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A review of Pain of Salvation Live in Chennai 29.01.2011

I know now that IIT-Madras needs to update its antivirus software. I know this, because in the middle of the encore of Pain of Salvation’s performance at IIT-Madras’ Saarang festival, in one of the most disgraceful episodes that I have ever witnessed at a concert, the faculty had the power to the stage cut. Twice. The first time was during the band’s rendition of Dio’s Don’t Talk to Strangers. The band continued, assuming it was just a technical glitch, and when the power returned, the large screen on stage displayed the Windows blue screen (with a reminder to update the antivirus) to six thousand bewildered fans. After being informed that they had to wrap up the show soon, the band decided to cut short the set and end just three songs into the encore with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. No sooner had singer Daniel Gildenlöw got to the second chorus than the power was cut again, this time permanently. It was humiliating.

Even though the setlist remained unchanged, Pain of Salvation’s second concert in India was completely different from their first at Lucknow the previous week. Their current show, constructed with great care, is very sensitive to momentum. With the constant technical glitches through the set in Chennai, it was impossible for the band to replicate the mood. Whereas the Lucknow show felt like a cohesive and complete entity, the Chennai show turned into a series of brilliantly performed isolated songs.

Opening with Of Two Beginnings off their 2002 album Remedy Lane, the band started to create something special yet again, but after Daniel’s amplifier packed up petulantly during Winning A War, I found it impossible to hop back on the ride. Daniel’s guitar tech Robin was like the sixth member of the band on the night. Buying some time to change the amplifier, drummer Leo Margarit launched into a fantastic impromptu drum solo, much to the delight of the crowd. Leo and bass player Per Schelander had both been unwell all day, but the level of intensity and energy they maintained hid any signs of illness.

The other great crowd pleasing moment came during Falling, an improvised guitar solo played by Daniel as an introduction to the song the Perfect Element. Climbing the twenty feet to the top of the stack of speakers on the right of the stage, Daniel had the crowd in the palm of his hand until the mood was upset yet again by a technical problem, this time a broken string. Enter Robin again. The set concluded with The Perfect Element, leaving the crowd begging for more.

Four days earlier, a few hours after getting to Chennai, unable to sleep at 2 am, Daniel Gildenlöw, replacement keyboard player Daniel Karlsson (known in the band as D2), sound engineer Barni Johansson and I had gone for a walk around the IIT campus to take a look at the Open Air Theatre, the venue for the concert. Noticing that there was a ramp on the side of the stage, we hit upon a plan to have the band ride up onto the stage for the encore, a la Judas Priest. The only difference was it would not be on a Harley Davidson, but an auto rickshaw, a tribute to the band’s fascination with Indian traffic. After a few days of struggling to organise it, the plan came to fruition, and the band rode out onto the stage crammed into an auto rickshaw!

The encore was then interrupted ten minutes later by the first power outage.

The band returned later to their dressing room after taking their final bows in darkness. The festival prides itself on being smoothly run, and only the previous day, in a self congratulatory moment topped only by the Oscars, publicised its recent approval for an ISO 9001 rating. It reminded me of a line from Ricky Gervais’ now legendary performance at the 2011 Golden Globe awards. When speaking of the nominations for the insipid film, The Tourist, he said of the Hollywood Foreign Press, “They also took bribes.”

A band of Pain of Salvation’s standing cannot be treated like this. Perhaps in the future, IIT will realise that in order to organise a professional show, it should be left to professionals, not amateurs. And neither the band nor the audience should have to deal with the consequences of the communication gap between the faculty and the students organising the festival. It was an unnecessarily anticlimactic ending to an incredible tour.

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A review of Pain of Salvation live in Lucknow 22.01.2011

I am on the road with Pain of Salvation. We are in Chennai as the band prepares for their headlining performance at the Saarang Festival on the 29th of January 2011. There have been two performances so far on the tour, the first, a show at IIM Lucknow’s Manfest, the second, an acoustic performance at Landmark in Chennai. The mood, texture and construction of each show was different, but both shows were equally spellbinding. Pain of Salvation is a band that is so far beyond criticism for me that I cannot feign objectivity. The show was free, and it was clear that most people in the crowd were not fans of the band’s before the show began. But if their reaction was anything to go by, they were by the end.

