Metallica at Pepsi Center
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
To appreciate Metallica 3.0, you have to make peace with a few things: For starters, you have to reconcile the fact that the Cliff Burton-era lasted only three albums and ended over two decades ago. The surviving members moved on, and that’s okay. They’re allowed. I mean, we’ve all grown since then – it’s hard to imagine that many of us subsist entirely on a steady diet of bludgeoning metal these days anymore, and for those who do, Metallica probably sounds a lot like classic rock – so why can’t they?
So as popular as it is to dismiss the band’s subsequent output (with, of course, the exception of …And Justice for All, which, even though it arguably presaged the “Black Album” in terms of accessibility, is widely regarded in the same class as the first three releases), you have to acknowledge that it wasn’t that bad. While many of the records (Load, Reload and St. Anger) are indefensible, you have to admit that at least a couple songs from the “Black Album” flat out kick ass (“Sad But True,” “The God that Failed”), while a few more are at least listenable (“Unforgiven,” “Hollier Than Thou” and “Nothing Else Matters”).
Of course, this logic really only applies to the grizzled old school, dyed-in-the-wool fans, those of us who wore our Metallica patches on our frayed jean jackets like a badge of honor, whose headphones constantly blared Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. We had an enormous emotional connection with the act, and so our cynicism seemed completely justified. We took it personally when the guys cut their hair and felt betrayed when it started making videos and being embraced in the mainstream.
But fact is, those hang-ups were ours and ours alone. For newer fans, of which there are more than a few – at least judging from the astounding number of hands that went up this past Tuesday at the Pepsi Center when James Hetfield asked how many were experiencing Metallica live for the first time -- Metallica has always been a radio band, and a damn good one at that. They don’t have that primal connection to the music we had, and the unbashed pop sensibility that Bob Rock brought to (or foisted upon) the outfit didn’t seem egregious to them at all. Whereas we’d just as soon pretend that the ’90s ever happened and that the great, ill-conceived, cinematic emasculation of 2004 known as Some Kind of Monster was merely a dream sequence.
That said, it was going to take a lot to win me over. Honestly, my first reaction to Death Magnetic was, “too little, too late, boys.” Rather than embracing the album as the substantive return to form that it is, I firmly resisted entertaining any sort of notion that Metallica was back. After seeing the band live again for the first time in a number of years, though, while I still won’t place Magnetic in the pantheon, I do have to admit that this version of Metallica is far closer to band I once believed in.
Metallica took the stage a little after 9 p.m, emerging in the shadows, dimly lit by intellibeams, which cut through the darkness and flashed in sync with kick drum. As soon as the band played the first notes of “This Was Just Your Life,” the title of that track seemed oddly fitting. This was my life. Aside from seeing James Hetfield, clad in all black and looking like a straight-up greaser, lead his three tote-headed children to the side of the stage before picking up his guitar, these were the exact same dudes I once pledged my allegiance to. On one side of the mammoth stage stood Kirk Hammet, with his wispy creep ’stache and near beard, flying up and down the fretboard, effortlessly doling out riff after riff over Hetfield’s galloping picking style, which has been replicated a thousand times over. In between the two and just over their shoulders, sat our little Danish friend, Lars, mistreating his kit in a way that left bassist Robert Trujillo slack jawed.
Lars was keenly aware of how much he was killing it. Every so often, he’d make his way from his rotating perch in the middle of the stage towards the crowd, throwing his hands up like, “Uh-huh, what’s up now, motherfuckers?!” For an act of its stature, Metallica’s setup was notably stripped down and simple: The outfit played in the round with mikes set up at various parts of the stage. Pyro cannisters stashed amongst the amp cabinets that flanked Ulrich periodically lit up the arena during tunes like “One,” while brushed steel, coffin-shaped trusses illuminated the act. The sparse setup left the guys to rely almost solely on their chops and showmanship, which, suffice it to say, as evidenced by their precision playing over the course of an eighteen-song more than two hour long set, they still have in surplus. While many venerable acts tasked with playing material that’s twenty-years-old or older might come off as workmanlike elder statesmen, Hetfield and company played with vigor that belied the vintage of themselves and the tunes. Even more impressive, the newer material, particularly songs such as “Broken, Beat & Scarred,” fit rather seamlessly and were just as well received as the older, more iconic songs.
Hetfield and company seemed genuinely gratified by the thunderous applause they received. During the encore, Hetfield asked the crowd, “Are you still here? Why are you still here?” he beckoned. “I know why I’m still here,” he fired back. “I’ve got something to say,” he bellowed, launching headlong into the Misfits’ “Last Caress,” Metallica’s cover from Garage Days Revisited. The crowd lost it and became even more boisterous upon hearing “Hit the Lights,” before absolutely erupting during “Seek and Destroy,” during which Hetfield offered up his heartfelt thanks and asked for the lights to be turned up (“We haven’t been here for a while. Can you turn on the house lights? I want to see your faces. Thanks for supporting Metallica and for supporting live music.”). With that, the group tore into its final song with abandon, while giant black beach balls bearing the Metallica logo dropped from the rafters. The exuberance of the crowd was overwhelming. This was clearly cathartic for everyone involved, which is probably why, after the song had ended, the guys chose to stick around, with each member taking a turn at the mike and addressing the crowd. Lars, who was up last, asked the audience if Metallica should come back more often than once every four years.
Talk about a rhetorical question.
-- Dave Herrera
Personal Bias: That whole bit about being a grizzled old-school fan? Right here. Guilty as charged.
Random Note: A gentlemen standing next to me was smoking a blunt. An actual blunt, mind you, as in a stinky ass cigar and not one that had been hollowed out for the purpose of burning the hippie lettuce.
By the Way: The biggest election of our lifetime was happening concurrently -- although you’d never know it, as not one word was mentioned about it during the entire show.
Metallica Set List
Pepsi Center, 11.04.08
01. This Was Just Your Life
02. The End of the Line
03. Ride the Lightning
04. The Memory Remains
06. Broken, Beat & Scarred
08. Sad But True
09. The Day That Never Comes
10. For Whom the Bell Tolls
11. Wherever I May Roam
12. Master of Puppets
13. Damage, Inc.
14. Nothing Else Matters
15. Enter Sandman
16. Last Caress
17. Hit the Lights
18. Seek and Destroy
"The End of the Line"
"Ride the Lightning"
"Sad But True"
"Seek and Destroy"
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