The Big 4 Festival at Empire Polo Grounds Last Night

Metallica1_Big4.JPG
Mike R. Meyer
James Hetfield of Metallica performs at The Big 4 Festival in Indio.

The Big 4 Festival (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax)
Empire Polo Grounds, Indio, California
Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's not an understatement to say that yesterday's Big 4 Festival was an event nearly three decades in the making. Since the advent of thrash metal in the early 1980s, four bands have towered above the pack: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of hurt feelings, bad blood and natural rivalries among the bands, the "Big Four" had never shared the same stage in the U.S. before last night. In fact, prior to last summer's Sonisphere festival in Europe, they had never shared the same stage anywhere. Thankfully, cooler heads -- not to mention the promise of a huge payday -- ultimately prevailed to bring us yesterday's epic event.

I'm actually among the thousands of people lucky enough -- and old enough -- to have seen three of the Big Four tour together 20 years ago on the Clash of the Titans tour, which featured Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax rotating as headliners from stop to stop. Ironically, on the night I saw them in Omaha, Nebraska, the three bands played in the same order as they did at the Big 4 Festival: Anthrax took the stage first, followed by Megadeth, with Slayer closing out the night. I was a fan of all three bands at the time, but I admit, I was definitely looking forward to seeing Slayer and Megadeth more than Anthrax. Much to my surprise, Anthrax stole the show that night with an incredible, high-energy set that gave me a greater respect for the group. And this time?

Anthrax1_big4.JPG
Mike R. Meyer
Anthrax at Big 4.

​Well, Anthrax might not have stolen the show last night, but they definitely set the bar high. As the lone East Coast band on the bill, Anthrax played a set of classic material that set the tone for the next seven hours. Joey Belladonna probably had the hardest job of any of the day's vocalists, but his voice has held up remarkably well over the past 20 years. The band previewed a lone track from their forthcoming album, but otherwise stuck with the oldies-but-goodies.

Megadeth was out next with a pretty standard Megadeth set. I'm not sure if it was the mix or if frontman Dave Mustaine was having voice issues, but the vocals were tough to make out on a handful of songs. He's still an amazing guitarist and songwriter, and certainly worthy of the Martin Cizmar "MVP of Metal" award. For better or worse, Mustaine and company didn't shy away from later-era material and probably had the most "modern" set of the evening.

MegadethBig41.JPG
Mike R. Meyer
Megadeth at Big 4.

Slayer hit the stage just as dusk began to settle over the Coachella Valley, and they sounded like a band on a mission. Bassist/vocalist Tom Araya was going all out on "The Antichrist," hitting some high-end screams that I hadn't heard in at least 10 years. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt stood in for Jeff Hanneman, who is still recovering from a case of necrotizing fasciitis caused by a spider bite. I wish Jeff a speedy recovery, but I think even he would have to agree that that's about the coolest-sounding disease a Slayer guitarist could possibly contract. Hanneman even made a surprise appearance for the band's final two songs, so he seems well on his way back. All in all, Slayer's nearly flawless set showed once again why they are one of the best heavy metal live acts of all time. There's aren't many surprises at a Slayer show, but they are always on point.

Metallica found themselves in the unenviable position of following Slayer. I admit, I doubted they could outdo Slayer, but I guess there's a reason why Metallica's the one band at last night's show that's already in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. I've spent the better part of the past 20 years trashing Metallica to just about anyone who'll listen, but after last night, I think I'm officially back on board. I expected their set to lean a little more old-school for this show, but I never expected them to break out fucking "Orion." The fact that they only played one song from the entire Load/ReLoad/St. Anger era made the show better still. They couldn't resist throwing in several songs from their self-titled album, but the set was thankfully very '80s-heavy.

slayer_1_big4.JPG
Mike R. Meyer
Slayer at Big 4.

​For the encore, Metallica was joined onstage by members of the three other bands for a rousing rendition of NWOBHM deity Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" that mirrored the Sonisphere finale. Metallica closed out the night with a pair of tracks from their 1983 debut, Kill 'Em All, sending everyone home happy, albeit worn the hell out.

The Big Four are heading to Europe next for a series of shows, so U.S. fans hoping for a full-fledged tour might have to hold their breath a little longer. The 50,000-plus fans who witnessed history last night are still trying to catch theirs.

Anthrax setlist:
Caught in a Mosh
Got the Time
Madhouse
Among the Living
Antisocial
Indians
Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't
A.I.R.
Metal Thrashing Mad
I Am the Law

Megadeth setlist:
Trust
In My Darkest Hour
Hangar 18
Wake Up Dead
Poison Was the Cure
She-Wolf
Sweating Bullets
Headcrusher
A Tout Le Monde
Symphony of Destruction
Peace Sells
Holy Wars... The Punishment Due

Slayer setlist:
World Painted Blood
Hate Worldwide
War Ensemble
Postmortem
Raining Blood
Black Magic
Dead Skin Mask
Silent Scream
The Antichrist
Americon
Payback
Seasons in the Abyss
Snuff
South of Heaven
Angel of Death

Metallica setlist:
Creeping Death
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Fuel
Ride the Lightning
Fade to Black
Cyanide
All Nightmare Long
Sad But True
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Orion
One
Master of Puppets
Blackened
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

Encore:
Am I Evil? (w/ everyone)
Hit the Lights
Seek and Destroy

Critics Notebook:

Last Night: The Big 4 Festival at Empire Polo Club

Personal Bias: I've been listening to all four bands for a quarter-century. I'm not a fan of everything they've done, but their classic '80s material was the soundtrack to my life in junior high and high school.

The Crowd: Pretty much what you'd expect, but with cuter chicks.

Overheard: "Man, my lower back is killin' me." -some guy on his way out after the show, to which I immediately replied, "Yo, why you illin', B?" (He didn't get the reference...)

Random Notebook Dump: This was my first foray into an actual photo pit, but I'm already fairly convinced that the size of a man's camera is inversely proportional to the size of his junk.



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16 comments
Mschaefer
Mschaefer

Mike - how long was the show.  I am going to the one nexct week at Yankee Stadium and was curious how long the show lasted.

Adhdcep
Adhdcep

5 of us went. we all thought Slayer put on a better show. other than being loud,Metallica was actually kind of lame. James 's voice was horrible. i saw Metallica for the 1st time w/ozzy in 1986 and i used to be a rabid fan. but they dont play thrash any more. I've seen them 7-8 times over the years, mostly here in AZ. this was 1 of their better shows in the last 15 years. but it doesn't make up for the crappy albums they've put out since justice......they sold out. Slayer gets my vote.

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aj
aj

You clearly have not seen Metallica live since the mid to late 90's.

Aaronp4
Aaronp4

The song by Slayer is probably Americon off their World Painted Blood album

Mike R. Meyer
Mike R. Meyer

Not since early '92, actually. It was on the tour for the "black album." Instead of an opening band, they had a 30-minute video tribute to themselves. Instead of playing full songs from AJFA (other than "One," of course), they had a "Justice medley." It was a pretty sad experience all around. After that, their albums got progressively worse (until Death Magnetic, at least) and their concert tickets got progressively more expensive, so I don't think I really missed out on much.

They put on a hell of a show last night, though...

Into The Pit
Into The Pit

Hell yeah they did. Ever since the "Death Magnetic World Tour" their live act is just....incredible. saw them during the load/reload era....and i thought wtf happened to these guys. It was that a-hole bob rock. saw them in 08 for the DMWT tour, which literally blew my mind, one of if not the best shows ive been to. Last night was just on a much larger scale, which i would love to relive again.

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