Congress Theater, Chicago, Illinois

October 15, 2011

By Dr. Abner Mality

Thrash is back and you better get used to it, fuckers. Let's face it, there are some great new thrash bands like Evile and Warbringer, but it's really been the Old Guard who have risen from their graves and wrecked necks in recent years. Defying expectations, the classic thrashers of the 80's have for the most part churned out some really good stuff recently, demonstrating there's just no substitute for experience.

This three-band assault squad managed to transport the entire Congress Theater back to 1987 tonight, making old-timers feel young and giving young kids a taste of something they never had. I heard from Death Angel's Mark Osegueda that Overkill was originally going to be part of the bill. I think my brain would have combusted through sheer awesomeness if that had happened. As it was, I was more than pleased by the show each band delivered tonight. It was fun! Just as crazy as any show back in the day and that was something I wasn't expecting!

Luckily the show was worth the long wait outside the venue in the chilly October air and also being treated like Guantanamo Bay inmates by the tactless and crude Congress Theater staff. They have all the warmth of Imperial Stormtroopers. The Congress itself is a quite acceptable venue...a one-time glorious theater and movie palace now slightly faded but still impressive. The seats on the ground floor have all been torn out to make way for general admission (perfect for the maniac mosh pits to come) while the upper level balconies remain intact. We had a crowd just a hair shy of a sell-out tonight and nobody could have complained about the enthusiasm, which was infectious.

Death Angel hit the stage like the hounds of hell were chasing after them and packed as much energy and neck-snapping thrash as they could manage into their brief seven song setlist. Rarely do you see opening bands get the great reception these guys got, including mosh pits and crowd surfers. The setlist was a good mash-up between classic 80's Death Angel tunes like "Evil Priest" and "The Ultra-Violence" and newer anthems from their comeback period like "I Chose The Sky" and "Relentless Retribution". I would have loved to hear "Thrashers" and "Kill As One" myself, but that will have to wait for a headlining gig. Singer Mark Osegueda was in great form, whipping his long dreadlocks around like a windmill of hair while long-time guitarist Rob Cavestany looked pretty much like he did around 1990 or so as he dished out the licks on "Seemingly Endless Time". I have sometimes had issues with Death Angel's recorded output but they were on fire tonight.

As for Testament, these titans of thrash stole the whole show lock, stock and barrel. I don' think I have ever seen a more focused band or a more killer set. These guys truly do not get their due. Opening with "The Preacher", they kept a series of the band's greatest hits coming, all delivered with furious energy. Songs ranged from "The New Order" to "Envy Life" to "Electric Crown" to "Souls of Black" and included new classics like "Henchmen Ride" and "The Persecuted Won't Forget". I really can't find a flaw in either their song selection or their performance. Let's settle the debate once and for all...Chuck Billy is the best fucking frontman in thrash metal, no ifs ands or buts about it. His voice is so perfect for the music, combining both smoothness and rawness with just the right occasional touch of gutturalness, that I can't imagine anybody else in his league. Plus, he really seems to get off on the crowd's energy, which was through the roof tonight. So perfectly did he sing these classics that I would have suspected a tape in action if I hadn' t been right up front to see Billy's performance with my own eyes. The rest of the band kept up with their leader and I don't recall seeing Alex Skolnick ever looking happier or more pumped up during a show. When the set finally concluded with a devastating rendition of "Disciples of the Watch", I don't think there was a single soul in the building who wasn't blown away by what Testament delivered tonight. Death Angel and Anthrax both delivered big time, but it was Chuck and the boys who flattened the Congress Theater tonight.

Anthrax had a LOT to prove to me tonight. Most of the last ten years they've spent in a state of constantly jumping the shark, finally winding up with the whole Dan Nelson fiasco. Getting Joey Belladonna back in the lead singer spot was a big step in the right direction and the current comeback disc "Worship Music" is encouraging, but still, a lot of doubts lingered in my mind concerning the Noo Yawker's latest attempt to rise from the grave.

There's nothing to worry about, at least on the live front. These guys jumped into their own personal time machine and delivered the kind of Anthrax gig that set the world on fire back in 86 and 87. And the crowd was with them all the way. They started with a couple of newbies from "Worship Music" including the excellent "Fight 'Em Till You Can't" before really driving the place crazy with "Caught In A Mosh", "Madhouse" and the ultimate singalong anthem "Antisocial". Joey was great and the band was on fire. Bassist Frank Bello remains the unsung hero of Anthrax, running around the stage like a madman and thrashing his mop of hair around with no sign of neck strain. The troll-like figure of Scott Ian did a ton of that stomping mosh dance he's known for while returning guitarist Rob Caggiano seemed the picture of cool as he delivered shredding solos. But the guy who really impressed me this time out was drummer Charlie Benante. Man, does this guy hit HARD! Not the flashiest skinbeater, but uncannily accurate, with a ton of endurance. He didn't miss a trick.

There are a couple of tunes I wish the guys would have played, like "Belly of the Beast" and "Keep It In the Family", but overall, the setlist was more than acceptable. "Indians" got the best response, with Joey donning the warbonnet and the whole crowd doing the "war dance" so hard that Scott Ian was heard to say "Fuckin' Chicago...I love this place!". The main set ended on a surprise note, as Joey tried his hand at singing the anthem from the John Bush years, "Only". I can't say he fits the song as well as John did, but with the crowd singing along on every word, that didn't seem to matter much.

The encore brought us "Among The Living", a trip WAY back in time for "Metal Thrashing Mad" and a snippet of Sepultura's "Refuse/Resist" before slamming into the expected "I Am The Law". With the response Anthrax got tonight, they could have played a couple more hours. Anthrax jumping the shark? Not tonight...they jumped in the ocean and kicked that bitch to the shore!

A fantastic evening of classic thrash from all three bands. I feel privileged to have seen this show!