Knowing that a performance of a 20-year-old album would serve as the centerpiece of Megadeth's concert Wednesday at the Midland, some fans of the thrash band may have decided not to splurge on 40-dollar tickets. They could have blown the dust off one of the over 2 million copies of "Countdown To Extinction" that have been sold since 1992 and enjoyed an inexpensive and relatively tranquil evening at home.
For starters, Megadeth concerts are loud. Very loud. Few home stereos provide the visceral impact of the thunderous sound system employed by the quartet. The volume was rendered effective by an extraordinarily clean mix. Every penetrating shriek, jagged guitar riff, bone-rattling bass solo and powerful drum kick could be felt as well as heard by each member of the audience of about 900.
Along with Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer, Megadeth is one of thrash metal's so-called Big Four bands. Dave Mustaine, Megadeth's creative force, founded the group in 1983 after he was unceremoniously ousted from Metallica. He's developed a reputation as a fractious band mate and as a polarizing political commentator. While he was gracious to both fans and his fellow musicians, Mustaine engaged in a bit of contentious banter on Wednesday.
"How do you feel that we're having our country taken away from us?" he said. "I hate what's happening."
The audience's mixed reaction to the comments represented one of the few contestable aspects of Megadeth's appearance. The band's synchronized playing on breakneck material was impeccable. Aside from the opportunity to watch Mustaine and second guitarist Chris Broderick trade dazzlingly fleet-fingered solos, Megadeth lacks visual appeal. Three video screens provided a welcome diversion. Each selection featured complementary images. An ostensible alien vivisection was displayed during the conspiracy-laden "Hangar 18" while the metallic gallop of "High Speed Dirt" was accompanied by footage of skydivers.
The energetic live version of "Countdown To Extinction" was stellar. Even lesser songs like "Captive Honour" still contain plenty of brutal charm. Only Mustaine's voice seemed diminished. Once an insolent snarl, his singing now resembles an angry croak.
Weak vocals also hampered opening act Kyng. Depending on one's tolerance for for throwback metal in the vein of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, the music of Kyng is either tired or timeless. While King's 35-minute set was entirely serviceable, Megadeth's performance was absolutely essential.
Setlist: Trust; Hangar 18; Public Enemy No. 1; Skin O' My Teeth; Symphony of Destruction; Architecture of Aggression; Foreclosure of a Dream; Sweating Bullets; This Was My Life; Countdown to Extinction; High Speed Dirt; Psychotron; Captive Honour; Ashes in Your Mouth; Peace Sells; Holy Wars; The Punishment Due.
| Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star