Metallica, AC/DC Rule Power Trip Festival: Concert Review

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“This is a celebration!” proclaimed Metallica’s James Hetfield midway through the band’s set at the first-ever all-metal “Power Trip” festival. His comment was actually an understatement: While major metal festivals have been staged for decades, this one placed six of the world’s most legendary heavy metal and hard rock bands in history on one stage at the Polo Grounds in Indio, Calif. — home of Coachella festival and, of course, “Desert Trip,” the similarly billed 2016 classic-rock super-festival that featured Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Although Ozzy Osbourne — who was originally scheduled to perform but pulled out for health reasons, replaced by Judas Priest — it’s safe to say that the metalheads in attendance were not disappointed. To heshers worldwide, the collection of fist-pumping acts was unparalleled, and those with closets full of various shades of black shirts collectively went nuts when the lineup, which featured not only Hetfield and Co. but their longstanding rivals/peers Guns ‘N Roses as well as Iron Maiden, Tool and the first concert in seven years from AC/DC.

If you’re thinking the crowd consisted largely of aging Beavis’ and Buttheads, you’re not wrong: One very awesome official tee shirt featured that duo headbanging on site, and the “newest” group in the lineup, Tool, released their first EP 31 years ago. And though many metalheads’ dreams of collaborations and reunions with past band members didn’t come to fruition, the fest was a testament to what nearly all of these long-running acts do best: hard-rocking classics and stage shows filled with various forms of over-the-toppedness, and with two acts playing per day to allow for proper headlining sets.

Unfortunately, as opening night proved, that’s not always a good thing: Although Iron Maiden was clearly an enormous draw (at least based on the crowd’s collective T-shirt game), their production was a bit limited: It was almost as if the massive, curved video screen that has become a staple of festivals hindered rather than helped them, though singer Bruce Dickenson still did battle with a massive robotic creation of the group’s ghoulish mascot, Eddie, using all sorts of pyro and elaborate weapons. And rather than playing hits like “Run to the Hills,” they stuck to the more deep-fan setlist they’ve been running in arenas this year — always a tricky move at a festival not strictly catered to their fans.

Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Power Trip)
Getty Images for Power Trip

Worse, Guns N’ Roses, who have essentially been on one long tour since three key members reunited in 2016, played an over-long three-hour set that would have been much stronger if it was tighter. And while lead guitarist Slash has never sounded better, the same can’t be said for singer Axl Rose, whose vocals were inconsistent, perhaps due to the dry desert air.

Thankfully, rock valhalla arrived on day 2: Judas Priest and AC/DC were undeniable highlights of the weekend, with the former relentlessly blasting through hits like “A Touch Of Evil” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” with full confidence and a sound-mix that showed off 72-year old singer Rob Halford’s near-operatic range, which he somehow delivered in a series of leather outfits despite the 90-degree-plus heat. Founding guitarist Glenn Tipton, who is suffering from Parkinsons’ Disease, joined the band for their encore, a family-minded move that was clearly relished by the band and their fans.

Angus Young of AC/DC (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Power Trip)
Getty Images for Power Trip

The nearly sold-out crowd was swelling with flashing red devil horns by the time AC/DC took the stage for their first show since 2016, reuniting with singer Brian Johnson (who took a leave of absence that year for hearing related problems) and slammed the field with a 24-song set that included nearly every song a fan could hope for: “Back in Black,” “Dirty Deeds,” “Hell’s Bells,” “For Those About To Rock,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “High Voltage,” “Highway to Hell,” and many more, delivering a great reminder that they’re among the most influential rock bands of all time.

The final day was an ode to two different brands of intensity, with Tool — an outlier in the lineup, as they’re more associated with the ‘90s alt-rock movement than classic metal — playing a preposterously loud, overly ambitious set of their proggy, moody ear-blasts amid surreal psychedelic videos depicting skeletons, body parts, and shape-shifting aliens. Sadly, they do a disservice to fans further back by not allowing close-ups of them playing to appear on the video screens, leaving the audience to wonder whether all of those drum sounds come from superhuman skin-pounder Danny Carey (spoiler from the front: they do).

To close out the festival, reigning lords of the genre Metallica followed up with unquestionably the fest’s most-anticipated set: Even though they’ve been on a massive stadium tour this year and recently played two nights at LA’s SoFi Stadium, the audience went wild for “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Orion,” and a pyro-laden “Fuel,” utilizing a stage that extended into a semi-circle in the pit — essentially a pared-down recreation of their in-the-round stadium setup, allowing them facetime with far more members of the audience than any other band. Of course, the band closed their set and the festival with “Master Of Puppets,” which is still enjoying a second life thanks to its prominent feature in “Stranger Things” — and here was acknowledged with a fervent crowd singalong and capped with a massive fireworks display and the band returning to the stage after the song to thank the audience profusely for their enthusiasm.

Power Trip was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see all these high-level heavy bands at once, and though there were some squandered opportunities to make the sets themselves stand out from what each of these bands does night after night on tour, devil horns were raised, countless beers were consumed, and ears were blown: a success by any suitable metric.

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