Some gigs will go down in history. Some gigs will be relived thousands of times over through the shaky images and video taken on your phone while you’re sweating and writhing to the music of a band that defines your life, a genre and a generation. Some gigs will live on forever in the oratory of what you did or what you saw as you tell others and connect with the person you’re imparting your memories too. Slayer on their Final World Tour date in Auckland at North Shore’s Eventfinda Stadium last night was exactly one of these gigs that will always live forever; on a night our nation will sadly also never forget, as we comprehend how it feels to have the effect of an act of terrorism on home soil rip through our societal consciousness.
Kicking off the evening with a fun set from Anthrax, they were clearly, totally feeling it and the first song I’m front and centre for is Got The Time which is quickly followed up by a raucous rip through of Madhouse. There might be a lot of distinguished grey in Scott Ian’s beard these days, but my gosh he’s crushing it as if it were thirty years ago. Like me, Anthrax was born in the early 80s and although they were formed in the Queens area of New York, they bring that Bay Area Thrash feeling in spades. With this being my inaugural Anthrax gig, it dawns on me what a buzz it is to see Scott Ian playing live right in front of me.
Scott Ian has always been such an excellent ambassador for metal as he makes connections with other bands and artists of all genres. I realise in hindsight that Scott Ian has always been what I wanted to be when I grew up, a fun-loving person who really adores their shit, loves doing what they do and is straight up inspirational.
Joey Belladonna was showcasing his full tenor range that night, impressing the crowd by holding notes for eternity, as we all eagerly try to match what he was bringing. “I’m so fucking happy to be here tonight. We’re all here to be together tonight, right? I fucking love you guys out there right now, fuck yeah!” Joey enthused. “You’re looking good out there and it’s been too fucking long man…Yeah like I say I missed everybody, it’s been too long and I really mean it when I say I’ve missed everyone, it’s just a good feeling to be here man, you guys are beautiful tonight… and even though there’s some shit going on we’d like to say thank you very much to everybody hanging in there tonight I know it’s a very sad night, but it’s not [too] because we are here tonight to celebrate fucking metal!... does anybody out there feel like taking on the law tonight?”
As Joey led the crowd in, I Am The Law, Scott erupted into the riff and Joey came forward with handfuls of picks to throw out into the front row, before climbing down into the photography pit area and getting amongst it with the people and motioning for a circle pit to open. As the lights drop away and we’re all mingling in the warm, sweaty space, a slow clap starts, and Joey leads us in a crowd chant preparing us for Indians. As the crowd mingles with Joey’s vocals and the air is permeated with the undeniable scent of the sweetleaf, Joey raises his hand to his face and gives it the ol’ toke toke on the joint signal, looks like Joey has picked up how we roll in Aotearoa.
As Jonathan Donais runs from stage left to stage right, whipping us into a frenzy with his energy, the breakdown of Indians became a mid-song singalong led by Joey with Scott using his hands to orchestrate our screams and mimed, “One More” and led us into another round.
Finally, Scott Ian addressed the crowd asking “New Zealand! How the hell are you? Gawdammit it’s taken 23 fucking years to get to say that again, we apologise for the long wait and thank you so much for having us back!” Scott goes on to say “I’ve got to say thank you to Slayer for letting us come along and play all these fucking shows with them. It’s a pretty good team up, right?! Alright, my friends, I’m going to ask you possibly the stupidest question that anyone’s going to ask you this evening and that is, do you like Thrash Metal?” cue the crowd absolutely losing their minds and screaming a cry of affirmation right back to Scott. Then, Scott throws out the sickest burn, “I noticed that the guy in the S.O.D shirt didn’t put his hand up!” and the whole place falls about laughing. “So, I’m going to ask again my friends, maybe you didn’t hear me! What I meant to ask Auckland was, do you fucking love Thrash Metal?!” “Of course you do, that’s why you’re fucking here!” screams Scott before leading us into a peal through of Evil Twin.
It’s a special night at Eventfinda tonight, you thrash dance like no-one’s watching and you Facetime your friends that couldn’t be here like you have zero fucks about your data plan! A searing rendition of Anti-Social explodes and Joey looms directly over the mosh pit; but you know what, this night was anything but anti-social. As mates meet up or people spot each other in the crowd that they haven’t seen in a long time, or new mates are born in the seething pit; it’s undeniable that Anthrax brought us all together that night.
As the lights come up so Anthrax can look over the venue it’s noticeable how many ‘Scott Ian Tribute Beards’ are in the crowd. Then a stoppage in play comes in the form of drummer Charlie Benante standing up and showing his obvious displeasure with the effort the crowd is giving; as Scott cries “Oooh Charlie is calling you out. Charlie watches you all night and I think he’s just a little bit concerned that some of you are not having as much fun as you should be having! I know it’s been a long time, I get it. So I’m going to remind you, this is the War Dance and I think you know what to do! Let’s see you do it a little bit fucking faster and as for the rest of you in here, no fucking excuse, you can jump up and down, you can bang your fucking heads, you can even just throw the horns, but New Zealand, we’re all going to move OK?!”
With that, the circle pit opened up to being about two thirds larger than it was just before, water sprays out over the front of the crowd to dowse them down and as the song winds down, Anthrax break into a brief flurry of the closing solo riff of Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell and anyone who stood in this very building to witness Pantera on their Great Southern Trendkill tour, gets a little giddy.
Scott returns to address us one more time, assuring us that they’ll be back again soon and definitely won’t leave it as long as last time, as a tsunami of picks are thrown out by each band member and they all collect together at front and centre of stage, as the lighting rig illuminates them and the crowd, so we can snap a pic of them assembled before us, with Joey crying out one more salvo before leaving the stage…“Long Live Rock and Roollllll.”
