Metallica Just Came to Houston, So Obviously Megadeth Had to Come

Megadeth's Kiko Loureiro
Megadeth's Kiko Loureiro Photo by Jason McElweenie
Megadeth, Meshuggah, Tesseract, Lillake
Revention Music Center
July 9, 2017

Any summer when you make a point to go see Metallica, as many of us did at NRG Stadium last month, it feels only fair to check in with your old pals in Megadeth, too. The two bands have been linked since the earliest days of the thrash-metal movement both helped to shepherd — very much separately — after Megadeth mastermind Dave Mustaine was dumped by Lars and company about 1,000 years ago. (Journalists have since collectively agreed to mention this incident at every opportunity.)

Ol’ Dave can’t quite command the same nosebleed ticket prices that his former mates can, but he rolled into Revention Music Center on Sunday night with a better bill, better sound and, let's face it, better songs. Freshly energized by the latest plug-and-play draftees into their ranks, Megadeth is riding high off the success of their latest album, Dystopia, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and managed to win the group its first Grammy. They came to Houston well-supported by a varied and impressive undercard, beginning nice and early with the doomy L.A. outfit Lillake.

A large crowd of heavy metal veterans was ready for them. By the time Lillake were done, the place was full. Megadeth is probably used to touring with bands who count them as a primary influence, but the next group up, Tesseract, was clearly way more into Meshuggah than classic thrash. The British band mixed their down-tuned rhythmic complexity in with dreamier, progressive passages and even a few hooks for an altogether ambient take on extreme metal. It was interesting, but it’s hard to remember a polyrhythm they played after the Swedish masters followed.

click to enlarge Meshuggah - PHOTO BY JASON MCELWEENIE
Photo by Jason McElweenie
Possibly the most purely percussive rock band in existence, Meshuggah didn’t seem to be slowed down at all by the absence of lead guitarist Fredrik Thorendal, who’s sitting this tour out to pursue other activities. Scar Symmetry’s Per Nilsson handled the eight-string monster that Meshuggah calls a guitar capably in his stead, locking in tight with drummer Tomas Haake on crushing tunes like “Do Not Look Down.”

Plenty of bands such as Tesseract have taken inspiration from Meshuggah’s odd-time grooves, but no one else has been able to match their riffs for pure heaviness. Coupled with a blinding, programmed array of lights that lit up every single downpick and bass drum hit, the rumbling, low-frequency punch of “Violent Sleep of Reason” threatened to knock the wind out of us. It was truly heavy metal for the deaf going on in there. The crowd went crazy for them, opening up a nice mosh pit and chanting “ME-SHUG-GAH!” when the band paused to wipe the sweat off. The Swedes were allotted less than an hour, but give ’em 20 minutes and they’re still a hard act for anyone to follow.

Photo by Jason McElweenie
Megadeth weren’t about to get blown off their own stage, naturally, so they stacked the first quarter of their set with thrash classics that had fists pumping from the front row to the full balcony. “Hanger 18,” from the seminal Rust in Peace album, began a suite that included the whipping “Wake Up Dead” and the stomping “In My Darkest Hour” before skidding into “Skin of My Teeth” from Countdown to Extinction. Fitting right in was “The Threat Is Real,” the lead single from last year’s record, which came with an awesomely gory animated video of band mascot Vic Rattlehead.

The newest faces backing Dave in the studio and on tour are Brazilian guitarist Kiko Loureiro and ex-Soilwork drummer Dirk Verbeuren. Both seemed to play flawlessly all night, injecting an added bit of snap into mid-period Megadeth tunes like “Trust” and “She-Wolf.” Mustaine has never been shy about hiring (or replacing) some of the world’s best players for his act, and though some of those tremolo riffs and high vocal notes sound barely within his reach these days, the man with the pointy guitar was unquestionably still the captain of his own metallic ship on Sunday.

The audience was enthusiastic for everything the thrash legends played, even the new stuff. We were patient with Dave when he went into a straight-up ramble toward the end, telling us the story of how he managed to piss off an entire country by wading into the religious conflicts in Ireland years ago as a preface to the encore number, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due.” Hard for a metal fan to feel cheated after being sent home with that tune, which is maybe thrash's high-water mark.

The punishment due this morning is sore necks and pounding heads. Mondays are so much worse than heavy metal concerts. At least the coffee is black.

Photo by Jason McElweenie
Personal Bias: Mega-deaf.

The Crowd: Loyal till the end.

Overheard in the Crowd: “I’m going to completely redo our video. I know exactly what to do now.”

Random Notebook Dump: All I seem to have written down is that Dave Mustaine was fired from Metallica in the ‘80s.
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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith