In this day and age, it's getting harder and harder to keep up with all the great shows coming through town. Even guys like me whose bread and butter it is to keep up have trouble with it. Bands make most of their money off touring now, so it's much more beneficial to them to be road rats. Unfortunately, that's pretty hard on all of our wallets.
That means being a hell of a lot more selective than we used to be, especially when it comes to legacy bands. It's all well and good to pay $15 to $20 to see the hottest new indie artist, or plunk down $100 or more to see Drake or The Weeknd, but what about the $50 range you're looking at for bands like, say, Megadeth?
By sheer coincidence, Megadeth plays Sunday night at Houston's Revention Music Center. Openers Children of Bodom and Havok make the decision to go to this one easier, but those two bands have their loyal fans. Somehow I don't think many people are on the fence about either one — you're either going to make the time and spend the money to see them, or you're not.
Megadeth is a whole other beast, though. Once a mainstream powerhouse in the world of metal and hard rock, they've put their fans on a total roller-coaster ride for the past 25 years. It's been a long time since “Sweating Bullets” and “Symphony of Destruction” were dominating MTV. Hell, it's been a long time since the group was capturing a new generation of fans with Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
So here are the facts: Yes, being a Megadeth fan for the long haul has been difficult. No doubt, front man Dave Mustaine has tried our patience with both his music and his personal life.
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After building a significant amount of goodwill over the years with increasingly mainstream yet still respectable releases — and a stable lineup for once with guitarist Marty Friedman, stalwart bassist Dave Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza — Mustaine fired Menza, put out a pandering pop record called Risk and blew it all. The group's next album, The World Needs a Hero, sans Friedman now, managed to go back to their metal roots but lacked solid, consistent songwriting.
The System Has Failed was supposed to be Mustaine's first solo album, but it actually just marked the point when, like Nine Inch Nails, Megadeth became a band in name only. For all intents and purposes, Megadeth is now just Mustaine and a supporting cast. Luckily, The System Has Failed totally topped The World Needs a Hero and reminded Megadeth fans why they liked this band in the first place.
Then things sort of went off the rails, specifically with Mustaine's personal life. Many knew that he had become a born-again Christian and a Republican in the early 2000s, but in 2007 with United Abominations, Mustaine started supercharging his music with his own personal politics.
Now, it's not that Mustaine's being a Republican was the bad part. It's that instead of skewing toward being a mainstream Republican, he became the conspiracy-theory-espousing, Glenn Beck/Alex Jones type of Republican that frankly scares the shit out of me. Suddenly, Megadeth songs started having lyrics about FEMA death camps, assassinations ordered by President Obama, false flags, etc.
Mustaine even commented at shows that Obama had staged several mass shootings to push through his gun-control legislation, comparing it to Nazi Germany. This is all patently ridiculous, but Mustaine actually believes this stuff.
He hasn't let up, either. New record Dystopia centers around those same themes lyrically, while Mustaine has been trying (successfully, oddly enough) to garner support for the album from Fox News talking heads like Bill O'Reilly.
That's the bad. It's a lot, and it's easy to focus on. Mustaine really has put us fans through the ringer if we were to try to defend him. I won't. I find his comments on President Obama indefensible.
Here's what I will defend. Musically, Mustaine still keeps churning out greatness. Endgame, Thirteen and now Dystopia all contain exceptionally strong thrash-metal material. It's a wonder that these guys can still pull this off after all these years, especially when their contemporaries have struggled.
Aside from the misstep of the Risk-esque Super Collider, Mustaine and his new cohorts have been consistently plugging away with standout riffage and badass solos. In other words, everything you loved about Megadeth in the first place is still in place.
Though those of us who know Mustaine's politics can pick them out in the lyrics, he writes vaguely enough that it's not browbeating or obnoxious. If you ignored interviews he gives, you'd put the lyrics right alongside classics like “Symphony of Destruction” or “Peace Sells,” which were equally as critical of the U.S. government.
The best part, though, is that this is the best backing band Mustaine has managed to assemble in years. After putting up for so long with drummer Shawn Drover, whose plodding, sterile beats dragged the whole band down, Mustaine has recruited Chris Adler, also of Lamb of God. Adler's relative youth, fandom of classic Megadeth and frankly superior drumming have added a whole new element to Megadeth's music and live show.
Meanwhile, with guitarist Chris Broderick out, Mustaine had to search for a new lead player. Broderick's style had never really fit. He could play the notes, he could play fast and technical, but he was a bit too progressive for Megadeth. He was like John Petrucci trying to play thrash. It never works.
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Mustaine got Brazilian guitarist Kiko Loureiro to fill the role, and so far he has been absolutely crushing it. This guy is an old-school thrash player just like Mustaine, and has brought that element back into the fold in spades. He's technically gifted enough to cover any of the old guys, while bringing his own style to the table in a way that returns the band to its roots in the best way possible.
Dave Ellefson is still kicking it back there on bass, and Mustaine is Mustaine. His voice may have deteriorated over the years, but he can still kill it live on guitar. None of us listened to Megadeth for great singing in the first place, right?
This Sunday, I've no doubt it's going to be a worthwhile night for any fan of thrash-metal. Of course, you've got the awesome opening lineup, and then you have the thrash gods Megadeth. No matter how much offstage drama has gone on, the band has remained true and consistent. They've made the case that, yes, it's still worth it to see Megadeth in 2016, warts and all.
Megadeth performs with special guests Children of Bodom and Havok Sunday, February 21 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 7 p.m.