The Big Four Recap - City of Devils Style

On Saturday we were busy promoting the Black Math Horsemen show at 3 Clubs (thank you all for attending), so we dispensed Professor Bunkum + 1 to cover a a larger event out in Indio.  The Big Four Festival.  Perhaps you heard about it.   Let’s tune into the Professor’s review, delivered with the wit and tragedy that can only be achieved by a music business part-timer on parole from his normal life:

  • Pasadena, c. 12:00 p.m.: Shuttle bus is leaving.  The driver had Master of Puppets on repeat, then put on Reign in Blood.  Things got tense, so he switched it to Screaming for Vengeancewith a bonus track of “Devil’s Child” (live), coming right after “Devil’s Child” (not live).  By the time we arrive, I have heard that song eight times.
  • Indio, Parking Lot 5:  I guess us media types don’t ride the bus, so we get dumped off in the wrong parking lot to pick up our “credentials.”  I bring along my friend—I mean media assistant—Shad, whom I just contacted the day before.  Amazingly, he didn’t know about the show at all (having kids will do that), so he’s pretty psyched to have a free tic.  We are forced to walk a half mile from the stage to get our packet of wristbands.
  • Indio, Parking Lot 1:  We pick up our stuff and start to prepare, hitting the whiskey before we enter the grounds.  Worried about searches, we finish the bottle, which was stupid because they didn’t search our bag.  Oh well. 
  • “VIP” Area:  We are now standing around with hundreds of other VIP’s.  I miss the photos for ANTHRAX.  At these sorts of events, photos can only be taken for the first three songs.  I can’t imagine these bands care about looking unclean b/c it’s thrash metal for cryin' out loud, but that’s tradition, and somebody needs a job enforcing arbitrary rules, so there you have it.
  • Photo Pit for MEGADETH:  Wow, this is cool.  I’m standing a few feet from the stage.  I was directed around to some backstage area by mistake.  I’ve already had a few too many drinks to be taking serious photos, but I’m convinced this state lends itself to a certain reckless joie de vivre that will manifest itself in my art.  Good thing I read my camera manual on the way down.  The band comes on, and I snap a ton of shots.  We’re supposed to get three songs, but there’s some incident with a guy in a wheelchair, and we’re hustled out after two.  Damn.  Got some good pix of all members though.  Mustaine is just a beast on rhythm and Ellefson is so underrated it’s sick.  I don’t know why this band always comes off a little thin and tinny sounding to me, but they do.


  • VIP Area:  More drinks, and I better get some food, so I opt for bratwurst, fries and water.  Good combo to offset any amount of boozing. 
  • Photo Pit for SLAYER:  Now it’s going down.  Nobody knows what will happen, but all the photogs seem convinced the crowd will do something ridiculous during the opening moments.  The band takes the stage to “World Painted Blood.”  That’s a good, grinding and unique tune, but I wish they had just walked up to the mic and launched into “War Ensemble.”  “World Painted Blood” gives the crowd a chance to warm up with something slower.  Oh well; still, I get good shots of the front three. I’m pissed that the photo area is so far down, I can’t get the drummer.  One challenge of live shots is to get the whole band, but it’s basically impossible in this set up.  It’s a tragedy when somebody like Lombardo isn’t given equal footing for exposure.  But still, I’m five feet away from Slayer!  In the middle of the second song, my memory card fills up and I delete some shots and switch it to the highest res jpg.  A rookie mistake, and I’m bummed.  It’s hard to take photos of Slayer rather than just watch them.  A couple other photographers are singing along, ignoring their artistic duties.  Some of them look like this could be just another day at the office.  Those guys must be seriously worried about this crowd.  Araya’s hair in the wind makes him look more menacing than normal, and King’s really focused on his playing, really hitting it.  I wish they would have let us stay or let us back in when Hanneman came on to play “South of Heaven” and “Angel of Death.”  Slayer is clearly out for blood.  No talk, all business.  “Postmortem” right into “Raining Blood” is unexpected and awesome. “The Anti-Christ”?  -- very nice.  Little mosh pits throughout the crowd, like small communities of homogenously sick individuals.  I want to get back upfront for more shots.


  • Photo Pit for METALLICA:  Now it’s dark and the anticipation is palpable.  The band comes on with “Creeping Death.”  I get a lot of shots of Trujillo.  I experiment with manual focus but that’s a bad idea after a day of drinking.  A few good shots are lost before I switch back.  Trujillo and Hetfield are a great duo.  They lock into the rhythm with each other a few times.  Hammett is off doing his own thing, like all the other weirdos enough to be a good lead guitarist.  From “Creeping” it’s into “Bell Tolls.”  Seeing Trujillo do his duck walk this close is just plain heavy.  Our last song in the photo pit is “Fuel.”  Lots of flames to time the shots to.  I even take a little video with my iPhone because my four year old son is convinced the chorus says “Give me food, give me fries, give me something on the side!”  Now I’ve got proof.  Metallica is on tonight too.  The sound suffers from being outside, but on the other hand there is no echo.  Lars’ drumming seems tighter than the last two times I saw them.  Their set drags a little because they pick “Cyanide” and “All Nightmare Long” from Death Magnetic.  They should have canned one of those in favor of any of the three lead off tracks from that disc, which are all cool in their own way.  They also play “Sanitarium” and “Fade To Black,” which skews things too heavily towards ballads.  The coolest part for me is seeing “Orion” in the desert night.  Trujillo pulls it off, and the mood is somber.   Most of the rest of the set is predictable, except “Blackened” following “Master.”  The “Am I Evil” jam is a little ridiculous.  How do you deal with five guitarists playing a simple riff?  And the drummers were standing up like they were playing timbales at a Santana concert.  When the rest step off and the  band rips into “Hit The Lights”, it’s in stark contrast to the campfire singalong we just witnessed. 


All in all, a very memorable day.  People were clearly way into it.  There wasn’t much talk from any of the bands about how cool it was to be doing this, but must say I was annoyed when they questioned the the crowd with “How you doing Indio?”.  If this was the Scorps, I'd give them a pass.  But these guys live here.  The whole population of Indio would have fit on that field, with room to spare.  I don’t know if this will tour, but I can't see this being the one and only American date.  Metallica is too business savvy to let this pass without cashing in a bit more, and the other bands know this is their ticket.

On the way back, we were made to walk in a huge horseshoe path rather than take a simple left to our bus.  I had to jump a fence and tweaked my knee pretty good. On the bus, we heard two loud pops around Claremont and pulled over to see that someone  had shot at two of our windows. They were shattered on the outside pane only.