After witnessing my first MEGADETH show earlier in the year on February 27, 1995 with openers CORROSION OF CONFORMITY, I was ready for more MEGADETH. The first leg of their Youthanasia tour featured a great setlist where staples from Rust in Peace like “Holy Wars…” and “Hangar 18” were performed absolutely flawlessly. It was a warm Saturday night in the middle of another beautiful Los Angeles summer and I was pumped up.
In hindsight, 1995 was probably one of the last years that metal in the mainstream was huge in the U.S. before Load and nu metal hit. However, the zealous crowd of metalheads didn’t know or care of this impending doom. As soon as my mom pulled into the parking lot to drop my younger brother and I off, you could see a sea of long hairs (back when long hair was the norm for metalheads). My younger brother got too intimidated by the look of the various misfits and miscreants in the parking lot and quickly told me that he couldn’t do it. So I jumped out of the car and quickly sold my brother’s ticket and went inside the Santa Monica Civic.
I worked my way near the front of stage left to watch tour openers, FEAR FACTORY. It was safe to say that the majority of the audience had never heard of the band nor knew that their recently released album at the time, Demanufacture, would later be recognized as a landmark album. After a couple songs, the crowd began getting into it. It was the first time that I heard such machine gun riffing used in such an aggressive and attacking fashion. At one point during their set, guitarist Dino Cazares gave a shout out to all the fat Mexicans in the audience. That gave everyone a good laugh. After the show, I made it a point to track down FEAR FACTORY’s albums and subsequently, became a huge fan.
Next up was some little known new band called KORN. They were the most un-metal looking band possible - baggy jeans, adidas track pants, white t-shirts, dreadlocks, and bouncy stage movements. When they started playing, a lot of people didn’t know what to do, including me. Do I dance? Do I bounce up and down? Do I just headbang? With their charisma and chunky heavy grooves, KORN quickly won over everyone who was quickly moshing like crazy. And when vocalist Jonathan Davis busted out the bagpipes for their final song, the crowd went apeshit (pun not intended).
Arizona speed metal vets, FLOTSAM AND JETSAM, went on next but had the unenviable task of following KORN. KORN had made such an impression on the audience that FLOTSAM didn’t get as much love as they had hoped. They performed well though and the only song I remember was “Smoked Out.”
The wait for MEGADETH to come onstage seemed like an eternity. In anticipation, the crowd pushed forward as much as possible to get closer to the stage. This resulted in everyone in the front of the crowd to get smashed like sardines. Finally, when the band took the stage with “Skin ‘O My Teeth,” the insanity started. Tons of testosterone was unleashed via pushing, moshing, headbanging, punching, elbows flying, and random crowd surfers floating around…you know, the usual shit.
Just staying very aware of your surroundings was the key to survival. Also, as a tip for all you rookies: It always helps to stand behind a big, tall guy because he will likely be able to deflect all the people that try to run into him. As a result, you’ll be able to shield yourself from the chaos. Another technique that works well is to surround yourself with heavy girls. Their natural cushion works wonders in the middle of a frenzy. Also, guys are less inclined to smash into them. Thus, leaving you with more energy to just enjoy the music.
I don’t recall the setlist too well but I just remember it being very well balanced between Youthanasia, Countdown, and Rust in Peace. Of course, they played the obligatory staples like “Peace Sells” and “Anarchy in the USA.” Bassist Dave Ellefson played a bass solo, which is not common among today’s younger metal bands.
One thing that I will never forget was just how crazy the crowd was in the front. I was right near the barrier in front of the stage and it was just mayhem. Sure, I got to watch Marty Friedman up close all night but what a physical price I paid for that. Random boots and shoes from crowd surfers would constantly smack me in the head. At one point, the people behind me were pushing forward so hard that I thought I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen. I even contemplated asking the security guards to pull me out because I was gonna lose it. Man, good thing my little brother didn’t come with me to this show. Haha.
At the end of the show, the band members each threw out guitar picks. Unfortunately, I got Nick Menza’s. Haha. Once the house lights came on, people were all high fiving each other and showing some of the camaraderie that made going to big metal shows fun back then. I was soaked in sweat from head to toe, most of which was not mine. I quickly bought a “Reckoning Day” concert shirt and searched for my uncle outside, who was my ride home. He had been in this country for a while up until that day but had never seen a metal crowd. As soon as we got in his car, he turned to me and said, “Crazy shit!”