AUSTIN -- In the time since Testament last visited San Antonio on June 3, 2009, your friendly neighborhood intrepid Testa-head has traveled far and near to see the California thrashers do their thing. Two trips to Emo's East near the University of Texas campus bookended a double-shot of concerts on, of all places, a cruise ship in January 2011.
One of those Austin shows took place Tuesday night before an estimated 2,000 dedicated followers inside the 2,200 capacity Emo's. Unlike the previous Austin show with Anthrax and Death Angel on Oct. 29, 2011, Testament headlined this time around, playing a 16-song, 90-minute set with guests Overkill, Flotsam & Jetsam and 4Arm, out of Australia.
Top-dog status afforded Testament the luxuries of a big stage, extended set time and even multiple banners atop the platform-high drum kit manned by journeyman Gene Hoglan. The band, just starting its 26th year since 1987 debut album The Legacy, pulled out a few tunes rarely, if ever, played live while dropping a couple of mainstays.
The original quartet of vocalist Chuck Billy, guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson, and bassist Greg Christian, along with Hoglan, had fans headbanging early with "Rise Up" off latest album Dark Roots of Earth. It's always a good sign from a band's perspective when a crowd digs your new material, and Emo's inhabitants were no exception. They opened a mosh pit, fist-pumped and bodysurfed (see slideshow at top) to "Native Blood," the title track and the absolutely blistering "True American Hate."
But the classics were certainly not forgotten.
It was good to see Testament bring back 1988's "Trial By Fire." The mellow guitar intro gives way to a brutally heavy 3-plus-minute tune that is most responsible for yours truly getting into Testament back in the day. Billy informed the crowd that it was one of the music videos the band has shot in Texas.
Testament chose two random fans from the pre-show meet-and-greet to join them on stage to sing "Into The Pit." Only one fan showed up, and he basically just sang those three words. The other fan, who was celebrating a birthday in the front row, chickened out despite pleas from his significant other to go on stage. Meanwhile, a certain diehard was singing classics "Practice What You Preach" and "The New Order" word-for-word while rocking out along the front-row rail on Skolnick's side of the stage.
Testament dug into its vault with "Riding The Snake" and "Eyes of Wrath." Both are from 1999's The Gathering, an album that DevilDriver singer Dez Fafara told me in 2010 was "as perfect a record as Back In Black by AC/DC" (see interview here). Testament kept that CD's "D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)" and "3 Days In Darkness" in the set as well, making it a surprising four tunes from that record. It would've been a bigger surprise had Testament kept 1989 obscure tune "Envy Life" in the set from the last tour or played anything from 1994's Low, particularly "Hail Mary."
A greater variety of albums represented would have whetted more appetites if a couple more of the consistently played classics were nixed in favor of, say, obscure tracks such as "Falling Fast" or "Malpractice," both of which come from 1990's Souls of Black. But that's probably just a Testament fanatic's wish list speaking. The 1992 CD The Ritual and 1997's Demonic, like Souls of Black, were left in the dust on this night. Nevertheless, it was good to see the band make an effort to turn fans on to different tunes live while overplayed songs such as "Over The Wall" and "The Legacy" were dropped.
Testament has always deserved to be mentioned in the upper echelon of thrash bands, regardless of the genre's separation of The Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax) "and everyone else." Billy's survival from a form of cancer called germ cell seminoma in 2001 alone merits credit for the band's staying power. Forget getting wiser as one gets older. Testament continues to get heavier with their newest releases, including Tuesday's finale, the title track to 2008's The Formation of Damnation.
Here's hoping the band continues to stay heavy and healthy. And that Hoglan -- who told me shortly after meeting with long-time Austin resident and Dangerous Toys/Broken Teeth/Evil United vocalist Jason McMaster that he "keeps my schedule open" -- signs on permanently. And that Testament continues to tour South Texas.
A long overdue return to San Antonio wouldn't be bad either.
For more exclusive Testament coverage, including my 70000 Tons of Metal cruise interview with Billy in 2011, click on the "suggested" links in blue below. Stay tuned for another review of support acts Overkill, Flotsam & Jetsam and 4Arm.
SETLIST: Rise Up, More Than Meets The Eye, Burnt Offerings, Native Blood, True American Hate, Dark Roots of Earth, Into The Pit, Practice What You Preach, Riding The Snake, Eyes of Wrath, Trial By Fire, The Haunting, The New Order, D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate), 3 Days In Darkness, The Formation of Damnation
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