Testament, “Sepultura”, Prong, and maybe some other band? Review (First Avenue MN (5/3/17)

By Mike Geronsin

Opening Act: Not even sure there was one, but if there was we showed up late like bastards and didn’t catch a single lick. I ordered a few drinks and noticed my friend Christopher was frantically searching his pockets as if he’d misplaced his wallet. Turns out it was his earlplugs that were missing…his $175 earplugs. (This may seem excessive but he’s a recording engineer so hearing is somewhat important to him.) He raced back to the car to find them as I dodged the onslaught of black metal T-shirts entering the front doors, delicately balancing both of our drinks until getting violently shouldered (like high school) by a thick man in a STAFF shirt. Christopher’s Captain Diet ran coldly down my forearm as I waited for the next band to begin. 

Prong: The trio got very little front stage lighting making them appear as three menacing silhouettes. Their banner, which displayed their signature pitchfork logo, was draped in vain behind Testament’s drum kit making it equally cryptic. The band was given the typical “opening band” mix, which baffled me since Prong had obviously paid their dues throughout their 31 years in the metal scene. The drums were easily the loudest instrument heard, being masterfully played by Art Cruz. Not only is he a tremendous drummer, he can also play complex beats while tossing and catching drumsticks with his roadie. Missing on the bass guitar was the always intense Jason Christopher. I recall him almost pummeling an annoying fan at The Cabooze show about a year ago. He might either be back playing in the band Ministry or he’s enrolled in anger management, who knows. So the “new bass dude” was second loudest followed by Tommy Victor’s husky vocals and sadly coming in a distant 4th place, Tommy’s signature guitar work. I seriously considered inching my way to the soundboard, discreetly reaching over, and nudging the guitar up a db or two…or seven.

They were tight as ever, notably Whose Fist Is This Anyway? caught my ear as particularly locked-in, as well as their closing number Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck. What makes that song so great is the systematic groove (simplistically driven by kick and snare drums) glued together with the unrelenting main riff. But for some reason they opted to play it at almost double the speed. So instead of feeling the irresistible urge to thrust my hips “Jim Carrey style”, I was left with the sensation that Prong either wanted to get the song over with as quickly as possible, or the stage manager was mouthing “WRAP IT UP!”.

With a better mix (more guitar!), a few spotlights, and maybe one more Jack on the rocks in me, Prong would have had one of the best sets ever.

Sepultura“: Let me just get this out of the way. The next band to play was NOT Sepultura. Having no one with the last name Cavalera left in the band, they neither looked or sounded much like the raw Brazilian metal gods from my youth, BUT (and that’s a big but) they were decent, damn decent if I may say so. And though I longed for the manic head-banging dreadlocks of the Cavalera brothers, they did eventually win me over with their own brand of “punch you in the dick” metal. They eventually dipped into the old school catalog in which I (with snobbish sarcasm) exclaimed to my friend, “Seems like we’re watching a really good Sepultura tribute band.” Christopher, already tired of my ill-mannered pessimism, just nodded probably hoping I would just shut my trap and enjoy the show.

Earlier days
Testament: After a quick changeover, the lights dimmed, the intro music began, and the screen slowly lifted (a First Ave staple) exposing a triple-headed snake backdrop and billowing smoke. As the band took the stage I was ecstatic to see that Eric Peterson had rejoined the group on rhythm guitar. He was part of the original Testament lineup but wasn’t with the band the last time we caught them. His presence really solidified the power of the band not to mention his stylish choice of Explorer and V-shaped guitars.

The music began and memories of being a teen head-banging in my room to Practice What You Preach and The New Order rushed into my now Jack-soaked memory. And then, from out of the smoke, appeared……..a lightsaber? Yes, vocalist Chuck Billy was wielding his signature mini mic stand but this time it was glowing red like Vader’s laser blade. It appears that he had upgraded since last time. The band continued pounding out their opening song and Chuck, not content with just holding the glowing mic stand, turned it sideways and began “air-guitaring” alongside Alex Skolnick. What a sight! You’ve got 4/5th’s of the original Testament lineup in front of you and on top of that you have Chuck Billy head-banging and air-guitaring with a lightsaber. How strong was that drink anyway?

The juggernaut of sound filled the venue and brought back familiar riffs, some of which I haven’t heard in years. Songs like The Ritual and Low were particularly on-point. Chuck said he was sick of playing the “same damn songs” every time they visit so they worked hard to ensure a fresh set, and they did, having a decent balance of new and old. I guess you can call it the old and new Testament, haha. Chuck reached up and pretended to tune his air guitar saber. 

Like James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine, it seems that the years have softened even the heaviest of metal’s finest, as Chuck had a few light-hearted moments. During one song he erroneously yelled, “Let’s hear ya Milwaukee!” Catching his mistake he busted out laughing and mumbled a few back-tracking words which were inaudible to me. After the song he told a story of how he and the band spent the day at our local Surly Brewing and made sure to mention Minneapolis and First Avenue to make up for his mistake. What Chuck probably didn’t realize was that most of us were probably thinking, “He’s Chuck Billy and he has earned the right to call us anything he damn well chooses.” It was good to see a frontman of over thirty years genuinely enjoy performing not to mention hearing his voice was as powerful as ever.

As us older guys began feeling the effects of standing for four hours (ironic how the mosh pit, once known for its potential to inflict great bodily pain, had now become a way to stave off old-man aches of stagnation), I was ready to call it a night as the band left the stage for the first time. Luckily Christopher (my ride) wanted to gut it out because I would have missed one of the best encores in recent memory, which included my favorite “old Testament” song Practice What You Preach. Alex made the virtuosically impossible solo seem easy as he stood on one of the three monitor boxes making his stature almost match his enormous soloing ability. The batteries in Chuck’s light saber appeared to have died slightly before the band held out their final crescendo. The crowd roared, almost as if they were honoring the 30 years of service that Testament had provided them.

As we exited the historic venue, we really began to feel like old men. Many of us with sore legs and backs, already feeling tired at 11pm, and removing earplugs (some fancier than others) in hopes of retaining some of our remaining hearing. But one thing that will always remain are the feelings and memories you take home with you, those little adrenaline rushes when a familiar song starts or when the crowd sings together in solidarity. Testament’s legacy continues to roll on, thirty years strong.