Ten years ago on my 13th birthday, March 30th, 1998, I experienced a life changing moment in time that I’ve kept dear to my heart and soul as a musician to this day. My parents surprised me by taking me to Downtown Disney in Orlando to see Megadeth. Not only did I get a fresh copy of their 1997 album Cryptic Writings, I also was to see the band up close and personal. Needless to say, after waiting in line, I eventually received my chance to meet the band. Dave Mustaine himself shook my hand and wished me a happy birthday. I didn’t wash my hands for the rest of the evening, the man was a god in the eyes of fledgling guitarists. It’s only fitting that ten years later, at the ripe age of 23, it all comes back around again.
My friend Chris and I left Tallahassee at 8:30 in the morning and twisted our way through the back roads of Georgia. We made good time, as we approached I-75 and coasted it all the way north to Atlanta. After driving through the pretzel-shaped highways of downtown Atlanta, we arrived at the Masquerade Music Park in the north side of the city. After an hour and a half wait in line chatting with fellow metalheads about thrash metal albums, local bands and upcoming concerts to check out, the gates to destiny opened with a creak. Chris and I were fortunate to get there early enough, as we ended up standing about twenty feet from the stage. Cameras weren’t allowed, so I was left to my phone for pictures of the bands.
Two rounds of Coors Light pre-gamed the event and at 5pm on the dot, Oakland’s own High On Fire took the show. Matt Pike’s frantic wailing and sludge mud guitar kept the mosh pit disciples at bay and praying for more. The band twisted its way thick and thin for a half an hour and ended on the devil-laden rocker “Devilution” as Jeff Matz’ chunky bass rocked back and forth like a pendulum of machetes.
Twenty minutes passed as the roadies packed up the band’s gear and prepared for the next line of metal to be thrown in our faces. Glendale, Arizona death metallers, Job For A Cowboy, stormed the stage and gave the crowd a heavy uneasiness, while all the while hitting the stage like a time bomb. The band did a good set, even though I wasn’t formally familiar with their material, and bantered with the crowd just before finishing. Both guitarists sounded more like motorcycle engines revving down a dark and lonely highway, while the double bass punched it into overdrive. The band certainly had its fanbase tearing up the pit, but overall did a pretty good job keeping the metal alive.
The final round of Coors Light set in while waiting for Children Of Bodom. The roadies took the drums and the amps offstage, troubleshot wires and light and the sweat from the heavy metal movers and shakers began to collaborate into one trademark smell. The musty, honest, dirty and accomplished smell kept the masses alive and the soul of it all presented itself in the flesh.
Finland thrashers Children Of Bodom took the stage and from Alexi Laiho’s first five squealing notes, pits broke out like bonfires on kindled leaves. Chris and I were right in the eye of the pit and man it got ugly. Following chants of “Bodom! Bodom!” from the crowd, Laiho riled up everyone and said that Atlanta was “fucking awesome.” Bodom sounded great, both musically and in their overall mix. Laiho’s banshee vocals, intertwined with he and Roope Latvala’s dueling solos, made it all the best. Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar with a good amount of their material, but they did perform the newly released “Blooddrunk”, as well as a few sick cuts off of Blooddrunk. The band walked offstage with water on their heads, smiles on their faces and hands stripped to the bone, complete with the accomplishment of achieving the American Dream.
Chris and I coerced with fellow metalheads during the wait for In Flames, the co-headliner of the tour. One of the guys was telling us about his first Megadeth show in 1989 and how he brought his 16 year old daughter to see them for the first time. It was unreal how the generation gap was filled with the exuberance and spirit of heavy metal. It really is one of those things that seems like a once in a lifetime type of deal. Really, it was something to ponder.
Sweden’s In Flames took the stage shortly after and twisted the crowd into a frenzy. The band performed cuts such as “Take This Life” and “Leeches” which went over incredibly well. The mix sounded great and the fans ate it up like hot dogs at a Cubs game. Lead singer Anders Frieden took a minute to breathe at one point and proceeded to tell the crowd that he may have told a lie and said that Louisville, the night before, was the best crowd. He then rebutted that statement and exclaimed that Atlanta was the best crowd on tour. With that said, the band led into a heavy-handed “Take This Life”, in which the crowds went wild once again. Chris and I fought tooth and nail to keep our spots, as the intensity of it all increased by the minute. Finally, In Flames ended its time and promised to return to Atlanta in the fall with brand new material and a much longer set.
Destiny set in. I was finally going to see Megadeth live and be a witness to Dave Mustaine’s guitar shredding, only ten years later. The roadies pulled the back drop down, the sheets off Shawn Drover’s drums fell to reveal the coveted set and the first arpeggio of “Sleepwalker” crawled right out of the speakers. Dave Mustaine and company took the stage, complete with his black sports jacket and mop top of trademark red hair. The man was God and his snarl never sounded sharper and better. Newly added lead guitarist Chris Broderick tore scales left and right and proved to be the best lead guitarist since Marty Friedman. At one point, Chris and I were so astounded by his leadwork that we questioned “Marty who?” but nonetheless, Broderick sounded great!
The next few numbers were nothing short of amazing: “Wake Up Dead”, “Take No Prisoners,” and the flesh-tearing “Skin O’ My Teeth” sounded great. Broderick’s fingers moved faster than lightning and Mustaine followed right behind him. For the first time in a very long time, I felt something that I hadn’t felt at a concert: inspiration. These guys were having the times of their lives playing music they loved as well as utilizing all that practice time to pull off some of the most amazing musical movements ever conceived. Megadeth played honest and that hit me hard. The band followed with a blistering rendition of “Hangar 18” which right into “Gears Of War.” Every song became Ginsu knives, cutting and tearing everything apart, against all odds. Mustaine and company not only lived up to the hype, but delivered one of the best shows I have ever seen, ending the show on it’s trademark curtain call with “Holy Wars” followed by “Mechanix” and then the finale of “The Punishment Due.” Afterwards, the band took a bow, thanked Atlanta from the bottom of their hearts and bid farewell to the stage.
Chris and I endured the six hour drive back to Tallahassee, but sleep was dead out the window. The energy and inspiration carried over into the ride and all we could do was keep sharply awake. By the time we hit Tallahassee, I wanted to rewind those eight hours and witness them over and over again. Megadeth left me wanting more and more and I hadn’t felt that way since I was a teenager. It really is fitting how things pan out in life, and yes, it took ten years to get this far, but the wait was fully worth it.
Megadeth’s complete setlist:
2. Wake Up Dead
3. Take No Prisoners
4. Skin O’ My Teeth
5. Washington Is Next!
6. The System Has Failed
7. In My Darkest Hour
8. Hangar 18
9. Gears Of War
10. A Tout Le Monde
11. Tornado Of Souls
12. Ashes In Your Mouth
13. Burnt Ice
14. Symphony Of Destruction
16. Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
17. Holy Wars
19. The Punishment Due