The night before the Lucknow show, having agreed to judge the Hell Raiser competition to decide which band opened for Pain of Salvation, frontman Daniel Gildenlöw, guitarist Johan Hallgren and bass player Per Schelander braved the freezing outdoor weather until the competition ended after 2 am. Setting a trend of painfully long delays, the competition, which was scheduled to begin at 8 pm, began after 11. Initially determined to stay there as long as they did, I gave in to the freezing conditions and called it a night at 1, in spite of having put on five layers of clothing. Daniel, however, said he had made a commitment and was going to honour it. The tour manager repeatedly reminded him in a sternly maternal tone, that there were still ten days to go in the tour and he certainly could not afford to fall sick. Daniel retorted with a petulant questioning of the scientific basis of the concerns. ‘Colds are caused by viruses’, he coughed.  There’s a very fine line between honour and foolhardiness, and at this stage it was too early to know which side he had landed on.

After a series of setbacks, including excess baggage, unhygienic rooms and many more long unnecessary delays, the band finally hit the stage in India for the first time at 9 pm, after having to push the opening band, The Circus’ set until after Pain of Salvation’s.  As Daniel joked later, they effectively headlined the festival, with Pain of Salvation opening for them!

 Every Pain of Salvation album is a concept album. I was very curious to see how the songs would work out of the context of the albums, as stand-alone songs in a concert. I have to admit being sceptical when I first looked at the setlist chosen for this tour. Those doubts were soon laid to rest as the setlist seemed almost as perfectly constructed as the songs themselves. It proved that Pain of Salvation songs can form a near narrative structure even out of their original context.

The band’s, and especially Daniel’s performance was truly virtuoso- it was exhilarating, constantly surprising and commanding and was the most complete I have ever witnessed. Never before have I experienced such a spectrum of emotions during a show. I wiped away tears during the ‘first steps down Remedy Lane’, laughed at the silly Spice Girls joke, picked my jaw off the floor during the People Passing By and  head-banged with vigour during Diffidentia.

Much of the charm of a live performance lies in the little unexpected moments. One such was during Of Dust, which is played off a tape on the PA system and sees the band in total darkness on stage. During the line ‘in life a king, in death a failure’, I heard a female voice coming from behind me, complementing this line with the most delicate and controlled vibrato. It was hauntingly beautiful. It was a welcome change from the other people around me. The worst point was during the unexpectedly stunning rendition of Kingdom of Loss. This song presents Daniel with the opportunity to address the audience in a very direct and informal manner, delivering monologues over the music, which the person behind me felt the need to reinforce himself. I understand the desire to sing along with a band when the energy and adrenaline are running high and you cannot help but scream at the top of your lungs. But this was clearly an instance of ‘trying to show how much I know about Pain of Salvation by reciting the monologue along with Daniel.’ It was dreadfully cacophonous.

The concert felt like two shows in one. The first, which started with Of Two Beginnings and ended with The Perfect Element, told a story- its construction was meticulous and intentional. The second, a long encore, was a fun rock show. Starting off with a cover of the Beatles’ Come Together and Dio’s Don’t Talk to Strangers, with Daniel on drums, the band showed that they could just as easily put on a highly energetic and fun rock show. The show ended with a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, performed by the entire band sitting cross legged on the stage, insisting the audience do the same. The band took their final bows to rapturous applause, from a hugely appreciative audience.

I have always loved the song Disco Queen off the band’s 2007 album Scarsick. I thought it would have made a perfect addition to the encore, a point on which both Daniel and Johan agreed. They spoke about the possibility of adding it to the show in Chennai, but soon discovered it would be impossible since they were touring without original keyboardist Frederick Hermansson, who unfortunately had a previous commitment and was unable to make it on this trip. His replacement, Daniel Karlsson, known in the band as D2, formerly guitar tech to the band on their 2007 tour, did not have the necessary sounds and samples on his keyboard to make the song work.

