Like many an older fan of Metallica (I discovered them with the release of Master of Puppets when I was 15 in 1986) who had fallen from the fold over their last few albums, I came back after I heard their latest, "Death Magnetic".
I've seen Metallica well over a dozen times, but it's been a decade (Woodstock '99) since I last saw the boys live...until last night.
Bought my brother in law a ticket as his early Christmas gift and he, along with a gal pal from work, headed up to Albany looking forward to what Metallica now has to offer in a live setting, although much of their set list was already known to me.
I'm absolutely one of those people who checks recent set lists to see what can be expected. On this current leg of the tour, Metallica is playing a slightly over two hour structured set with seven spots where they mix it up a bit. In a day where the majority of arena touring bands play a standard set night after night, mixing up more than a third of your set each night is pretty good and can leave every level of fan with hopes of getting to hear what they want. Did I get my picks? Read on and see what happened as the band hit the stage.
The Times Union Center (Formerly the Pepsi Arena...Formerly the Knickerbocker Arena...) in Albany is a relatively small arena and there's never really a bad seat in the house. That holds more than true for this tour as Metallica are playing "in the round." Their large rectangular stage takes up most of the floor, so those fans who got general admission tickets were almost all within 15 feet of the band at any time (and as close as three feet if against the rails). Lars' drum kit is centered on the almost barren stage and is rotated 90 degrees to face a new section of the audience after every few songs. As for James, Kirk and Rob, they are all over the stage through out the show with microphones placed strategically at every corner of the stage as well as in various spots along the edges.
Next to both sides of the drum kit are two flame shooting boxes blast concentrated fire fountains into the air during appropriate moments in the show. There are also flame throwers in the stage floor which produce many large mushroom clouds of fire into the air throughout the night.
The lighting rigs which hang above the stage are in the coffin motif of the album cover and are raised and lowered and rotated on virtually every axis through out the show. Don't forget to throw in unabashed laser usage, yet even with all these effects, the focus, with the exception of the first song, as I'll describe below, is fully on the band, with the effects usually enhancing and not overwhelming the performance.
So the scene is set...our seats were at the short end of the stage, second level, row P (I think there were about 4 more rows behind us and that's the top of the arena). So as stated, we as well as everyone had a clear view of the whole stage throughout the night.
My first (minor) complaint was that it was ridiculously hot! I learned in grade school science that heat rises, so maybe it wasn't so bad on the floor, but if it was the same temperature for those folks packed together in front of the stage as it was for me sitting in my seat, glad I was up here. Really not a big fan of the sweaty drunk guy in the pit slipping and sliding against me to get 6 inches closer to the stage.
So a little after nine...the lights go down...and the familiar sounds of Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstasy of Gold" (The theme from "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly") come through the speakers. The song builds and peaks and we're off...here's the set:
That Was Just Your Life - The opening track from "Death Magnetic" opens the show, but is held back from being a great opener for two reasons. First of all there is a slow intro to this song before the fast riff and drums really kick in 80 or 90 seconds in. This is fine, but the problem was that Metallica, the band ONSTAGE, didn't play the slow opening, it was pre-recorded and the band kicked in when the song kicked in. It was very odd, but would happen during at least two other songs during the night...it took a little away from the song each time they did it, but especially this one as it's the first song of the night! Secondly, this is the only song of the night where the lighting effects hamper the band. As the intro plays and the band is led onto the stage (I was on the side of the stage where we saw them led out), the houselights are all out and the lasers come on...it's very cool looking, but the lights stay out onstage for the whole song! So basically it's like going to see "Laser Metallica" where you're watching this big stage and the lights and lasers are making cool designs, but you just get dark glimpses of the band here and there.
Before I go on with the rest of the set and the biggest problem with the evening, let me say I enjoyed the show a lot. It's just you realized all these things right when the bad came out, so it might sound like I'm going to bitch about the whole show...but read on...I actually dug it...but this has to be said...
What the fuck was up with the sound?! I'm assuming the sound was great on the floor because the soundboard was also at the end of the stage where we were and it was impressive. Metallica are also one of those bands who record every show for download and yep I downloaded it. At the show, what I heard all night was MASSIVE bottom end. It got better as the night progressed...but during the first two songs, almost all you heard were bass, drums and vocals, could not make out any intricacies of guitar work or solos. By the last song of the night, it was better, but still very bass heavy. The download sounds great though so I'm assuming those lower to stage level would not have this complaint. For a headlining arena band, the sound was very disappointing.
The End of the Line - The second song of the night...the stage lights come up and stay up for the rest of the show...you really get to see how much these guys are loving playing...this was over the 100th show of this tour and there's no road weariness and James vocals as well as everyone's playing sounds great. This second song is also the second track off "Death Magnetic"...there would be a few one two punches of songs off the same album throughout the night. These two tracks are opening every show on this leg of the tour.
