Slayer's Kerry King has an infamous tattoo on his left bicep that he like to point out from time to time that says "GOD HATES US ALL" and I couldn't help but feel that sentiment as I rose from a bed that had spent most of the night spinning. I rarely drink anymore, and then usually only with Kerry so the skill set I acquired at college(s) had long ago run their course.
As the hot water spraying on my forehead rolled down my neck and back, any soothing feelings I hoped for were blocked by the steady constant THROB THROB THROB at my temple and the naked glare of the incandescent bulbs above the sink. Though I was looking forward to the show, I knew it would be a long row to hoe to actually gear up, drive down, park and then hike the half mile across the river that is Austin's Town Lake down to Auditorium shores, with about 50 pounds of gear. THROB THROB THROB.
Throwing my gear in the car I headed off into Austin, arriving at parking garage an hour later, at about 5:00pm. Popping into Thundercloud for some needed rations, a large chicken salad sub on wheat, provolone, and black olives, I washed it down with the largest Mountain Dew they had, along with 800mg of Ibuprofin. By the time I had passed the Occupy Austin camp and crossed the bridge the combination of calories, caffeine, pain killer, and blood flow had made my head clear just in time for - the dust.
I knew about the dust, I was ready for the dust, I had specifically planned for the dust. I stopped, opened my bag and - they were gone! I had squirreled away a set of filter masks in my bag the night before and they had vanished. Later I was to determine the thief was my dog Ruby, who proudly displayed their remains on my bed when I returned - sigh.
As I badged myself up at will call, three wristbands in all, staff and concertgoers streamed by with bandannas across their faces looking like some weird convention of wild west train robbers. Winding my way through the crowd and back to the main stage area it took little more than flashing my wristbands at the guard to get backstage. As I passed through the barrier I was grabbed by another local photographer, who pointed out the line of some 50 photographers waiting to enter the pit. Showing me his "Slayer" yellow wristband, I noted two things, almost everyone in the line had one, and I didn't.
I was certain that my access was assured, and not more than 5 minutes later Slayer's management ushered me into the production office to issue me a "God Pass", the Slayer All Access tour laminate, a badge so powerful it overrode all my wristbands would actually allow me to get on stage with the band during the set to shoot them if I chose to do so. And no one could stop me.
I had been invited to cover Slayer many times before but this was the first time for an All Access pass. In the end I didn't need to get onstage with the band, and I was able to get all my shots without becoming part of the show.
Slayer's set was at 8:15 and I was only covering them tonight. I still had well over 2 hours to kill so for once I just sat back and listened to the other bands, watching clouds of dust created by the shuffling crowd rise above and float through the stage area, sometimes interspersing with smoke. Watching the coming and going of the bands, event staff, and media, I kept running into the odd friend each in turn asking if I could help them get this or that access, and I could only reply that I had no input, and at this point all the passes were out as far as I knew.
I did have a secret though. I had an extra complete set of wristbands that would make anyone else almost god like, just sitting in my wallet, waiting in vain for a friend who never arrived. In the end it would not go to waste. It couldn't. It didn't.
Time was creeping slowly by, the dust rose higher and higher, and finally we get to the last band before Slayer. It's someone I have heard before, but I just can't place it. I even owned the CD, the band and it's hit were on the tip of my tongue. Finally someone clued me in that it was indie alt prog rockers Hum just about the time they played their hit "Stars" and for the first time I wished I was shooting the other bands too. It was their first tour in years. C'est la vie.
Finally - Slayer time!
I make my way up to the pit. My plan is to snipe shots from one side for the first three songs, and then once the other photographers had left the pit I would have it free and clear to virtually myself for the rest of the show. This turned out to be a wise move for two reasons, First there had to be a good 60-70 photographers and video crewman in the pit, and second, and most concerning was halfway through the first song, "World Painted Blood", the crowd surged forward, the security barrier began to fold over and then come apart. The crowd surfers were already breaching the barrier en mass. Truely a war zone and a hair away from disaster only saved by the quick action of W3 Security and Slayer's management who threw every extra security person and roadie into the pit to prop up the failing barrier. In the end I even saw photographers wedged in to prop it up. It was a battle they would win but it would take everything they had to keep the crowd out for the whole show. And it probably saved the show because had the barrier failed completely there would have undoubtedly been injuries on both sides.
After the third song, "War Ensemble" the security team ushered out the mass of photographers leaving me and one other photographer shooting for the band, along with 50 or so security guards and roadies. I hadn't gotten settled into position before I felt the tap on the shoulder I knew was coming. I barely looked up as I flipped him my All Access pass and he waved that I was good, and signaled it to the rest of the pit crew. Now I was golden.
Slayer was truly on fire, feeding off of the huge energy coming from the audience, amplifying it and turning it back on the crowd. Gary Holt was flailing away like a madman, sometimes appearing only as a blur of hair as he ripped through the set. Coming together several times with Kerry King onstage it almost seemed like they were daring each other to play faster, harder and tighter and Dave Lombardo on the drums seemed to have no trouble keeping up. As they picked their way through the set list, and I wandered around the stage picking my angles and my shots and the band just kept sounding better and better. With Tom Araya working the crowd like a local it seemed he had a special connection with the Austin audience, and his voice was well rested and flawless.
When I heard the intro of my favorite Slayer song, "South Of Heaven", I knew we were pulling into the home stretch and it felt all too soon. I slipped out of the pit and scrambled up the side of the stage to the VIP area, getting some good shots of Dave inside his drum kit, and some shots of Kerry and Tom onstage from behind, with the audience in the background. It was too dark, and I was too unsure of the stage layout to actually get onstage behind the amps to shoot, and we were halfway through the final song "Angel Of Death" before I made it back to the pit for some final shots of the bands exit.
I have seen many Slayer shows, but I had never seen one this good. One comment from another photographer who had also seen his share of shows was that "they were playing like they were 20 again - amazing". I don't think I could have summed it up better.
Working my way to the back, Slayer's production trailer and the band trailers were packed with well wishers, fans, friends, and crew. I had time to thank Dave and Gary for the great show, and had time for one last drink with Kerry. When I left he was deep in conversation with a green man known as "The Lizard Man", one of Kerry's long time friends. I wanted to stay and hit 6th street with the band again, but I was physically spent and there was no way I could endure another marathon drinking session and still make work in the morning. And I now had nearly 1200 raw photos to review, edit, and post.
I grabbed my bag said my goodbyes, gave Ayesha one last giant bear hug, and hiked off into the night. Sated. Slayed.
When I got home I had over 800 usable Slayer photos. I sent them off to the band today and they are real happy with how they turned out. Don't be surprised to see them pop up from time to time.
Slayer Set List
Austin Texas 11/06/2011
Start time 8:15pm - End: 10:00pm
World Painted Blood
Spirit in Black
Dead Skin Mask
Seasons in the Abyss
South of Heaven
Angel of Death