As I chatted with other punters in the band break about amazing metal gigs gone by in this very venue, of course the aforementioned Pantera show; but also Korn on their Life is Peachy tour or Tool on their Aenima tour, it’s become apparent to me that Eventfinda Stadium once known as North Shore Events Centre, is quite possibly the secret home of metal and hard rock. Turning back to the stage after a bit of ageing metaller banter, a thrill of excitement whips through the crowd as a huge silky curtain has been erected to obscure the stage as techs furiously prepare for the coming of the assembled deities that are Slayer. As we’re waiting for them to take centre stage little bursts of Slayer chants rise from our mouths, claps and screams and the undeniable scent of weed…and meat pies. So many meat pies were being consumed by the punters as they chowed down to refuel for the mosh of a lifetime.
As the opening notes of their set ring out, back-projected crosses slowly invert on the screen, then a cluster of pentagrams swarm before us, ahead of two giant Slayer logos swimming in front of our eyes, as fire spurts illuminated the stage behind the curtain before it dropped to reveal what we’ve all been waiting for, the incomparable Slayer standing there with authority and the promise to blow our minds, one last time. Seeing this show with a close friend who was witnessing Slayer for their very first time tonight, makes it even more special and poignant.
It’s frenetic, there’s no time to collect yourself as Tom Araya strides forward and launches into the cadence and note-perfect vocalisation of Slayer’s best and gains a blisteringly positive response.
As you watch Slayer shred, you realise that this is why Slayer is Slayer; and this is why when you’re at any other gig, anywhere in the world, regardless of genre, someone, somewhere in the crowd will scream “Play some fucking Slayer!”
Tom Araya vehemently spits the words to God Hates Us All as they carry even more weight on this evening, as our nation works to pick up the pieces, after a disgusting, cowardly act of terrorism had been committed on our shores, perpetrated by some of our own people.
Although the cries of approval from the crowd are loud and lusty, mostly the assembled are standing stock still, drinking in every cymbal splash, every riff and every syllable that is uttered from the mouth of our icon, Tom. As the crowd has completely given over, we can feel the heat from the fire spurting all around the stage blasting out to us where we stand. As the lights spill into the crowd so Tom can see us, he keeps his stage banter to a minimum as Slayer are here to give us as much of their cuts in their set list as they can and potentially because Tom’s trying to keep his emotions in check. When Tom does address us for the first time saying “Thank you. I want to thank you very much for coming tonight. Thank you very much. You ready?! Are you here to celebrate life? I want everybody on the count of three to scream and yell ‘War’. Alright? Take a deep breath and yell ‘War’. Can you do that?!”
Of course, we all burst our uvula screaming back our direction as Tom emanates his intent from the very core of his being and Kerry King stalks the stage, a beast possessed by the metal perfection he creates. It somehow doesn’t feel real what we’re witnessing, all members are so incredibly perfect in their performance that it takes a moment to realise what we’re having delivered to us, as if we’re in a time rip or perpetual loop of a live performance film, as Slayer have made the decision to go out while they’re still vitally brutal and excruciatingly skilled.
There are moments that when the light hits Tom just right, he looks just as he did thirty years ago, it’s only the flash of frosty white beard that gives you a clue that you’re actually in time as you should be, right here, in this moment with Slayer.
As Tom, Kerry and Gary Holt moved freely around the stage, making sure they spent some time giving back the love they were receiving from us and all the while Tom surveying us with his intense, penetrating eyes. Leaning into the setlist now, Tom addresses us “This next song, is called Payback. Do you guys know what Payback means? It’s something else… Payback is how God keeps score because God does listen… but you’re right, Payback does make you say ‘Bitch!’ That’s what Payback is, Payback’s a bitch motherfucker!”
Moving into the solo on Seasons of the Abyss, Tom takes a moment to smile out at the crowd, enjoying our insanity, relishing at the moment with us as much as we are with him. As the crowd came in exceedingly loudly on Dead Skin Mask, screaming the lyrics, Tom smiled and shook his head, stepping away from the mic to allow us to take the reins from him for an instant, he loved it and then prowled back to the mic.
As Slayer took leave of the stage for a moment, it was less of a pause for encore and more of a time to reset ourselves before the stage was washed with red light and we knew what was about to happen, Raining Blood was about to be played for us for the very last time in New Zealand by these benchmark makers of metal. While it was obviously well loved and received Gary, Tom and Kerry moved from the back of the stage to the front, advancing as one and filled with menace. Surprisingly enough it was Angel of Death that perhaps had the largest response of the evening, as Gary completed his solo, he graciously leaned forward to accept a beer from the crowd and chugged it down.
Then it happened. That feeling that no one wanted to acknowledge would happen. The house lights came up and I felt my stomach drop through the floor as I comprehended that this was it, this was the last time I was going to see Slayer perform and then I got very emotional, as did Tom. Kerry was throwing out picks. Paul Bostaph was throwing out drum sticks. Tom regarding the crowd, standing still and smiling, taking us all in, a moment of sharing of the appreciation between band and crowd, as Tom tried to look at each individual as we chanted ‘Slayer’. Tom was soaking it all in, committing it to memory with the most beautiful smile on his face and you could see he’ll remember it forever and so will we as he slowly made his progress from stage left to right, pausing every now and then to create a moment with a fan, give praise hands, or stroking his beard and smiling as he must have connected with someone in the front that’s sporting the same look, or maturity. Moving with quiet grace, Tom looked at everyone from the front to the back and in the seats to the sides of the venue.
As Tom slowly turned and walked back the other way... he returned to the mic and gave us his final utterance, “Thank you very much. All I can say is Thank You… Always celebrate life and love your brother. Love your Brother. I’m going to miss you guys.” then he turned and left the stage.