Ride The Lightning - This is one of those seven slots where you're not sure what you're gonna get until they start playing. I'll actually bold these for the rest of the review as they are the most interesting parts of the night. This was a big surprise for me and I loved it. The title track and one of the most brutal songs from Metallica's second album (now 25 years old or so! good lord!). I was expecting Creeping Death or For Whom The Bell Tolls which are the most common tracks played in this slot. Glad I got the hear this one, but would not have been disappointed in either of those Metallica classics. My only complaint - this would be the ONLY song from "Ride The Lightning" performed tonight...
The Memory Remains - This fourth song slot is another of the ones where they play what they want and I would NEVER have chosen this track from "Reload" as I really don't like the studio version. (The Marianne Faithfull singing/moaning just kills me). But I have to say live it's really pretty good...it's heavy groove works well for a big crowd and the big singalong of the Marianne Faithfull parts by the crowd is a huge improvement. A big surprise and opposite of my comment above, I was very glad this was the ONLY track they played from what for me are Metallica's lost years of say 1994's "Load" through 2005's "St. Anger". It was also a wake up call for me to realize that while many Metallica fans at least somewhat gave up on the band during this period (and really starting in 1991 with the release of "The Black Album"), WAY more of the fans who go to see them today much prefer this 1991 and on "newer stuff". Proof of this was that, without a doubt, at this point only four songs into the set, The Memory Remains got a massive roar and huge cheer when played...much much much more than "Ride"...and just wait until the encores...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
One - This slot is one I consider a mix it up slot, but in actuality it isn't, because they basically seem to flip a coin here and play either One or Fade To Black. While I bitched above about only hearing a single track from "Ride The Lightning", and if they played Fade, that would have been another, I'm glad they chose "One" for a couple of reasons. While I love "Fade", I love "One" more, especially live where it just destroys. The band left the stage during the sounds of war while the stage lit up explosion after fireball. During the machine gun riffing/drumming in the middle, the flame boxes on either side of Lars' drums shoot choreographed fountains of different colored flame. Very cool and just a headbanging masterpiece. My complaint - this would be the ONLY song from "...And Justice For All" performed tonight...(also Marla, my pal from work who came with us, really really really was hoping to hear Fade, but she loved this too)
Broken, Beat & Scarred - This and the following two tracks go back to the structured set list, so I knew we'd hear this third track off the new one. A great fist pumper and who doesn't love to shout "We Die Hard" at the end of the chorus with thousands of friends.
Cyanide - I think this is the catchiest tune from the new album and totally dug it live (Evidently when Metallica play two shows in the same venue for two nights in a row, My Apocalypse from the new album takes the place of this, I dig this tune way more)
Sad But True - The heaviest song from "The Black Album" got possibly the biggest reception of the night ("Enter Sandman" maybe edged it out later in the set). I was still really into Metallica in 1991 when this album was released. Hell I went to Madison Square Garden where me and about 10,000 other fans sat for an album listening party...no, not to see the band play the album (although they came out and waved at the end), but to sit there for an hour while the screen showed the name of the current track (this was in the days before albums being leaked on the internet) and just listen. So I'm not a huge "Black Album" hater, although it was a definite turning point for me. I was on the alt.com.metallica message board at the time and did a big review for it. I'm pretty sure I remember stating this was the heaviest song of the album, but it was never my favorite (I would probably give that to "Of Wolf and Man.") It's one of those songs I just don't get why so many people love it...it's slow and plodding, and I like me some heavy slow and plod, but Sad But True evades me. It sounded fine and will probalby always be in the setlist and why not...the other thousands of people attending LOVED IT. Another blatant example of the pre-1991 vs post-1991 fans losing ground this evening.
Welcome Home (Sanitarium) - Well first of all...HELL YEAH! This and the other two tracks from "Master of Puppets" played this night where the highlights for me. As epic as always. So glad they played this because this spot is also a semi-mix it up. Seems if they play "Fade to Black" earlier instead of "One", you would get "One" here. So if they played "Fade", I would not have gotten this, and this was amazing. Now when they play "One" earlier instead of "Fade" (like they did tonight - how many of you have I lost with this setlist logic bomb) they would usually play either "The Unforgiven" or their cover of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" here. I really don't need to hear The Unforgiven again and their cover of "Turn the Page" is a who cares for me...so using the Metallica method of picking a setlist...I definitely got the best deal in this slot!