On the evening of the 25th of January, the band played an hour long acoustic set at Chennai’s Landmark store, as part of a ceremony celebrating the launch of their albums in India. In 2004, the band released the live album 12:5, which consisted of acoustic rearrangements of their songs performed live. It is widely accepted as one of the band’s finest efforts and the chance to experience a rare acoustic set from the band was a thrilling prospect.

Unlike the album 12:5, which was a much rehearsed performance, the show at Landmark was completely spontaneous. Even as the band walked on stage, they had no idea what they would be playing. They started off with an acoustic jam, leading into the Beatles’ Come Together. The first Pain of Salvation song was received with applause that almost brought the roof down- the first ever acoustic performance of People Passing By.

This Lucknow show was calculated and planned; this show was spontaneous and fun. The most unbelievable moment came after an emotional rendition of Second Love. The band, at Daniel’s suggestion, launched into Disco Queen. Not only was it the first ever live acoustic performance of this song, but it was also the first ever attempt at it by the band! It was truly spectacular. Even though Daniel forgot the lyrics (reminding us, however, that he did still remember the wi-fi password at the hotel in Agra that we stayed at), it was my favourite part of the show. They continued with Tell Me You Don’t Know and No Way, off their latest album, Road Salt, before attempting to finish with Hallelujah. Acquiescing to the almost belligerent demands of the audience for one more song, they concluded with Ashes.

The two shows were a clear demonstration of the band’s versatility. It was a privilege to have witnessed them. As much as I am I am looking forward to the next show, I cannot get past the knowledge that it is the last show of the tour. A depressing thought, indeed.

Rediscovering Superstar

It is always a refreshing experience when a musical obsession is rekindled. Never the result of as mundane an activity as putting my iPod on shuffle, it is invariably sparked off by a concatenation of unrelated remarks. Slowly it consumes my thoughts until, before I know it, I can think of nothing else. Suddenly it is almost essential to my survival that I stop everything and give in. Today I rediscovered my love for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece, Jesus Christ Superstar.

This morning, I abandoned my daily ritual of stumbling out of bed and onto the internet, and decided instead  to turn on the television.  Unlike the Americans you hear about who routinely find the image of Jesus on a pancake or in Mexican food, I found the image of Jesus on the screen. I discovered a moment later that it wasn’t Jesus, but the Australian cricketer Ben Hilfenhaus. That, on its own, is hardly stimulus enough for me to throw aside my breakfast and run to my iPod. It did, however, remind me of a conversation that I had in New York last year with B about Daniel Gildenlow, mastermind of Pain of Salvation. Over an unexpectedly discounted meal at a Hibachi restaurant, B and I discovered we shared a love for Webber’s 1970 rock opera with Gildenlow.

With Pain of Salvation’s India tour just around the corner, their music is doing the rounds on my playlist even more than usual. Now we have a concatenation. Hilfenhaus, Jesus, B and Pain of Salvation. Time to hit the play button.

I’m sure every fan has a preferred recording. My first recording was the 1992 Australian Cast Highlights and it is by far my favourite. It is the heaviest rendition, and the most intense. I always knew my love for metal was a direct result of wearing this tape to shreds in my walkman back when I was twelve. What I realised today, as I revisited this recording, is that my love for complex music was also probably born out of this obsession.

When something is as much a part of one’s personality as Jesus Christ Superstar is of mine, it is impossible to see it objectively and in isolation. However, with the benefit of time away from Superstar, I was able to approach it with a passive familiarity. I knew all the songs, but was able to discover things about them as if I was listening to them for the first time. I realised that if I had discovered Superstar today, it would fall squarely in the category of ‘my music’, and I would be just as consumed by it today as I was when I discovered it many years ago. It has everything, and few people in prog circles give it credit for being as influential as it is enjoyable.

I am an obsessive music listener, and I go through very definite phases with bands and music. It usually starts quite a while after the first time I listen to a band. It is followed by an intense two month period where I listen to virtually nothing else, after which the band is incorporated in the amalgam of previous bands that have been part of this ritual.

