Live concert experiences, just like music itself, has long been considered a universal language, in that audiences across the world can be impacted by the intensity of the compositions and the passion of the performers. Similar to other languages, live music has proved to be vulnerable to censorship.
This was particularly the case during Megadeth‘s appearance in Bejing, China on October 6, when the trash metal group made headlines by stopping their show nearly an hour early and removing several of their signature hits from the set list. Such staples as “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” and “Angry Again” were not played at all, whereas “Skin of My Teeth” was played instrumentally.
Metal advocates began speculating that perhaps the location of the performance had something to do with this abbreviated set list. A previous report from The Wall Street Journal supported this theory, stating “authorities [in China] require entertainment companies to jump through hoops, submitting minute details of their show, including setlists. The process reflects the control held by China’s censors, who try to prevent incidents like one in 2008, in which Icelandic singer Bjork sang at a Shanghai concert about the ever-politically sensitive issue of Tibetan freedom.”
Suspicions were confirmed when Megadeth lead vocalist Dave Mustaine took to his official Twitter page and addressed the popular topic. “The police let us playing there, but I had to respect their laws about religion & politics,” Mustaine explained. “We’ll play [those songs] in Tokyo.”
This isn’t the first time that a member of the heavy metal community had to alter their setlist in order to accommodate the requirements of the Chinese government. Metallica revealed in 2013 that they had to submit the lyrics to every song in their discography for approval before they were granted permission to play in the country, however that also meant Metallica weren’t allowed to perform “Master of Puppets” in the country for obvious reasons.
“We had to give them a whole set of songs and they went through all the lyrics and okayed which ones we could play, which ones we couldn’t play,” Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett said. “They see a lyric like ‘Master Of Puppets’ being so subversive that they’re not allowing us to play it. It’s kind of scary.” Added Metallica frontman James Hetfield: “And that just brings more attention to it, of course. That doesn’t work.”
Even as they were facing down such tight restrictions, Metallica assures that they never considered cancelling their concerts. Said drummer Lars Ulrich: “There were 40,000 kids over those two nights that were, I mean, they were really responding to what we were doing. It was insane.” Hetfield continued: “Whatever rules they set down, the fans were there to have fun. We got our foot in the door. We were able to go and play in China. That was the key.”
Hammett, being a rebellious spirit, still managed to appease frustrated Chinese Metallica fans during his own time in the spotlight. “What I did is, I had an open guitar solo thing where I just sit there and riff,” said Hammett. “I played the riff for ‘Master Of Puppets’ and a couple of other songs that weren’t allowed to be played. I played just the music, so I kind of snuck it in there.”
These restrictions apparently aren’t kept away from the audience goers in China; in fact, as Ulrich would share, fans are kept aware of the situation. “What we’re talking about here is not a secret,” he said. “They published it on government web sites — what songs we could play and what we couldn’t. I mean, it’s fine.”
Megadeth’s Bejing concert was also notable for being the band’s first to feature drummer Tony Laureano (ex-Dimmu Borgir, Nile, Angelcorpse). Fan-filmed video footage of the performance can be found below.