All Nightmare Long - Another semi mixup slot, but here the choices are always either this one or "The Judas Kiss" or "My Apocalypse", all from "Death Magnetic". I like them all equally, but this song seemed to push the limits of the crowd's acceptance of so much of the new album. I would say this was the only lull in the show in crowd excitement. It's not because this song is any better or worse than the other new ones, it's just at this point, we're about an hour in and this is the FIFTH new song and we've yet to hear anything off their classic first album "Kill 'Em All." Actually this is the thought running through my head. I'm not making up the crowd lull, I'm just thinking, based on the other song reactions, the majority of the crowd was probably saying "what the hell...this is the FIFTH new song and we've yet to hear anything off "Load" or "St. Anger" or maybe something like "Play (Enter Sandman or The Unforgiven or Nothing Else Matters)." Again though, this song is good and it rocked, but it also was another one where they let the prerecorded track play the slow intro until the song kicked in.
Kirk Hammett Solo #1 - The rest of the band leaves the stage and Kirk goes into his electric guitar solo...I'm kinda done with the guitar solo at concerts, but this was short and tasty and just a couple of minutes long.
The Day That Never Comes - The band comes back out and gets back to it's preset setlist with this monster of a new song. "The Day That Never Comes" is the closest thing to classic epic Metallica. Starts out slow, builds up and rocks out the second half in major headbanging fashion. Love this one and it's a great lead in to...
Master Of Puppets - To me probably the ultimate Metallica song. It has as much power as it did when released over two decades ago and the crowd loves this one...they are back with the boys.
Battery - Holy hell...what a great double shot. The title track of "Master of Puppets" followed by this bludgeoning opening track from the same album...oh boy am I a happy head banging camper at this point. While they always play "Master" at that point in the set, this spot is always a tossup of their more brutal songs. If not Battery we would have gotten Dyer's Eve or Blackened from "Justice", Fight Fire With Fire from "Ride" or "Master's" closing track Damage Inc. No complaints really on any of those, but the double dose from Master worked great. (Again though a case where they used prerecorded music from the slow intro)
Kirk Hammet Solo #2 - This section of the show is paced very well as we need a calm down after those last three. The band leaves the stage to Kirk again, this time playing a semi acoustic solo which leads right into
Nothing Else Matters - from "The Black Album". This one brought the lighters out all over the arena, and yes, real lighters...I know holding up a cell phone is the more modern mode of appreciation, but glad to see the bic being rocked old school. This one gets played every night as does this next one to end the set...
Enter Sandman - Well of course, the song that put Metallica on the biggest bands in the world list. It's a catchy toe tapper. The crowd goes absolutely ape shit having waited all night and loving the "Black Album" double shot. When the song ends and the lights go out for the encore break a pretty good number of people start to leave...they were here for the hits and got what they wanted...me I'm crossing my fingers...
Encore - The boys slowly come back out one at a time for a little Jam and riffing - they do the "Oh Dee Oh" thing from Wizard of Oz then James goes to the Mic and says this is the slot where they play a cover song of one of the band's that influenced Metallica...
Stone Cold Crazy - This is the slot in the show where you really might get anything, Metallica have done ALOT of covers...MANY are fantastic and some kinda suck balls...In my perfect world we would have gotten "The Prince." Instead I hear, "this one is by Queen"...I can dig me some "Stone Cold Crazy." Fast and Furious and I loved it, but now I'm in row P right and probably a third of the people in rows A through O in front of me have left after Enter Sandman, but there's still a good sized crowd left in my section I can see...if FOUR people dug Stone Cold Crazy in my section I would be amazed. I'm rocking out, but the motionlessness of almost everyone else shocked me. Things have really changed in the Metallica crowd since I used to go, although It looked like those on the floor were totally into it.
Motorbreath - This next to last slot is a semi mixup as well. We know almost always we're gonna get something from "Kill 'em All" ( FINALLY!) and Motorbreath is a great thrasher. Again those in my section gave this the same treatment as Stone Cold Crazy...a few people loving it, most not caring (Section 219 by the way in case you were there). Well we're about at the end...and I know we'll end with...
Seek and Destroy - So a nice little double shot from "Kill 'em All" to end the night and suprisingly this one everyone loves (Do people just want the big singalongs?! I guess so!). All the house lights are up and the whole crowd does the call and response with James as hundreds of regular and supersize black beach balls with Metallica's logo drop from the rafters (pretty cool keepsake if you got one!) Rockin way to end the night and send everyone home happy.
So how was my 15th or so Metallica concert - overall it was great...sure it wasn't my dream setlist, but when any band is around over 25 years, you're just not gonna get that anymore. If Madison Square Garden wasn't sold out the next two nights, I'd probably go again. I ask only one thing - Fix the fucking sound...my tix were around $65 a piece after service charges and for that I expect not only a great band, great stage show and great songs, but the ability to hear them clearly as they are playing and not wait until the next day for the download to go oh they sounded REALLY GOOD!
Next blog - I'm finishing my long ass New Orleans / Voodoo write up and hope to get back into the swing of things with the old blogger. Talk to you soon and feel free to comment away!