soap opera that Metallica capable of better than any gossip columnist could have dreamed possible.  So, even with the announcement of these plans in late 2009,  I wouldn’t have given you great odds that this horse would ever leave the starting gate.

That pessimism probably explains why I had lost track of the schedule until stumbling across it Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the theater showing was due to start.   I’ve seen my share of concert films, especially the DVD versions, but had never gone to one of the current-gen ones the theater, so I was pretty leery about what to expect, but Will seemed up for the idea of a four hour sort-of concert so I figured why not (although the $18 ticket price almost provided an answer to that question, that’s an uncomfy price point for me at a megaplex, just doesn’t seem right somehow).  Still, it seemed worth a try.

Worth it is was.  Without going into detailed review, I was impressed by the vocal work of Anthrax’ Joey Belladonna, awed by just how good Dave Mustaine is with a guitar in his hands (and without an interviewer around), and Metallica is simply Metallica.   You largely know what you’re going to get from them but they’re just so good at it would be tough for them to be disappointing.  Slayer was, well, it might cost be some credibility with their serious devotees but they’ve just never been someone I enjoyed.  I genuinely appreciate both their skill at their chosen niche as well as their undeniable influence on both musicians and fans but I’d be hard pressed to say I enjoy listening to them for more than a few minutes at a time, the wall of sound style is just more than I care for in anything more than very small doses.

There were a couple of unexpected highlights on the night, one that brought a tear to my eye and another that has metal fans buzzing aplenty.  The former came when Anthrax performed a verse of Heaven and Hell as a tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio.  It wasn’t the tribute itself that left me wiping my eyes, it was the reaction of the other people in the theater who responded very strongly.  It was very … “reassuring” might the best word just to be surrounded by people who shared my appreciation for both the gesture and for the legacy of Dio.    The other highlight came just before the end, as Metallica was joined on stage by most of the other performers for a cover of an old Diamond Head song.  The sight of Mustaine hugging Lars Ulrich, simply of all of these rock icons in one place at one time, really put a cap on the entire experience.

If you missed the show Tuesday, a number of theaters are offering an encore presentation tonight (Thursday 6/24), check the complete list of theaters for one near you and then double-check with the theater to see if they’re taking part in the encore.

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