Thrash-metal fans never grow up. In its classic form, thrash appeals to youth, with its emphasis on impossible speed and shredding solos, hard partying and anti-authoritarianism. Metal is in the clutches of a full-blown thrash revival these days, but that didn’t stifle the shock of seeing so many young thrash fans lined up outside the Guitar Center on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Hollywood, waiting for an audience with Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine.
The assembled throngs heckled passersby and chanted “We want Dave!” in unison. Most were dressed in vintage tees or denim patch jackets. Excepting the largely Hispanic make-up of the crowd, the scene wasn’t much different than what you might expect of a Megadeth concert from twenty years ago, before some of these kids were alive.
Mustaine was in town for an evening of conversation, advice and demonstration (plus a little promotion for his signature Dean VMNT guitars), all part of the Guitar Center Sessions series. An hour after the advertised start time, he swept in to a tidal wave of cheers from a crowd that had just finished yelling along to every word of the Megadeth classic “Peace Sells” blasting over the PA.
It was immediately clear that Mustaine’s agenda was at odds with the audience’s -- barely a minute in to his conversation with host Full Metal Jackie and the “Fuck Metallica!” zingers started flying from the crowd. But as anyone that’s read a Megadeth lyric sheet knows, or heard about the man’s multitude of very public spats with various musical personalities, Mustaine is not a man afraid to voice his opinion. “We need some tape for your mouth,” he retorted after one interruption. Later on, after Full Metal Jackie asked how his playing had evolved:
Mustaine: “I’m not as young as I was and I’m not full of cocaine.”
Heckler: “I’ve got some!”
Mustaine: “I bet you do, ‘cause you can’t shut up.”
Despite all the admonishments, Mustaine dispensed chunks of insight with the authority and cockiness of a man who’s been around the rock block. He lamented the role of record labels (“to them, I’m a SKU number”) and warned songwriters against being too outspoken. He applauded the increasing number of women playing metal and advocated both guitar solos and brutal honesty between bandmates. He even opened up about his estranged relationship with ex-Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson (“He tried to sue me for $18.5 million, but I’ve forgiven him”) and spoke candidly about his anger with his former Metallica bandmates following the death of Cliff Burton.
If Mustaine’s performance and explanation of the theory behind “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” and “Symphony of Destruction” weren’t particularly revelatory, that wasn’t the point -- here was one of the great riff-writers in metal, playing some of his finest creations. Mustaine thrived on the adulation even as he expressed his contempt of the vulgar crowd.
Mustaine has a lot to be proud of these days, the success of his Gigantour and a couple decent recent records included. At this point of his career, though, long past the peak of Megadeth’s success, he’s in perception management mode. Behind his commentary was a tone of sanctimoniousness, as if he were keen on converting his drug and controversy-fueled past into a worthwhile legacy by showing the kiddies how much he’d learned. A point about integrity turned into a self-congratulatory story about keeping a promise to his son, Justice. Canned catchphrases like “The band makes it rock; the crew makes it roll” and “Amplifiers are as complicated as any woman I’ve ever met. Their tubes all heat up at different speeds” came off as awkward jokes intended to endear us to a man who, for so much of the event, was sort of a prick.
Of course, the crowd wasn’t really crammed in to that Guitar Center auditorium to see Mustaine the man, nor was it particularly responsive to what he had to say. The kids wanted to confirm the myth they inherited from friends and big brothers and to find ways to participate in it themselves. “How many drugs have you done?” asked one audience member during a Q&A session. “Can you still play ‘Rust in Peace?’” asked another. “You’re super hot! Can I have your guitar pick?” gushed a third. Mustaine parried them all, like he’s done in countless interviews before.
When asked about Megadeth’s current label, Roadrunner, Mustaine replied with characteristic frankness: “I’m very pleased with them internationally, but not within the U.S.” And with that, he walked offstage.