For Suicidal Tendencies and its fans, music is a contact sport. In impact and entertainment value, the punk-metal band's show Thursday night at Irvine Meadows could give the Rams and Raiders something to shoot for.
The Venice-based band's concert was its first big outdoor amphitheater show in its home territory (ST rarely has played in Southern California because of promoters' memories of violence that beset its early '80s shows; the group's only other advertised Southland concert since the mid-'80s was an August, 1990, performance at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center). Consequently, all involved--the band and a crowd that appeared to number about 7,500--were poised to make the most of the occasion.
Embracing the old punk ethic, in which fans are considered as much a part of the show as players, singer Mike Muir declared at one point that "everybody's a part of this band."
In traditional punk fashion, some fans claimed their piece of the stage action. From time to time, a brazen soul would pop out of the roiling slam pit next to the stage (chairs had been removed to allow the traditional human cyclotron to move in). After clambering on stage, they would run for daylight while security men tried to nab them, finally eluding the heat by diving back into the safety of the crowd--if diving headlong into a mass of humanity atop a concrete floor can be said to have anything to do with safety. If any football scouts were present, they would have been impressed: A couple of those stage runners showed the drive of a Marcus Allen piling his way across the goal line.
While stage divers and slam-pit denizens assume their risks knowingly, the same can't be said of those who became targets for some idiot who twice launched fireworks from the loge into the orchestra.
Suicidal Tendencies played with an athleticism of its own. Muir, his trademark bandanna pulled over his forehead, stomped the stage in herky-jerky motion to the beat, throwing punches like a shadowboxer. Bassist Robert Trujillo sprinted around like a crazy hero charging a pillbox in a John Wayne movie. His running leaps, using the drum riser as a launching pad, may have set the venue high-jump record. No wonder they call the band Suicidal.
Somebody had to stay earthbound through all that frenzy and tend to the music. Guitarists Rocky George and Mike Clark leaned to the task with viciously effective riffing that kept those in the far reaches on their feet and throwing fists.
Ultimately, though, it was musical motion rather than physical exertion that made Suicidal Tendencies' 95-minute show as entertaining and involving an affair as hard-core metal is apt to offer.
"Lost Again," which ignited the show early on and put it on a plateau from which it never fell, was a good example of the band's knack for constructing episodic numbers that gain extra tension and thrust through contrast. This one moved from a heavy tromp to a bracing gallop to a funky double-time finish, with a tunefully barked chorus to provide a unifying strand.
Unlike a Slayer, or even Metallica in its impressive stand at Irvine in 1989, Suicidal Tendencies was able to vary its themes and play with moods.
Rather than string darker numbers together in the Angst- and-doom fest that most of its peers offer, ST could resort to humor, albeit shaded black or colored by sarcasm. "I Saw Your Mommy," from the band's 1983 debut album, offered gross comedy set to a variant of the "Wild Thing" riff. "Possessed to Skate," "Suicidal Failure" and the sardonically fey "Lovely" also brought a sense of fun to the proceedings and balanced laments such as the plaintive anthem, "Alone."
"Suicidal" may be a term that gets repeated like a mantra in some of ST's songs, but these are no death rockers. The songs that plumbed dark feelings did so with an energy that embodied grappling with and tearing at depression, rather than succumbing to it. More often, "suicidal" stood for such crazy-but-vibrant maneuvers as Trujillo's pre-encore dive into the crowd (it took a squadron of bouncers to pry him back from clutching fans).
Well aware of the power of ST's music to incite, Muir played it extra-cool between numbers. He would hunker down on his haunches near the wings of the stage and speak quietly, as if he were a curbside philosopher talking to his neighborhood pals. That absence of star poses and arrogance also made Suicidal Tendencies a fresh departure from the usual metal concert experience.
Armored Saint's opening set didn't deliver on the promise of its strong new album, "Symbol of Salvation." While John Bush's vocals on record attain a surprisingly soulful hue, in concert he was strained and shouty. Still, the Los Angeles band had its moments. Like relay racers passing a baton, guitarists Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval soloed in sequence on most songs, a maneuver that usually raised the energy level a notch. The band peaked at the end of its 45-minute set with a couple of driving pounders, "Madhouse" and "Spineless."