It's not every day you get to see a legend. Metallica is a singularly polarizing force among the metal community, but their name is ubiquitous. They are synonymous with metal. Their legacy precedes them, and they can and have played everywhere in the world. Metallica had come to my hometown. I had to be there. I bought tickets for this concert seven months ago, on a blustery and bitter April morning. That's the kind of atmosphere Metallica brings to the table.
Ecstasy of Gold (intro)
That Was Just Your Life
The End of the Line
Ride the Lightning
The Memory Remains
Broken, Beaten & Scarred
Sad But True
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
All Nightmare Long
The Day That Never Comes
Master of Puppets
Nothing Else Matters
Stone Cold Crazy (Queen cover)
Seek and Destroy
That was the set. There's not much that can be said about it. It was iconic hit after iconic hit, in rapid succession. Each song has the added benefit of being played just a half step faster than the recording, which lent a frenetic charge to the music (except “Sad But True,” which already had a perfect cadence.) The only problem that happens with a Metallica set list is that there's no way they can play all your favorites. There's just not enough time. Personally, I winced a little at the train wreck of going between "Battery" and "Nothing Else Matters," but if that's the worst that happened...
Even so, Metallica played for a robust two hours and twenty minutes, never slowing down, only taking short breaks, and not wasting time talking. It was metal the way metal should be; fast, loud and celebrated.
The crowd was an interesting study. The band seemed to have almost limitless energy and it would carry that the crowd would feed off that and work itself into a roiling frenzy. What happened instead is that people were enthusiastic and cheered lustily, but not enough to really be the catalyst to reckless abandon. I couldn’t be sure of the cause, but I imagine it sat somewhere on the border between lofty expectation and complete, unbridled awe. Some of the crowd seemed to just simply drink in the spectacle of amazing lights, multi-colored fire and high-speed heavy metal, while others appeared to be receiving exactly what they expected.
Metallica themselves are in a very good place as professionals right now. They have reached the point where they no longer need to put up the façade of a dangerous of dominating presence. Their status has already spoken volumes about them; they have nothing to prove to anyone anymore. As a result, the entire band can, for perhaps the first time in a long time, relax and actually take joy both in what they’ve accomplished, and in simply being Metallica. All four men have an appearance of confidence without arrogance (okay, Lars might be arrogant,) and are genuinely comfortable with themselves and their band. As such, the music is precise and crisp, the playing is expert and flawless, and the general atmosphere becomes more a party than a mosh pit.
Kirk Hammett occasionally gets overlooked as a guitar player by metal purists who have had nothing to do with Metallica since they became commercially viable. They wrongfully assume that as a product of that, his natural talent and practiced precision left him. Kirk is as astoundingly talented now as he has ever been. Time and again he froze the crowd with a solo that they’ve heard probably hundreds of time, but it just seems more impressive in person.
I couldn’t help but watch Rob Trujillo for long stretches. He is, first and foremost, an outstanding bass player. He was while in Suicidal Tendencies, during his work with Infectious Grooves, and now with Metallica. On top of that though, I couldn’t help but watch him because while he is a fitting and comfortable member of Metallica, he does not appear the part. Lars, Kirk and James strut about in their classic metal poses and maintained aesthetics, while Rob runs from stage end to stage end, his bass barely six inches off the ground, looking for all the world like he’s still part of Suicidal Tendencies. It’s an interesting mix.
The one thing I noticed amidst all the guitar shredding and fire shooting and coffin-shaped mobile lighting fixtures was that without the benefit of a recording studio and editing prowess, James’ voice is a little thin. It took some getting used to, as he couldn’t or doesn’t reproduce the same growl that we’re all used to hearing from him. For that matter, and I expected this, he can’t do the same ridiculous high pitch screams for “Ride the Lightning” as he could in 1984. Oh well, happens to everyone not named Rob Halford. Honestly, who goes to see James sing, anyway?
With the metal audience segmented the way it is, and mainstream radio oriented in its present fashion, there may never be another metal band that can accomplish what Metallica has done. From the height of underground thrash glory to the heaven of worldwide commercial success, to the singular honor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Metallica has done more to legitimize heavy metal of all types than any other band. Their live show is befitting those accolades.