The beast called Gigantour has changed since it began, says Dave Mustaine. The Megadeth front man launched the traveling metal festival in 2005.
“It's metamorphosized. … It was all about guitar players, then we had a bit more edgier vibe, and then we went for kind of a European flair,” he said.
Initially booked in places like the Verizon Wireless Arena, Gigantour scaled down over time, a victim of what Mustaine called “waxing and waning” of his genre’s popularity. This year, Gigantour launches in the newly expanded Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook with a six-band lineup: Megadeth, Black Label Society, Device, Hellyeah, Newsted and Death Division.
“We're going back to sheds this time. It’s great, because it shows the current state of heavy metal is back up on the rise,” said Mustaine.
If not mellowed, his own band has evolved as well. Much of Megadeth’s newer music isn’t as hell bent as earlier work, and that’s fine by Mustaine. Here’s how he explained the title cut of the recently released Super Collider: “They don’t always have to be rantings on guitar and tangential blurry solo fests.”
Along with that anthem-y track is “Blackest Crow,” surely the first Megadeth song ever to begin with a banjo riff.
“Yeah, it’s a little weird, huh?” Mustaine laughed as he waited to board a flight from London to Milan. “I had this really cool old-school idea — Black Oak Arkansas, real metal-y, with a kind of Lynyrd Skynyrd vibe in the chorus. … I tried it, and it fit like a glove.”
A topical song, “Kingmaker” tackles the subject of southern pill mills and painkiller addiction. Mustaine wrote it while recovering from surgery to remove a bone fragment in his neck, an experience he likened to “taking a thorn out of a lion’s paw.”
After successfully kicking a recreational drug habit, Mustaine was wary of prescription medication.
“It's like that old Asian saying about alcohol. First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man. I found it real easy to find myself saying … it's a little bit sooner than what I'm supposed to take, but it hurts.”
The surgery brought Mustaine new life as a musician.
“I wondered how much longer I could do this [with] the physical pain that was consistently in my neck,” he said. “You got a giant piece of wood with a piece of steel in it hanging off your neck for hours on end when you’re trying to do your job and you’re looking right and left [and] all the time your body is twisting counter-clockwise … it’s like voluntarily giving yourself scoliosis.”
Mustaine has mellowed from the angry young man that started Megadeth in 1985, intent on proving something to the band that fired him. He’s even open to playing an old Metallica song or two with Jason Newsted, whose eponymous group is part of the Gigantour lineup.
Newsted suggested the idea in a recent interview.
“I have no problem playing with the guy,” Mustaine said. “I like him and he's a great guy, a very talented musician and a great friend. … I guess the most important thing is making sure my bassist is okay with it.”
That should be easier since he’s mended fences with bassist Dave Ellefson after a near-decade of legal battles.
The truce came after Mustaine asked Ellefson to dinner during a layover in Phoenix four years ago.
“A guy that gets sued by somebody else saying, let’s have dinner together? But I really cared about him,” he explained. “We sat down and he said, ‘You know what, I'm sorry.” I said, ‘I am too,’ and we hugged. … I think that's really cool, because heavy metal has this stigma that people are really rigid, not very friendly. That’s just not true.”