While metal masters Megadeth arrive in Houston tonight as part of the tour to promote their most recent record, Super Collider, this year the band also released the CD/DVD Countdown to Extinction Live.
The sonic souvenir of last year's tour celebrated the 20th anniversary of the popular release in which they performed the entire record start to finish, along with other Megadeth classics. It's the band's second such thematic jaunt, having given Rust in Peace similar treatment.
"Countdown was a fun record, and it came at a fun time," Megadeth founder/singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine says today. "Everyone thought the economy was great. And while it was weird times, people were happy."
However, he also notes that in 1992 things "went to hell" for heavy-metal music - and not just because Countdown debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, thwarted from reaching the top spot by Billy Ray Cyrus' Some Gave All.
"After that, you were either Def Leppard or Nirvana," Mustaine says with no shortage of disgust. Still, it remains the band's biggest commercial success, and Mustaine enjoyed playing some of its deeper cuts on tour. Some had never been played live before by any of the band's many lineups.
"Those songs were fun because we hadn't done them, and it was interesting to see if they were going to be a train wreck or not," he says. "Some of them had multiple guitar parts, and we had to combine them to [play live]. It was almost algebraic at times."
In addition to Mustaine, the only other member in the current lineup that was also there for Countdown is bassist David Ellefson, which came as a surprise to many fans.
The two Davids had protracted personal and legal battles over when Mustaine disbanded the group in 2002 after suffering a debilitating arm injury, then released The System Has Failed two years later under the band's name, but without Ellefson's participation.
It was purportedly a Mustaine solo effort that took the more familiar Megadeth moniker for contractual reasons. Mustaine's version of the feud appeared in his very candid, page-turning autobiography, Mustaine.
Ellefson -- who, like Mustaine, has also since embraced devout Christianity -- returned to the group in 2010, and this year released an autobiography, My Life with Deth.
"The key thing is that our ups and downs are in the past tense. We've resolved our differences, and part of that happened when I turned my life around," Mustaine says. "And even though I was disagreeing with him on a lot of stuff, I still loved the guy."
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As far as the legal dispute, which found Ellefson (unsuccessfully) suing for music rights and royalties, Mustaine feels that it was "other people" in Ellefson's own then-troubled life that pushed him to file papers.
"The end result is that we are friends again and spend time together happily every day," Mustaine adds. "And we pray every night before we go onstage. But it's sort of like a football prayer where we're saying 'Let's not break a leg or lose an eyeball out there!'" (laughs)
As for thrashing in the Bayou City, Mustaine does not have any single overpowering memory of playing here, though rock history notates that Megadeth's July 17, 1993 gig at The Woodlands was the next-to-last one the band opened for Aerosmith on the Get a Grip tour.
They were summarily fired after the next day's show in Dallas due to Mustaine's comments and behavior.
Mustaine says that assurances made to the band about their sound check, playing time, signage, and stage space fell short of what he was promised, and his frustration grew as the tour progressed. This writer was at that Houston show, and recalls Mustaine was particularly bitter and combative throughout the set in his comments to the audience.
"What happened was someone threw an Aerosmith shirt onstage, and I blew my nose in it and threw it back in the audience," Mustaine recalls. "Then I did a radio interview [In Dallas] and I had been drinking. The DJ asked me why we didn't have long to play, and I said it was 'because Aerosmith didn't have long to live.' And as soon as I said it, I thought 'Oh, what have you done, Dave..."
And while Mustaine says that he and members of Aerosmith "don't swap Christmas cards" today, he does remember them as being "gracious and classy" about the split. He also says "that was a different Dave... before I was saved and doing heroin."
He also thinks some jealously played a part in his actions. "I wanted my life to be better and I saw that theirs was because they had gotten sober," he says. "So, yeah, we were probably a little snotty."
Today, with Jesus in his life and drugs and booze out of it, Dave Mustaine enjoys his non-musical life just relaxing with his wife and two children on a spread that he readily admits is a reality only because of his fans' support and belief in Megadeth's music.
"I've got horses! And I've got this little tractor, just like the one John Bonham is riding at the beginning of The Song Remains the Same. How cool is that?" he enthuses. "But I have this lifestyle because of the [the fans], and it makes me try that harder every night."
So, in addition to tractoring and horse riding, what else does Mustaine plan to do at the end of this tour?
"Go right home and listen to my Aerosmith records!" he laughs. "And actually, I listen to them all the time!"
Megadeth plays tonight with Fear Factory and Nonpoint at Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas in Bayou Place. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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