Slayer, Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies recently went on a brief run of dates together and we were lucky enough to take in the Milwaukee date at Eagles Ballroom May 16th, a very big room home to many a great metal shows over the years.
I would have killed to see this show when I was 16 in 1992 and was still pretty excited at 39 when the lights dimmed and Exodus took the stage like they owned it, opening with their classic “Bonded By Blood”. The band, featuring original guitarist (and Slayer guitarist) Gary Holt and drummer Tom Hunting certainly appeared tight as hell and absolutely smoked in each individual performance. I especially dug Rob Dukes on vocals and this was my first time seeing him with the band. The guy and the whole band in general goes out of their way to connect with the audience, an aspect and energy the show lacked as the other bands went on. Exodus only played six songs and 98 percent of them were way old school ( think “Toxic Waltz” and “Strike of the Beast”) but their show had me pretty excited to hear their follow up to the “Exhibit” records. Exodus was the best band of the night as far as I was concerned.
The crowd and this writer was plenty warmed up literally and figuratively for Suicidal Tendencies and with a fairly merciful teardown time Mike Muir and his bandmates hit the stage speeding like a deranged cheetah with “You Can’t Bring Me Down”. I loved Suicidal’s setlist, while it would be great if they would bring back “Institutionalized” it’s hard to complain about hearing “How Can I Laugh Tomorrow” or “I Saw Your Mommy”. If only I heard them. The mix was muddy at best for Suicidal and while the energy level was skyhigh, the band never really had a chance to stretch out or get their individual personalities across. They did manage to crank out 8 songs (all old-school, a theme for the night) but their set absolutely missed some of the freedom a headlining set would have afforded and that combined with the sloppy sound kind of ruined them for me.
There is nothing like the feeling of relief that washes over my old ass as the drunk people spilling beer and yelling “Slayer!!! Slayer!!!!” are finally drowned out by the sound of the actual Slayer band finally hitting the stage after a long teardown and setup. The sound was much improved as the band launched an onslaught of strictly classic material with their set opener, “Hell Awaits”. Their stage set with the giant upside down crosses wasn’t really that mind-blowing or anything and kind of looked awkward hanging up there swaying a bit and the lighting was a bit predictable and almost boring.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Slayer and maybe I was ruined forever seeing them play in 1991 as the sun went down at Alpine Valley on the Clash of the Titans tour but they have always been a band that seemed to benefit from at least some type of fun onstage elements. I was hoping to hear their new song “Implode” or maybe “213” or “God Hates Us All” or something post “Seasons” but it was not to be, contributing to making the whole thing feel like the nostalgia-fest that I guess it was to be honest. Maybe to a 25 year old that would be godlike but to me it was just a constant reminder of how old both Tom Araya and I are.
The frustration was compounded by the fact that Slayer was friggin amazing musically; as a longtime fan I enjoyed their performances and wasn’t thinking the lineup had any particular weakness. I have heard people talk shit about Paul Bostaph but I don’t get it, he was absolutely on point as was Gary Holt who seemed to be having a blast once again onstage. Slayer played 19 songs and of course they were all great, “Mandatory Suicide”, “Black Magic” and “Raining Blood” were and always are definite highlights, but it would have been even better if the guys paid just a little more attention to the later and current era of the band.
Their next move and their boldness in taking it will be the real step to moving on after the death of the beloved and integral Jeff Hanneman. Kerry King and Tom Araya are more than capable of some more awesome new material and the prospect of a collaboration with Holt or Bostaph on new credits is an interesting one for sure. The band was certainly insanely tight in their musical performance here in Milwaukee but their mystery, aura and presentation needs to move forward and find the perfect balance of living up to their past yet not living on it.
Check out photos from the show, below. All photos by Todd Reicher