Jesus Christ Superstar was the first album that was mine, inasmuch as it was not something I picked out of my parents’ music collection. The pattern started here. Every guest to the house was made to watch the DVD; every friend of mine had to receive updates about my relationship with and thoughts on the music. Not much about my approach has changed since then. The only difference is now I’m sharing these updates with strangers on the internet too. It reminds me of Judas’ immortal line from Superstar, ‘If you’d come today you would have reached a whole nation/Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.’

The stress of being a prog fanatic

We are in the last week of the year right now.  Thanks to the wonderful people at Virgin Records (I) Pvt. Ltd, I have suddenly become the easiest person in my family to shop for. For the last few months, albums on the German prog label Inside Out have been available here in Bangalore. My wish-list on amazon.com was always suspiciously easily accessible, but was never once consulted. It consisted mostly of albums on the Inside Out label. So after years of receiving socks, stationery and gift vouchers for socks and stationery, I am finally getting what I want for Christmas.

There is an odd inconsistency in music stores in Bangalore these days. There was a time when the bigger places had plenty of albums that I was interested in and would pick up at the drop of a hat. Most of those albums seem to have disappeared, and, if not for the expensive Inside Out imports, I would have no real interest entering any of the music stores in the city. Right now there are roughly fifteen such albums available. I assume they are testing the waters, so in order to prove that there is a market for these albums here, I have taken it upon myself to buy as many of these albums as I can afford. To be fair, I have also bought a whole bunch which I cannot afford, but that is an insignificant detail in the grand scheme of things.

I find it oddly stressful when I have a large pile of new albums. This happens every time I travel and spend all my money on albums that I cannot get in India (of which there are many). I end up with a stack of CDs that reaches my waist and I feel under pressure to listen to them all. I am not a casual music fan, and when, in my mind, a band crosses over into the ‘beyond criticism’ section, I must be intimately acquainted with everything that they have done. This is where it gets stressful. How can I possibly consider myself a true fan unless I can recite every note of every song? Every so often, I go through a phase where I consciously make the effort to learn the songs that I am listening to, almost as if I have been asked to fill in for someone in the band. There is an element of “Song one- main riff, verse, chorus, lyrics, instrumental section, guitar solo, et cetera- done. Now onto song two.”

 The most recent band to cross over into my ‘beyond criticism’ section was The Flower Kings. Although I have loved Transatlantic for some years now, I never explored the rest of Roine Stolt’s musical world until a little over a year ago. The ‘beyond criticism’ switch was flicked by their last album The Sum of No Evil (2007), and the journey through their back catalogue was a large part of 2010 for me.

The Flower Kings have raised the bar for back catalogue discovery. As a rule, good prog albums require multiple listening sessions. Add to that the fact that The Flower Kings have released almost eighteen hours’ worth of music in fewer than fifteen years, and it’s clear why it has taken me over a year to acquaint myself with them. Of course, the switch flicking was because of Roine Stolt, so I had to include his numerous side projects in the list which includes Kaipa, 3rd World Electric, The Tangent, Agents of Mercy and his solo albums.

As I look at the pile of new CDs on my desk, I feel a combination of excitement and stress. I’ve got some long nights ahead of me. But what could be more fun?

The Salieri Complex

Growing up as a music student, having started piano classes at the age of seven, I always had something to show off about. Later, as, at best, a competent twelve year old pianist who looked ten years old, I was constantly told how promising I was. Even though I never seriously  considered a career as a professional musician, I always harboured the fantasy that I could make it. And the praise did not hurt.

Even as my technique improved and I started to listen to more music, I still saw myself as a student, never quite ready to take the leap into creating music. I always thought it would come once I had learnt enough. Once I had got to ‘that point’. There were, of course, a few pieces here and there that I came up with and like, but never took seriously.  Unfortunately at every stage, I felt like ‘that point’ kept moving just beyond my grasp. At first I thought nothing of it, and then I realised I hadn’t developed that area along with my technique. If I had to sit down and write something, I would labour for hours, thinking of tension and resolution, key signatures, time signatures, phrasings and other things on a nearly endless list. By the end of the day, I would have two minutes’ worth of music that sounded like it had been laboured over all day. The scaffolding was still there. It was not natural.

