Look to your left. Yeah, that’s me. Either totally badass or totally lame, I’m too close to the situation (well, I am the situation) to call it. At first I was going to try out to be the guy on the next Immortal cover, but the corpse paint made me itch so that was out of the running. So instead, I simply donned the 3 Inches of Blood t-shirt, put on the leather armor and headed out on Wednesday night to see Slayer, Rob Zombie and Exodus at the Sovereign Center in Reading, PA – a mecca of metal.
Wednesday marked the first date of the Hell on Earth tour – a handful of shows on the east coast of the U.S. and a short trek through Canada that finds Exodus opening up for co-headliners Mr. Zombie and Slayer with the latter two rotating closing slots. I was there to see Slayer. I like some of Rob Zombie’s stuff but I’ve always considered his solo work a little too poppy for my taste. Slayer, not pop.
The night starts off with me checking the venue website around 5 pm just to make sure Rob wasn’t abducted by aliens or anything and noticed back-to-back events:
July 20th, Hell on Earth tour, Slayer and Rob Zombie w/Exodus
July 22nd, Jehovah’s Witness Convention
The doors open up around 6:50 or so and promptly at 7, Exodus (badass’ness: 3/11) begins playing to 23 people that have made their way into the venue. My first thought is that this must be some local band as the opening-opening band since no one would make a classic thrash band like Exodus play to a crowd that has barely starting piling in to your normal sized arena. But no, this is Exodus. At least that’s what the singer said. I’m not sure I would have known had I not heard him say it or had they not played “Bonded By Blood” near the end of their half hour set. The (one-time) new wave of American thrash sound of Exodus, Testament, Death Angel etc, just doesn’t translate in an arena. Every riff sounded the same. You couldn’t pick out one song from another and ultimately it served its only purpose, to get people in a metal mood before the headliners.
Rob Zombie followed Exodus only a short 20 minutes later or so and while I wasn’t necessarily there for him, I had heard about his stage show and was curious. Rob Zombie (badass’ness: 10/11) was fucking brilliant. LED screens at the front of the stage, fire pits everywhere, a huge screen behind him playing campy b-movies, skelton microphone stands and the brightest fucking lights in exsistence assaulted every sense. Backed by Piggy D. from Wednesday 13 on bass, John 5 on guitar and Ginger Fish on drums, Rob had half of Marilyn Manson’s band behind him, which fit beautifully as both their styles fit the upbeat electronic rock better than the depressing tunes Manson had been putting out.
But before we get into Rob’s show, let me tell you about my surroundings. I’m old, so I chose to sit in seats rather than get standing room floor tickets. Behind me was a 70+ year old couple, there because they liked Rob Zombie’s movies. Next to me to the left is an 11-year old girl in a Slayer shirt with her mom. Directly in front of me an unassuming looking tiny girl that could only be described as “a cute little thing.” Yes, not exactly what I was expected. Then the screen comes down and there’s a giant monster, on fire. Start the madness.
The doors to this flaming beast open up and Rob steps out breaking right into “Jesus Frankenstein.” The “cute little thing” in front of me becomes a dirty litle metal girl right before my eyes. Her top gets tied up to just above cleavage bottom and the hair comes down to reveal about 4 feet of nice smelling brunette locks. Nice smelling? Yes, you see this was the easy part as for the next 75 minutes or so, she headbanged harder than anyone in the arena providing me with brush burns on my face from the amount of times I got smacked with hair whips. I stood up, she stood on the railing and thrashed some more. But the shirt continued to get smaller and more skin came out, so what am I to say? Willow Smith would be proud.
