At GM Place on Tuesday, December 2
As we sat awaiting Metallica’s entrance from our godlike vantage point in the upper-level GM Place press box, my buddy-a fellow grad of Victoria’s working-class Esquimalt High School-made an observation: “If this was 1988, the rocker-chick quotient would have been much higher. Now, it’s maybe 10 percent. Lots of meatheads here tonight.”
Indeed, the sold-out arena teemed with alcohol-buzzed white dudes in black Ts, the core constituency of the Bay Area thrash pioneers. Playing their first Vancouver show since 2004, the 40-something members of the quartet proved they are finally at ease again with the skull-mashing 1980s music that originally secured them their fan base. So forget whatever you may have heard about eyeliner, post-Napster depression, or group therapy: Metallica is back.
The two-hour concert kicked off with selections from Death Magnetic, the group’s fifth straight Billboard chart-topper. Cutting through the darkness, blue and green lasers flashed over the frenzied crowd during “That Was Just Your Life”. While vocalist-guitarist James Hetfield was spotlit at his mike stand and Lars Ulrich pummeled away atop his circular drum riser at centre stage, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Rob Trujillo could barely be seen during the number. That would change.
“We’re going to take it to a whole new level,” Hetfield promised. He delivered when massive coffins, inspired by Death Magnetic’s artwork, descended from the rafters and bathed the expansive stage in blood-red tones during a grimly majestic “For Whom the Bell Tolls” from 1984’s Ride the Lightning.
As Trujillo got into his trademark gorilla-style prowling, it was Hammett’s turn to shine on ”¦And Justice for All’s epic “One”, Metallica’s first Top 40 hit. When Hetfield barked “Darkness! Imprisoning me!”, Hammett’s impassioned shredding and the detonating flash-pots sparked, for some of us, memories of pumping extra iron after Mr. Rushton’s Grade 9 gym class.
More Hetfield wit ensued. “Metallica is very sorry if this next song is too heavy,” the bearded singer quipped before launching into “Sad But True” from 1991’s mega-selling The Black Album. The crushing rocker lived up to its billing, shaking the arena and igniting the mosh pit. Then, another single from the band’s big breakthrough release, “Wherever I May Roam”, proved what a groove monster Ulrich can be. The irrepressible Dane delivered pure 4/4 authority on what’s become a classic, Middle East–tinged mission statement for touring musicians (and freelance writers, among others).
And it just got better. The title track from 1986’s Master of Puppets had the entire crowd chanting along with Hetfield. The main set wrapped with an obligatory but compelling “Enter Sandman”. The encore was cover-version heaven, with enthusiastic takes on Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” and Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy”. Metallica beach balls rained from the ceiling for the finale, “Seek and Destroy”, and, with the house lights up, the vibe was bizarrely “fun in the sun”. Metallica: scary, technically accomplished, and fun. Who’d have believed it?
The opening acts were, frankly, overshadowed by what was to come, even though the Sword, 1970s-style doom-rockers, earned a polite response for its woolly mammoth assault on songs like “How Heavy This Axe”. Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe showed savvy populist instincts when, in between militant and screamy modern-metal grinders, he profanely urged mosh pitters to cheer for the road crew and the Canadian army. Ultimately, though, Metallica schooled ’em all, just like back in the day.