When I started playing the guitar many years ago, I was similarly hindered by my tendency to put technique ahead of creativity. N started playing the guitar at the same time as I did. By the time he had learnt three chords, he had already written his first song. It is no surprise now that he is a renowned and hugely respected guitarist.

John Petrucci once said ‘In order to  realise our creative vision, it is essential the we develop the craft of our instrument’. I took that the wrong way. It is obvious that a lack of proper technique should not be an obstacle to creativity. I realise now, perhaps too late, that it just means that one’s technique should be developed so as to be able to execute one’s ideas, not that one should develop immaculate technique and then wait for something to come out of it. I guess it what makes me the Salieri to N’s Mozart.

I don’t want to give the impression that I regret the way I have developed musically. I wonder if there is such a thing as a talent for appreciating music. The time that I spent learning about various aspects of rhythm, melody and counterpoint, among many others, has given me the tools to deconstruct the music that I love. And, although Keats may disagree, it does not unweave the rainbow. It adds a new dimension. It brings my head into play. The same brain that was over-thinking my own music to the point of sterility now looks at other music and reveals its hidden beauty. I think I can live with that. I might even write a song about it one day, when I learn how.

Combustion- A review of Meshuggah live in Bangalore

17th December (The Night Before):

A common question asked by young rock musicians is how to count and play music in odd time signatures. With practice, is the simple answer. So my baggage as a prog fanatic stands me in good stead when it comes to understanding basic odd time signatures. Polyrhythm on the other hand is slightly more abstruse. If I concentrate hard enough when listening to Stengah, for example, I can hear the five repeated bars of 11/8 followed by 9/8 on the bass drums with the china keeping a steady 4/4. If I turn off all other functions in my brain, to conserve RAM, as it were, I can similarly make out the four bars of 25/16 followed by one of 28/16 in Rational Gaze. Actually listening to an entire Meshuggah album like that can be a mentally draining experience, I imagine.

On the other hand, listening to a Meshuggah album with my brain completely off is a potentially sonically destructive experience and that is equally exhausting. This is why I am caught between two worlds when it comes to Meshuggah’s music.  When I listen to an album of theirs, I hover, delocalised  somewhere in between the cold mathematics of the rhythmic complexity and the sheer aggression of the music. (Incidentally, I am listening to New Millennium Cyanide Christ right now. I think I should be lauded for being able to string more than two letters together coherently.)

 Until now, most of the major concerts that I have been to have been emotionally charged experiences. The emotions have varied in intensity and type from uncontrollable tears (while watching Dream Theater or Transatlantic for the first time) to adrenaline pumping headbanging (at Megadeth or Testament) to floating ethereally (at Porcupine Tree). Even at prog shows, the emotion always trumps the intellect. I expect things to be quite different tomorrow. Tomorrow’s concert is primarily for my brain. The sonic equivalent of staring at a Seurat painting from different distances (with a slight difference in atmosphere, obviously).

It is with these thoughts that I return to Chaosphere as I look forward to Meshuggah’s headlining performance at tomorrow night’s Great Indian Rock XIV.

18th December (The Night):

I find myself in a strangely expert position to extol the virtues of watching a concert in sunglasses. It cuts out a good deal of the glare off the stage lights and renders the visuals tighter and less jarring. I would like to say that it is a sign of experience that I go to concerts this way intentionally (this is my fifth such experience), alas, it is not. I first experienced a concert like this in England in 2009 when I travelled from London to Leeds to watch Porcupine Tree after a series of unfortunate events led to the destruction of all but one pair of glasses with prescription lenses.

This time, I was forced to don the sunglasses after one of my brand new contact lenses packed up and tore itself in half whilst still in my eye. As if not satisfied with just that, it chose, for maximum effect, to do so towards the end of the abysmally long drive from Whitefield to the Palace Grounds. Stranded, in the middle of the road, I had a choice. To continue to the concert with one good eye or to rummage through the contents of my car in the hope of finding something helpful. A monocle, perhaps. Or a spare driver. Or, as it turned out, a pair of sunglasses with prescription lenses. Upon whose discovery, I ceremoniously ripped out the one good lens, watched in glee as it shrivelled up in the seat next to me, and continued onward.