Anyway, Rob proceeds to barrel through tunes from his entire catalog, although only “More Human Than Human” and “Thunder Kiss ’65” make it from the White Zombie era. He tells women to show their tits and they happily oblige. He then dedicates “Living Dead Girl” to them. Rob breaks out the bubble maker filing the arena with soapy goo as he sings “Pussy Liquor.” He makes his way through solo hits like “Never Gonna Stop,” “Feel So Numb,” and “Superbeast” but thankfully keeps things like “I’m Your Boogie Man” and “Brickhouse” in the closet. 10 foot tall aliens and robots dance on stage every now and again and John 5 constantly gets the crowd to wave them in the air – no, not like I just didn’t care.
The crowd was definitely into him but we weren’t the greatest he’s ever seen for sure. The ultimate showman, he tried a couple call-and-response moments which went okay, but not the way they should have. Before getting into “Sick Bubblegum” he asked the crowd on the left from the “dude in the baseball cap” over to me to say “rock” and the crowd on the right to be quiet, of which those guys didn’t listen so he told them he was “motherfuckin’ serious” (all in fun though). Soon, they got to say “motherfucker” while we went silent. We boo’d them instead. Then we chanted the two words, supposedly to sound like “rock motherfucker” like he says in the song, but instead it sounded more like “rmothocerfukcker” as we did it at the same time. The next time was before his most recent single, “Mars Needs Women.” He was suppose to sing “Mars needs women” and we were supposed to say “angry red women” each time after it. Instead we kept repeating “Mars needs women” which after the second restart you could tell wasn’t exactly what he was going for. These are the perils of having two headlining acts that sound way different. Slayer fans don’t know about angry red women, I guess.
Anyway, at one point Rob walked around the entire venue shining his light on people and ended up about five feet away from me, which is pretty damn cool. It also wasn’t difficult since maybe 2/3 of the arena was empty. For the encore he pulled out this grand mountain of a beast which put him like 20 feet above the stage where he performed “Dragula” and then had the crown chant his own name. This is the one thing we did right during the show. No pop music, just 75-ish minutes of pure rock or as he called it, a “Zombie Party” with a stage show that was fucking amazing.
After a half hour breather, Slayer (badass’ness: 6/11) comes out and changes the whole vibe. Of course Slayer plays louder than any fucking band on the planet making their set the very first one where I could feel not only my bowels shaking but my throat muscles were vibrating from the low end. They also covered from the early to the late, starting off with “World Painted Blood” and “Hate Worldwide” before playing classics like “Dead Skin Mask,” “Mandatory Suicide” and of course, “Raining Blood.” And you know what else they did? They stood there. And stood there. And stood right in the same spot even more. The color of the lights changed though. Kerry King now and then took his place on the other side of the stage but fill in guitarist Gary Holt (yep, the guy from Exodus) didn’t move the entire night. Now I’ve seen them, so I knew this. But what I failed to do was clear my head after Rob Zombie and think of it as two different shows. Instead I compared the two and that was my downfall. Speed and sheer volume hands down, Slayer wins. Stage show, Rob blows them out of the water. This left me a little underwhelmed (and it had nothing to do with the fact that their set list was the same fucking set list they always play minus the bullshit from Diabolus in Musica and anything from God Hates Us All – which is of course my favorite album of all time. Guess they don’t think it’s that good.) And maybe he was always this way, but Tom Araya is the most laid back metal vocalist ever. I paraphrase here a little but at one point he said something along the lines of “hey, are you enjoying the cool air… Now here’s “War Ensemble.” In fact, listen to it below.
The true headline of Slayer set for me is that 11-year-old girl who throws up the horns after every song and says “that was good.” I hope she tells her mother now and then that she’s the coolest parent in the universe for bringing her to this. Meanwhile, the 70-year-old couple left after two Slayer songs as “these gents are too loud.” Sure are grandpa.
So I went to see Slayer and came out fucking way impressed with Rob Zombie and thinking Slayer were just going through the motions. Okay, Kerry King wasn’t going through the motions – that fucking dude never slows down. I give them that. Still a badass show even if Slayer unwhelmed but really, if you get the chance to see Rob in an indoor venue where he can bring out the whole stage gear and wear the makeup, do it. And seriously, rock motherfuckers.