The Molson Amphitheatre. Toronto, Ontario.
August 13, 2008
Testament took the stage to a fairly empty Amphitheatre at the sooooo un-metal hour of 5:30. Their short set had some old favourites, but it was the new material from the latest The Formation of Damnation that really impressed me. "More Than Meets The Eye" and "The Formation of Damnation" are really good songs. Also impressive was lead guitarist Alex Skolnick. Skolnick, who performs with a Jazz Trio on the side shreds effortlessly. As I walked to my seat after my time in the photo pit I overheard several people remark on his playing. The whole band looked as though they were having a blast on stage while still staying metal and flipping the horns at the appropriate times. Lead vocalist Chuck Billy remarked that the Toronto crowd was the best yet. Whether it was standard stage banter or true we'll never know, but those in attendance were definitely into the show.
"We are Motorhead and we play Rock 'n Roll". The incomparable, inimatable, unstoppable Lemmy Kilmister's catch-phrase begin's Motorhead's assault on Toronto metal fans. Judging by the vast array of Motorhead shirts seen on bodies streaming into the Amphitheatre most of the early birds didn't need to be told who was destroying their eardrums. And when I say destroy, I mean it. Their set was among the most sonically devastating I have had the pleasure of hearing. With Mikkey Dee's kick drums reverberating through my chest cavity and threatening to stop my heart, and Lemmy's deliciously distorted Rickenbacker bass the trio (with Phil Campbell on Guitar) tore through a 30 minutes set which featured "Killed By Death", "Overkill" and of course "Ace of Spades". After the set I was compelled to head to the Motorhead merch booth and buy myself a "Everything Louder Than Everything Else" T-Shirt. They had lived up to that seemingly impossible boast.
Heaven and Hell were the one band that I wasn't all that excited about seeing. The fact that half the membership consisted of legends Tony Iommi and Gezzer Butler sure had it's appeal, but I wasn't sure what this Black Sabbath that's not calling itself Black Sabbath would be like live. I was in for an awakening. From the moment that Iommi regally strode onto the stage I was enraptured. Then I looked to the stage right to see Geezer flailing a mile a minute at his bass, and soon after they are joined by dimutive frontman Ronnie James Dio. What Ronnie James lacks in stature he more than makes up for in stage presence and vocal prowess. Dio has, without question, one of the greatest (and instantly identifiable) voices in rock. It's funny, I can't say that I have purposefully listened to Dio era Sabbath, but somehow I knew a bunch of the songs and experienced a few "this is Sabbath?" moments. This was a lively set with great audience interaction and Iommi much more animated than when performing with the original Sabbath frontman. Speaking of the guitarist, he put on a clinic in Metal. His leads don't stray too far outside the pentatonic blues box, but when he gets going on the up-tempo Dio-era Sabbath the evil leader can sure do a lot with those five notes. One thing that bears noting is the stage set. On each side of the stage were large gargoyle looking creatures perched in dead trees. Yes, a little corny and a little cliche. That is, unless you invented motherf*&king Heavy Metal!! Heaven and Hell are one of the few bands that could pull this off without it spiraling into a Spinal Tap moment.
Corresponding to Judas Priest's 9:30 set was the closure of the beer tents. With Canada's other national pastime (hockey being #1 of course) curtailed the stands filled and Priest launched into the title track from their latest album Nostradamus. My time in the photo pit also included "Metal Gods" from 1980's British Steel and "Eat Me Alive" from 1984's Defenders of the Faith. Priest's stage set was huge with the drummer easily ten feet off the ground with catwalks leading from the riser to each side of the stage real estate. There was also a large fabric backdrop which changed several times through out the show. It began with large likeness of Nostradamus with glowing red eyes, and throughout was replaced with an Angel of Retribution and a Large Eye among others. Frontman Halford was at his metal god best with a shaved head, long goatee, flowing studded jacket and huge boots. Guitarist K.K. Downing indulged in lots of rock star posing at the front of the stage while Glenn Tipton and Ian Hill (Guitar and Bass respectively) were a little less animated. My night ended a little early. This wasn't my choice, but with 5 stoned/drunken idiots behind us stumbling around, spilling beer on my wife, and urinating on the ground I felt it behooved us to make a break for the door during Priest's first encore ("Hell Bent For Leather") before I did something I might regret. I've come full circle from my first Judas Priest concert during the Summer of 1986 and even the misguided actions of a few bad apples can't spoil my memories of that night.