October 26, 2009
Air Canada Centre
It’s been 13 years since the haircuts and the “alternative” Load album, nine years since Lars Ulrich versus Napster and five since the group therapy of the Some Kind Of Monster documentary.
That’s a long time for the biggest and baddest band in the heavy metal world to be lost in the wilderness, but if Monday night’s show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre is any indication, Metallica have once again found their way.
It probably helped that Metallica brought Lamb Of God as openers to keep them honest. The youngsters (at least comparatively) nipping at their heels were a double-kick drum, extreme metal hit for all the under-25 shaved-headed bros in the sold out ACC. To these older school ears, there wasn’t enough “song” to match the band’s relentless metal-ness, but anyone in the frothing circle pit that formed at the one end of the arena floor no doubt thought otherwise.
Metallica started their set in almost complete darkness with a new song from the Death Magnetic album, “That Was Just Your Life,” content to let a slashing laser show cutting across the band’s massive blue line-to-blue line stage setup be the main draw.
“The End Of The Line,” another new song, was next. Singer/guitarist James Hetfield would bound from one corner of the massive stage to the next, making each successive pocket of fans he faced go crazy. However, it wasn’t until the third song, “Ride The Lightning,” when the thrash legends’ return to form truly showed itself in the 36,000 thousand raised fists pumping furiously along.
Ulrich may get maligned as bourgeois whiner who’s lost touch with his common fanbase, but you’d never know it by the brave soul in the front row who held up their handmade “LARS” sign through every mosh or jostle. Or the multi-dozen air drummers that could be seen hammering away in each and every section of the building during any given song.
Likewise, when a mere flick of his hand in their direction would send the crowd roaring, it was pretty certain that nobody cared about guitarist Kirk Hammett’s emo breakdown about there not being enough solos in latter Metallica songs.
For his part, bassist Robert Trujillo, couldn’t do much wrong. He’ll probably always get a free pass from me for being in Suicidal Tendencies, but whenever he crossed paths with Hetfield and the two would fist-bump (known around here as the “swine flu handshake”), or when he stomped across the stage during a pounding “Sad But True,” he gave every impression of utter badassery.
Hetfield still has all the menacing posing down pat, but what was probably most interesting from him were the two separate between-song speeches stressing the importance of the “live” Metallica experience and how if you attend a Metallica show you’ve joined “the family.”
The subtext screamed “we’ve given up on worrying about the internet and album sales,” but when a spontaneous hugfest broke out amongst a 100-or-so pit thrashers at the end of “Master Of Puppets” it would be impossible to deny that at that very second the family tree made up of brothers-from-other-mothers in the ACC was virtually unravelable.
Some of the older material could have been played better: “One” was a touch pandering in its crowd singalong-ness and the ACC crowd weren’t quite able to keep up with a sped up “Enter Sandman.” At least a punky “Fight Fire With Fire” made up for its imperfect delivery with spirit.
“Nothing Else Matters,” meanwhile, may have turned into something of a signature song — at least for Hetfield. He started the track perched on a stool and by the end of it was on his knees rolling around the stage. It’s not like he’s a passionless performer, but there was a certain newfound vulnerability in the delivery that made it something greater.
Metallica took a short pause before launching into their encore set with the Queen cover “Stone Cold Crazy.” Hetfield’s voice isn’t well suited to cribbing Freddie Mercury’s, so it made for an awkward couple minutes. Far better were the blistering renditions of Kill ‘Em All classics “Whiplash” and an all-in, house lights-up burn through “Seek & Destroy” that featured dozens of black beach balls released from the rafters.
The new songs occasionally failed (“Cyanide,” “All Nightmare Long”) and turning their bigger hits into pop singalongs was vaguely annoying, but when it came down to it, Metallica delivered a solidly heavy show, which is the only thing metal fans have wanted from them in the first place. Now that they’re delivering, we can all be a happy Metallica family once again.
Here’s Metallica’s set list:
“That Was Just Your Life”
“The End Of The Line”
“Ride The Lightning”
“The Memory Remains”
“Fade To Black”
“Broken, Beat And Scarred”
“Sad But True”
“All Nightmare Long”
“The Day That Never Comes”
“Master Of Puppets”
“Fight Fire With Fire”
“Nothing Else Matters”
“Stone Cold Crazy” (Queen cover)
“Seek & Destroy”
This review was originally published October 27, 2009 via Chart Communications.