After a terribly long drive, repeatedly circumnavigating the venue, I discovered that the entrance to the concert arena was also the entrance to ‘Times Kidz World 2010, the most comprehensive showcase of Toys, Childrens Products & Needs’ (sic). Not necessarily the most metal prelude to what I was about to experience.

Annoyed at having had to waste so much time finding the place, I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice unoccupied spot by the left side of the stage. The four opening bands got on and off stage to varying degrees of applause and enthusiasm.

The most surreal moment of the evening came during thrash metal band Kryptos’ set. It was one of those moments that every rock fan in Bangalore has experienced in some way in the past. Apparently disturbed by the noise being made at the show (and who could possibly have seen that coming?), the Inspector General of Karnataka sent word through the police to switch off the PA system. We were assured that it would be back on when Meshuggah hit the stage, but that did not stop the crowd from starting off the incredibly odd chant of ‘Volume! Volume! Volume!’ to drown out the band, whose sound was now coming almost exclusively from the stage monitors and amplifiers.

It is only fitting that Meshuggah started precisely at 8:45 pm as scheduled. I had switched my brain on at 8:44 pm and waited. They opened to tumultuous cheers with Rational Gaze. I headbanged in 4/4 and in my head went ‘onetwothreefourfivesixandonetwothreefourfivesixand…’ for most of the rest of the show. As if acknowledging how tiring (in an invigorating way) it is to listen to their music, their show lasted only an hour and fifteen minutes, with no encore. I make no claims to being part of Meshuggah’s hardcore fan base, so the set list was perfect for me. Five songs off their latest album, Obzen, including the now classic Bleed. (Curiously, I found out later that drummer Thomas Haake rubs copious amounts of Tiger Balm, a herbal heat rub, on his calves. So that’s his secret.) I had been looking forward to concentrating on Frederick Thordendal’s right hand during that song, to witness one of the most devastatingly strenuous rhythm guitar parts I have ever heard. Unfortunately the stage lights, in keeping with the atmosphere of the music, were nowhere near bright enough (of course, wearing sunglasses did not really help), so I had to be content with the odd three or four second bursts of light to illuminate the stage.

The show was a technical tour de force. The band has often been likened to machines, but even machines are prone to metal fatigue. Meshuggah clearly was not.  Their control was breathtaking, whether it was a relentless “daratadaratadaratadaratadaratadarata…” (for want of a less onomatopoeic term) a la Bleed, an intense polyrhythm a la, Stengah or just a time signature odyssey a la Lethargica. In addition to his performance as lead vocalist with consummate perfection, Jens  Kidman’s headbanging was incredible. While the rest of the band (and audience) tended to headbang in 4/4 with Haake’s cymbals, Kidman’s  was governed by the smaller odd rhythms, as was especially evident during Rational Gaze and Stengah.

As the concert drew to a close with the last few bars of Future Breed Machine, ironically, I had lost count of the number of songs they had played. My brain was exhausted. My body too. The show was exactly how I had imagined it would be. Taut, precise, intense and short. My neck was in pain after all the headbanging as I drove home in sunglasses hoping not to be stopped by traffic cops.

19th December (The Morning After):

Severe bangover.

Megadeth in Bangalore

(Published in The Hindu 22nd March 2008)

It could have been such a good show. Everything was right. Overcast skies without any rain, two separate stages for the opening and headlining acts separated by a few hundred metres, an eclectic selection of opening acts, Megadeth headlining and an abundant supply of drinking water. But the first Rock ’n India Festival in Bangalore on March 14 was merely interesting when it could have been inspiring. 

Dave Mustaine’s standard line at the end of a Megadeth concert is, “You’ve been great. We’ve been Megadeth.” Neither rang true. We were not great and they were not enough Megadeth.

