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Bowling with Testament

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If you were in London’s O2 Arena on the evening of Thursday, 23rd June, you were there for one of two reasons:

1) You were there to see Barry Manilow perform in the main venue as a part of his farewell tour, or

2) Like me, you were there to go bowling with thrash metal legends Testament before watching them play a skull-crushing show at the Brooklyn Bowl.

And because I’m a bit of a fanatic, this would be the second time that I had seen Testament in the space of two days. The ‘80s thrashers spent the night prior to this one totally demolishing Southampton’s Engine Rooms: how could I not be there to witness my hometown crumble under the weight of Testament’s unbridled heaviness?

It is also on the train ride from Southampton Airport to Waterloo that I learn about the Manilow concert that is set to occur within mere metres of Testament’s. If there is a Barry fan under the age of 40 present this evening, I sure as hell don’t see them. It’s not often that I sit surrounded by pensioners and feel like my bones are in worse shape than theirs.

And because I’m a young man with long hair, wearing a Testament t-shirt and a jacket with “METALLICA” adorned on the back, I also receive many stares from a conservative 60-year-old that looks at me as if I have just slapped their grandkid.

It wasn’t until three hours later, when I reached the O2 Arena itself, that I managed to escape the mass culling of Barry Manilow’s core demographic.

My fellow metalheads and I are ushered inside the Brooklyn Bowl and to the dismay of many, find out that this is still one of those bowling alleys where you have to take off your shoes and have them replaced by a specially made, flat-soled, red and black pair.

99% of us in this motley crew had arrived wearing old, tattered Converse trainers, so by the time we were heading to the alleys themselves the Brooklyn Bowl’s shoe rack looked like a post-apocalyptic Chuck Taylor’s store.

Finally, the five members of Testament arrive. Immediately they start mingling, visiting lanes and chatting idly with their fans in between landing a handful of strikes.

It is at this point that I must remind you that this event was touted as a “Thrash n’ Bowl”. Personally, I adore thrash but I am absolutely atrocious at bowling. Bowling has always been one of those things that I love but am also unforgivably awful at, much like receiving good grades or getting a girlfriend.

The first member of the band to come up to our lane was guitarist Alex Skolnick. Like any good fan in the 21st century, after a quick chat, I ask to take a selfie with him.

Evidently, the art of selfie-taking is also something I am abysmal at. As soon as he politely smiles in agreement, I grab my phone only to find out it’s turned off.

Cue one of heavy metal’s most beloved guitarists waiting awkwardly for thirty seconds while I stare angrily at my phone, waiting for its painfully slow crawl towards life to finish.

Later – with the highest score I nail on the alley being the staggering tally of three pins – singer Chuck Billy comes over. I was lucky enough to interview Chuck a few weeks ago for this site, so naturally it’s something that I brought up. That’s right: we literally had a conversation about that one time we had another conversation.

A handful of my fellow fans also bring along their CD and vinyl copies of Testament’s albums, which leads to my favourite interaction of the night.

One young fan hands bassist Steve DiGiorgio a copy of Testament’s 2012 record Dark Roots of Earth to sign, only to receive the response of “You know I didn’t play on this, right?” before following it up with “I’ll sign over the old bassist’s face, I’m sure he won’t mind.”

Shortly after the meet-and-greet ends, the fans – including myself – swarm to the stage adjacent to the bowling alleys, hoping to get and keep a stance directly against the barrier for when Testament take the stage.

It isn’t long before Broken Teeth, the first act of tonight’s three-band bill, takes the stage. Bizarrely, the opening act is not a thrash group, but instead one from England’s hardcore scene. Some of you might be asking “What’s the difference?”, but it’s like watching the Sex Pistols opening up for Iron Maiden; each are great in their own right, but would never work as a combination.

Savage Messiah are the second and much more thematically appropriate support, captivating the crowd perfectly, setting them up before Testament proceed to violently knock them down.

And need I talk about the headliner? Testament have been veterans of the thrash scene for thirty years, they sure as hell know how to put on a true killer performance.

Leaving the concert, I feel exhausted in the best way; my neck hurts, my sternum was crushed against a steel barrier, I’m bathing in sweat, it’s 11pm and I have a three-hour homeward journey.

But some things never change. Once again, I was smothered amidst a crowd of elderly Manilow fans.

One time in a million as I navigate North Greenwich tube station, I see a person similar to myself, donning a Testament t-shirt and with a generally exhausted demeanour.

Every time, the two of us exchange a knowing smile before passing in the night, destined until the early hours of Friday morning to explore a sea of old women and bored husbands that are all secretly humming along to “Mandy”.

 

Check out our interview with Testament here.




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