Thursday, October 20, 2011

Congress Theater - Testament

During the '80's public perception was that anything related to heavy metal music involved Aqua-Net, 6 inch heels, spandex and trashy looking girls (I do miss the '80's).  Sure there were hair bands popping up all over the place like a Butterball turkey on Thanksgiving, but that wasn't metal, it was hair metal.  Although the hair metal appeared to have taken the hearts and minds of every teenager in North America (Tipper wasn't happy by that comment), that really wasn't the case.  While hair metal tried to thrive, bands like Guns n' Roses, Metallica, Megadeth and Testament grew.  Sure hair metal had its day (and to some extent it still does), but bands like Testament remained.

As the '80's emerged and bands like Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division and The Cure appeared to be this bastard child of punk while at the same time the era ushered in the arrival of hair bands.  Hair bands played some type of "heavy metal", and despite the fact that the music appeared to have re-invented the genre of metal was oh so false.  Heavy metal was this powerful, dark sounding noise that sent parents playing the material backwards and condemning their children to the fiery gates of Hell (along with every member of those bands).  Heavy metal evoked subject matter that was brash, often including references to supernatural forces and implied Satanism, hair metal did not.

What hair metal did was to provide music that still had guitars, bass and the energy metal exudes.  What it also did was associate itself with real metal bands (Black Sabbath, Ozzy and Dio for instance) but the music really wasn't metal.  Hair bands were full of pretty boys, lead singers that wore more makeup than the women of the pole they used in their videos.  It became laughable when every hair band got that metal label and MTV fueled every bit of it.  Then something interesting happened, some of those hair fans splintered off from the pack and they began to look for real metal and as hair metal began to fade, real metal, HEAVY Metal began to grow.

I believe that as that splintering began and the search for real metal went full steam ahead, that became the catalyst for established metal bands that weren't mainstream to grow in popularity.  That's where Testament comes in, at least for me.  One day while perusing the vinyl and cassettes of a record store I found a cassette called "The Legacy" and so began my fascination with Testament.

On the 15th of October I attended a concert at the Congress Theater in Chicago, IL, the performers were Anthrax, Testament and Death Angel.  These three bands were the cornerstone of that new era in my life, my musical life at least.  As Death Angel finished their set (check my blog for an article on Death Angel) the room kept the energy flowing and by the time Testament hit the stage the crowd was in full anticipation mode.  Interestingly I was one of those in that mode and as the show began the lighting, backdrops and the band seemed surreal.

That night as Testament took the stage, I realized that despite this being my first time to see the band live assuredly Testament was this good back at the start, they had to be.  When I bought that first cassette (I had to buy it three times actually I fried two of the three) I couldn't have imagined anyone could stay that good for so long.  As I reflect on "C.O.T.O.L.D." an enigmatic, blistering fast and powerful song I understand how hard it must have been to maintain that level of musical brilliance.  Testament has a lead singer (Chuck Billy) that has one of the most impressive voices in music and it has stayed true.  Billy's hold on his music is unparalleled and the energy he expels while performing only shows how much he loves his trade and his fans.

Can you imagine how difficult it must be to keep an enigmatic voice vibrant and retain the clarity in his voice?  It would be impossible for most of us to be introduced to all of the environmental factors associated with his job as a singer.  Despite all of that, Billy is still on top of his game and he is a blast to watch on stage.  Billy interacts with his fans and who wouldn't appreciate a fist bump from the singer of their favorite band?  That's enough of the questions (sorry for that, I do apologize) but I can assure you he hasn't skipped a beat.

Now its that time in the program where I reference C.O.T.O.L.D. (Curse Of The Legions Of Death) and I point out how freaking fast the guitar is in that song.  Even money says that playing that fast can cause fingertips to pop off, its completely brutal (in a great way).  Unlike the environmental factors and age that can affect a singer, guitar players just get better.  So is the case with Testament and Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson.  This duo has just gotten better with age (not like a fine wine, that's girly like a great whiskey now that works).  Its fun to watch a band that has guitar players that complement each other and realize that with the vocals of Billy intermixed with their guitar play the band is flawless.

The cornerstone to any band, bass guitar and drums reflect that importance within the confines of a live show.  The combination of Greg Christian (bass) and Paul Bostaph (drums) prove that point by providing some of the nastiest, most wicked, beat the crap out of the neighbor with a hammer type of play.  Consistency is the key to any band and Testament fulfills that basic tenant.  I sit awestruck as I watch these two perform as they provide all of that skill and that speed at such a high level.

When you fit all of that talent together you find a band that still can beat the crap out of you and take your lunch money.  I'm leaving that last line in but only because it truly is indicative of the talent of this band, and much like that bully that stole your lunch money (you know who you are), Testament knows they can do it and get away with it.  Testament is one of the most skilled bands in the thrash genre, no that isn't fair because Testament is one of the most skilled bands in any genre.  If you know little about Testament (you're reading about them right now so I'm guessing you already know about the band) I must recommend that you start learning as much as you can.

Testament came to the Congress Theater on October 15, 2011 and they plain made every person there want more.  Testament did what so many bands wish they could do coupled with the fan base they obviously had in Chicago made every person there glad they bought a ticket.  Amazing, just amazing!

Next up:  Anthrax

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