For the second time in as many years, I’ve had to leave the front row of a concert in Bangalore after arriving 12 hours before. This time it was because I was physically assaulted by the guy next to me, who claimed I was “pulling” him or some such nonsense. He was snorting a white powder that was not glucose, so better counsels prevailed and I left him alone. The problem of morons who think a rock concert is an excuse to get stoned is one that needs to be addressed. It is telling that one of the biggest cheers came when Machine Head frontman Rob Flynn said, “Someone in the front row is smoking a lot of marijuana. 

Letting go of the barricade also meant I had to give up any hope of remaining near the front through the Megadeth set. I consoled myself with the false idea that I’d be able to get a good place near the sound console with excellent sound and enjoy a nice long show from there.

Megadeth’s first ever performance in India was over in the blink of an eye. There is a difference between leaving an audience hungry for more and short-changing them. Megadeth should have known the difference. Their “headlining” set was 70 minutes long. That, unfortunately, wasn’t even the worst part. Sound problems dogged their performance from the beginning, with Shawn Drover’s drum intro to “Sleepwalker” and Chris Broderick’s guitar completely inaudible. It took half the show for the sound levels to sort themselves out, a luxury that such a short set could ill afford.

Broderick is technically the best equipped guitarist Megadeth has ever had, as he demonstrated with his famous five-octave, eight-finger tapping arpeggio solo before launching into “Hangar 18”. The second half of the show was half an hour of the finest guitar work that many of us will ever see. There was a collective gasp at Broderick’s rendition of Marty Friedman’s magnum opus guitar solo from “Tornado of Souls”. It was almost spiritual.

Dave Mustaine is famous for his ability to connect with the audience. It’s what has endeared him to a loyal fan base ever since his days with Metallica. When he articulated his new attitude towards performing, it really hurt. During the premature encore, with schoolteacher-like condescension, he gave us two options: he could either play two more songs without talking in between or talk and play one more. What on earth has happened to Dave Mustaine? We weren’t asking him for long monologues or bitter tirades, but a few words now and then might have been nice. Rob Flynn connected with the audience without having to cut short their set. Even Machine Head’s sound technicians had a better rapport with the audience during the sound check.

The separate stages meant that we could choose where to line up. Not surprisingly, everybody went straight to the main stage. Casino Blues got things underway and, at their request, a large group gathered in front. Those of us who had got to the venue several hours earlier were loathe to give up our hard fought positions in front of the larger stage. We sat down and enjoyed what turned out to be a very engaging show on the other stage. Prestorika got the best response among the early bands with their combination of heavy double bass driven riffs and guitar pyrotechnics. In spite of Junkyard Groove not being at the top of their game, their set was well received.

Mother Jane’s performance was captivating and, unfortunately, the last that I could comfortably watch from where I was because for some reason, after they were done, everyone stood up and turned towards the main stage as if something was about to happen there. Unable to move as the crowd congealed and buried me, I could not experience Thermal and a Quarter, Millennium and Pentagram’s sets, such was the pulverising I was being subjected to two hours before Machine Head were even scheduled to be on. Struggling simultaneously to breathe and prevent my chest from collapsing under the enormous pressure is not the ideal way to enjoy a concert, but I kept telling myself that it would be worth it and that I just had to stay there.

Well-received

Two hours later Rob Flynn and the rest of Machine Head walked on stage to the taped intro to “Clenching the Fists of Dissent”, and the crowd erupted. A flurry of heavy guitaring and pummeling double bass drumming from the acclaimed Dave McClain followed amidst brutal head-banging, jumping, screaming and moshing. As anticipated, “Aesthetics of Hate” was the highlight of their show. In a dramatic moment during its technical instrumental passage, a single bolt of lightning appeared in the distant almost purple sky behind guitarists Flynn and Demmel as they stood back to back. They left the stage an hour later to a tumultuous ovation which they had clearly not expected. The second they were off stage, the indistinct din of the crowd turned into a chant for Megadeth.

So there it was. Walking away from the concert venue, past the bungee jumpers and ice cream salesman in the carnival area, I didn’t know quite what to make of what I had just experienced. As a die-hard Megadeth fan, in spite of all the technical glitches, I would still have gone home satisfied if the set had been just half an hour longer. Hopefully Mustaine will have regained his spirit and aggression by the time they come here next.