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Rust In Peace 20th Anniversary Tour: Megadeth, Testament and Exodus in Washington, D.C.

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 @ 2:19 PM

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At the 9:30 Club

When it comes to classic thrash metal, you’re either an “old-school motherfucker” or just an “old fucker,” at least in Exodus frontman Rob Dukes’ book. And unfortunately for him, it seemed that mostly “old fuckers” showed up early to see Exodus open Megadeth’s thrash-down-memory-lane Rust In Peace 20th anniversary tour stop in our nation’s capital.

Try as he might, Dukes had a hell of a time stirring up any sort of action for much of Exodus’ 40-minute set, which drew from the band’s first three albums. And he wasn’t shy about letting the crowd know he wasn't very happy about it.

"How come everyone's standing around with their dicks in their hands?" he barked after "Fabulous Disaster," the third song in. "How come everyone's not bloody and sweaty?"

Maybe it was because it was a rainy Monday, or a 7 p.m. start time. Maybe it was because everyone was still groggy from the lost hour of sleep of "springing forward" the day before. Whatever the reason, Exodus were greeted with an indifference that was tough to shake.

Despite a sluggish start themselves, the band kicked into gear with "Disaster" and were their usual juggernaut selves the rest of the way, with Gary Holt and Lee Altus trading one impeccable solo after another through the likes of "A Lesson In Violence" and "Brain Dead" while Dukes continued to cajole the crowd after every song.

Finally, he got some movement and when the band ripped into "Toxic Waltz," a full-blown circle pit opened up. Yet even though he was able to command something of a wall of death for the closer "Strike of the Beast," Dukes threw up his hands in defeat in the end.

"Testament and Megadeth are up next. You can stand around for them, too," he shrugged.

Testament, however, got a much more enthusiastic response. A lot more "old-school motherfuckers" must have showed during the set change because the sold-out crowd went ape shit when "Over The Wall" kicked in and there was no real need for hulking frontman Chuck Billy to stir things up with his sawed-off mic stand.

Playing their raging 1987 debut The Legacy in its entirety, Testament were loud, loose and even a little bit sloppy — but not in a bad way. With ex-Megadeth guitarist Glen Drover filling in for the absent Alex Skolnick, who is touring with his jazz trio, the band didn't miss a step.

Indeed, Drover showed more moxie and seemed to have a better chemistry as a hired gun with Testament than he did as a member of Megadeth, as he and guitarist Eric Peterson were able to laugh off messing up the backing vocals during "Alone in the Dark" and Billy took great delight in flicking picks at him as the set wound down. Where Exodus were stiff at the start and belligerent — understandably — throughout, Testament looked like they were having a great time from the get-go — and their enthusiasm was infectious.

While there's a certain sameness to The Legacy when performed end to end, owing to the trudging backbeat that drives many of the songs, the raw, reckless energy, crunching riffs and Billy's roaring vocals resonate as much now as they did back in the day — especially with Testament bringing it with the gusto they showed at the 9:30. On this night, they ruled.

If Megadeth mainman Dave Mustaine was at all psyched about the prospect of showcasing the landmark Rust In Peace or the return of prodigal bassist/partner in crime Dave Ellefson, you’d barely know it by looking at him at the 9:30.

Detached and workman-like for much of Megadeth’s 80-minute set, save for a couple Ted Nugent-style patriotic rants and one hilarious skewering of a “fan” who saw fit to mock his Christianity, Mustaine seemed content to snarl his vocals through his mop of hair and shred away in his own little world behind the mic, only occasionally playing to the crowd. Ellefson and second guitarist du jour Chris Broderick were much more animated and personable by comparison.

It had been years since I'd listened to Rust In Peace, and I'd forgotten just how fast and technically demanding much of its material is — so Mustaine's distance may have had more to do with concentration than aloofness, especially given that some of the songs had never been played live before this tour. Or he could have just been his usual asshole self. Guess we'll never know.

"Five Magics" and "Poison Was The Cure" are as skull scrambling as the much more familiar one-two punch of "Holy Wars" and "Hangar 18," and Megadeth charged through them all with aplomb — despite a mix that was tinny and shrill, though obviously better than it was in Baltimore the next night when the band bailed after three songs because the P.A., according to Mustaine, "took a shit." The solo trade-offs and turn-on-a-dime gymnastics in "Holy" and "Hangar" still amaze to this day, especially when played one right after the other.

Much crunchier material — "Peace Sells ... But Who's Buying?" "Wake Up Dead," "Symphony for Destruction," the bland "Trust," the lone new song "Head Crusher" — book-ended Rust and allowed Mustaine and company to save their energy for, and catch their breath after, its rigors, which was a smart move all around. While not nearly as crushing as Testament, Megadeth dazzled at times and satisfied throughout, and it was good to see Ellefson back in the fold, even if it was left up to him to remind everybody.

With another "old school motherfucker" alongside Mustaine, the band seems less mercenary and that much more genuine now, even if Mustaine doesn't seem to notice.

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