It’s 09:27, June 26th and I’m travelling the Prague C line metro south east to Roztyly, where in about 30min I’ll start teaching for the day. Last night, sometime around 23:00, I forgot what day it was. My name I remembered. I knew I was an English teacher, and living in Prague. But what I’d done earlier that day? No idea. Was it the weekend? Did I have to work the next day? After maybe 30 seconds it all came back to me. If this was some kind of temporary amnesia, it wasn’t alcohol induced; I blame the circle pit. And who were the orchestrators of this collective madness? Well, SLAYER of course.
I’ve had my fair share of gig related “adventures”. Lost a shoe to a patch of bamboo on a train-track after MOGWEI; Casually tried to walk into a strangers house to charge my phone after AC/DC; at KILLING JOKE I got battered so much that I looked like I’d been flogged; chucked out of MOTORHEAD mid-set; wrestled ALEC EMPIRE to the ground after he jumped into the crowd. And so on. Yes, sometimes alcohol was involved. It’d been a while though. The last full-on metal gig I’d been to before last night was maybe DECAPITATED in London about 6 years ago and I’d kept it pretty low-key since then. I wasn’t planning to make this “a mad one”, but two or three songs into the support band’s set the top was off and there’s no turning back from that. It just happened.
Full disclosure here, I was a little bit drunk. Not hammered, but you know, three beers and a couple of home-pour whiskeys will get the juices flowing. Also, I have a method when it comes to live shows, especially when it’s packed and the venue’s pretty large: I don’t go to the bar. From arrival at the venue, I opportunistically insinuate myself closer and closer to the stage. It doesn’t take too long to get to the action (being stuck behind some rigid dude standing with his arms crossed is not acceptable: we came here to rock damnit!). So it serves me well to have a few pre-show drinks to loosen up and then I can let adrenaline do the rest.
I’d already seen Slayer a few years back in Glasgow, but it was my friend’s first time. The two of us arrived just as ANTHRAX were getting into it (they were the support). I’ve never been a rabid fan, but I’ve always liked them and I know the “hits”. They were great. The energy and enthusiasm of the band is so apparent. They all clearly have such a joy to play, and who can resist that? I hadn’t really thought about who their current singer would be. I was pleased when I saw it was Joey Belladonna. He knows how to work a crowd. The band played hard and the crowd was into it. It’s no criticism of ANTHRAX or SLAYER, but the sound of the venue wasn’t great. The drums were clear, but for both bands the vocals were kind of lost in the back and the guitars and bass turned into a bit of a stew. Still, tracks like “Indians”, “Madhouse” and “I Am The Law” were irresistibly anthemic.
It wasn’t long into SLAYER’s set that the circle pit formed; I’d estimate maybe 4 seconds. This became my home. I lost myself in it. I forgot about life outside. Familiar songs washed over me, “Seasons of the Abyss”, “God Hates Us All”, “South of Heaven”, some I didn’t recognise. I think the last SLAYER album I listened to was “Christ Illusion” and that came out over 10 years ago. The band played hard, as you know they always will – Kerry King rocked back and forth intently, like he’s permanently head-butting the music out of himself as he always seems to be doing onstage – and the stage setup with bursts of fire and a suitably ghoulish backdrop added to the atmosphere. The clarity of sound, like I said earlier, wasn’t great, but for us circle pit dwellers it was no major concern. We had our purpose. Shoes were lost, bodies regularly fell and sprawled on the floor, but pit etiquette always prevailed and they would be quickly lifted up and thrown back into the fray. When I had to tie my shoelace a protective wall kindly formed around me. At one stage I was holding a mobile phone above my head and intently pointing at it for 2 minutes before the grateful owner finally took it from me. Such was life in the pit.
The crowd was a mix of old and young and all in between, always a positive indicator that a veteran band continues to draw in new fans while keeping hold of the hardcore. As a shirtless, sweat-soaked mid-level maniac I would enthusiastically slap the chest of every other shirtless pit-dweller I’d pass… they weren’t all so into that. C’est la vie. Midway through the set I lost my friend and approaching the end of the set I felt my energy was draining. I realised I could actually leave the pit. I moved to safer ground. It was here, as the band ripped into the essential climax of “Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death”, that I started to consider my situation. I was without money, my phone, my wallet, my keys. All were at my friend’s house. We hadn’t made a plan for where to meet if we were separated. This wasn’t the first time I’d put myself in a pickle in Prague. I started considering my options. What would I do if I couldn’t find my friend? Could I survive a night outside if I had to? Fortunately after 10 minutes outside the venue we were reunited and I didn’t have to put my feeble urban survival skills to the test.
So what of the gig altogether? I’ve been to better. Better sound for sure. Performance? Good, but nothing life changing. There are murmurings that this will be Slayer’s last ever tour. Although EXODUS guitarist Gary Holt seems a fine player, I wonder if the untimely death of Jeff Hanneman was a portent that the time for SLAYER to be laid to rest would and should soon be upon us. It’s hard to imagine a world without SLAYER, but all great bands must be laid to rest eventually. Did I enjoy myself though? Definitely. I discovered that at 37 I’m not too old to get chucked about at a metal gig and that’s good to know, because in about 3 weeks I’ll be in amongst it when PHILIP H. ANSELMO & THE ILLEGALS come to town. I’ve a whole new set of welts and bruises to look forward to. I’m excited … and a little terrified.
Live report by Tom
**Please support the underground! It’s vital to the future of our genre.**