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Postmortem from Far South of Heaven: Slayer in Caracas

April 6, 2013


Ensuring both my reserved spot in Christian hell and my status as cool Dad, on 17 September 2006 I shared with my then 15-year old son the appearance by thrash legends Slayer at the Poliedro in Caracas, Venezuela, during the world tour to promote their album Christ Illusion.  It was only our second concert together, the first having been a fantastic show by Jethro Tull in Lima, Peru, the year prior.  As one can imagine, the Slayer show was just a little different from what my son had experienced with the Tull.

The Slayer crowd was scary, made up solely of angry, aggressive males in black T-shirts, who seemed to get an enormous kick out of ripping bits of seat coverings off and hurling them into the gathered mob.  The band had to stop the show twice with threats of walking off if audience members didn’t stop throwing bottles and other hard objects directly at them.  I’ll always remember fondly Slayer vocalist and bassist Tom Araya’s angry lecturing of the throng of assholes about their asinine apparent effort to injure a band that they had bought tickets to see and which had traveled all the way to freaking Venezuela (he didn’t say “freaking”) to play for them.

The Poliedro is like a two-tiered bull ring, with a circular floor area underneath a semi-circle upper balcony stacked directly above.  In between watching the band, my son and I were also entertained by a continuing flow of drunk idiots dropping over the rail from the balcony in an attempt to get closer to the stage, only to be either carried away with injuries sustained from the 18-foot drop or grabbed immediately by burly security guards and violently manhandled out of the venue.

The mosh pit was not the joyful mutual total body massage that springs up at most heavy metal concerts but rather a full-on brawl with a surprising number of boneheads actively wheeling fists and kicks at their fellow moshers.  Audience members also seemed to take great joy in flipping the bird at the band and each other, with outstretched middle fingers being much more prevalent than the more customary raised devil horns.  My boy and I found an isolated place away from the free-for-all in an attempt to maintain focus as best we could on the stage and performance.

That was our first concert in Venezuela and I must admit that I began to doubt whether I’d go to many more based on the non-metal atmosphere, at least compared to the shared headbanger jubilation I had always felt at shows elsewhere.  Happily, that particular ugly mob turned out to be an outlier, as my son and I discovered at a subsequent Motörhead show six months later that was pure unified heavy metal harmony.  I’ve come to think of that night’s Slayer crowd condescendingly as a bunch of overexcited, inexperienced children so overwhelmed to see the long-coveted pile of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning that they couldn’t think straight and simply began to tear at paper and boxes maniacally with no ability to focus on the actual presents inside.

The above aside, here is what is most important: SLAYER KICKED ASS!!  I’m still amazed to look at the setlist from that night.  They played a set filled with song after song from their legendary early albums, alongside deep cuts from older EPs, with only one song offered from the new album they were touring to promote.  It was as if Slayer had decided to reward their Venezuelan fans with the glory-days tunes in recognition of the fact that the band had seldom made it to their country over the prior years, an offering completely lost on the self-absorbed, preening violence mongers who had happened to show up that night.

Among the many gems, Slayer played three songs from 1986’s Reign in Blood, three from 1988’s South of Heaven, and six tracks from 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss.  The signature angry bee solos of guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman scorched ear drums ruthlessly all night long while Dave Lombardo‘s innovative double-bass drum bombardment threatened to bring the pulsating venue toppling down on top of all of us.  “Mandatory Suicide” indeed.  Tom Araya’s vocals were clear and powerful throughout as well, preaching Slayer’s anti-gospel gospel at us relentlessly and without mercy.  (Yes, they even played “Die by the Sword” from 1983 EP Show No Mercy!)

An iPod playlist made to mimic the setlist from that 2006 concert has become my most repeated soundtrack choice to accompany long treadmill journeys into the recesses of my troubled mind.  At the risk of putting off my fellow thrash metal fanatics out there, I must admit to having come to view Slayer’s music as beautiful and cathartic in an inner-peace-attaining way rather than as an aggression fest designed to fray nerves and call up bile.  This almost certainly reflects the experience of my boy and me in seeing them live from within a confederacy of dunces that night in Caracas.  Slayer was the voice of reason screaming at us to set aside unfocused, scattershot rage aimed mindlessly at everyone and everything and replace it with laser-guided fury and indignation targeted at the specific ideas and authorities that muddle our vision of the truth.  And, for Slayer, truth is to be found in ferociously drawing attention to and casting off the self-serving, corrupt dogmas of diseased systems, be they political or religious, that lead us into violence and war in the first place.

To paraphrase Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, “You don’t talk to Slayer. You listen to them. The band’s enlarged my mind. They are poet-warriors in the classic sense.”

From → Music

  1. Loved this. I can completely relate to your view of Slayer’s music as being beautiful and cathartic. I feel the same way, actually. There’s certain music that gets to a point of fury and heaviness that it almost becomes transcendent. They are one such band. High on Fire are another band that are like that for me.

    Hopefully your son still has fond memories of that show.

  2. ‘Confederacy of dunces’. What a wonderfully forgiving phrase to attach to a setting Bosch might have baulked at.

    • Yeah, I obviously didn’t invent the phrase but certainly thought it fit well here. As time passes, that night grows in stature as a momentous father/son bonding experience. Must admit however that, as it was happening, we opted to sneak out before the encore to avoid the idiots…

      Speaking of Bosch, my parents had some kind of book — can’t remember what it was — that had The Garden of Earthly Delights in it. As a kid, it scared the bejeezus out of me — kind of like Slayer at first. Now I recognize and enthusiastically embrace the art!!

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