Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Metallica. The one. The only.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 8, 2009 at 6:00 PM

I dumped Metallica somewhere around the turn of the millennium.

Load never did interest me much, but at least I owned it. I didn't even buy ReLoad. S&M rekindled my love affair with the legendary heavy metal band long enough for me to stick with them until shortly after Y2K. But since then, I've been completely checked out. I packed up my old school Metallica (anything thrown down in the long-haired days), invited along S&M, and moved permanently beyond the "new Metallica."

Until I read Amy Atkins' interview with bassist Robert Trujillo in last week's edition of Boise Weekly, I hadn't even bothered to see what the boys were up to. In fact, at any point before Atkins' story ran, Trujillo could've walked in my office, and I wouldn't have recognized him. I'm not even sure I knew that Metallica had a new bassist until last week. For a girl who had a Metallica poster on her wall in high school, could name every member of the band past and present, knew every word on the first five albums, and who, to this day, can only play a few measures on the guitar and they're the first of "Nothing Else Matters," the scale of my ignorance of recent Metallica is almost astonishing. I went from healthily obsessed to completely cut off. In all, it was a pretty standard breakup.

Last night's concert at the Idaho Center was like running into an old boyfriend. One who stumbled around and generally sucked it up for a few years after we called it quits and then eventually got his shit together in a big way.

I'd been told Death Magnetic is fast and tight and closer to old-school Metallica, and last night, as I resurrected my head-banging and fist-pumping skills from more than a decade ago, I sure wished I'd done my homework so I could shout along.

Surrounded by the crowd on a stage "in-the-round" with drummer Lars Ulrich taking center stage on a rotating platform, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Trujillo wandered between eight different mics. The free-form stage setup at first seemed to lack energy, with band members being more like disparate pieces of separate shows. But the singularity it actually created ended up being a really cool thing. Members individually interacted with different parts of the crowd, putting on their own shows with plenty of stage-side fans to show off for. Or spit on—Ulrich sprayed a begging crowd with beer a couple of times.

If there's one thing Metallic gets during a concert, it's knowing exactly when the crowd's attention is starting to wane. When a lesser band would insist on playing the new stuff—crowd be damned—Metallica acquiesces. When the lasers faded away and the concert glow wore off after the first few songs, Hetfield—who had a thing for how Boise was feeling all night—announced it was time to turn back the clock and promptly hurled into "For Whom the Bell Tolls." And instead of marching right back into the new stuff, the band lingered a bit in yesteryear, putting Hammett in the spotlight to do his rock god impression—long hair and all—in the opening bars of "Fade to Black."

Metallica even seems to know when the free-form stage thing gets stale and rather than go for something more stationary and traditional, they went with exploding fire balls in the opening pops of gunfire on "One" (followed up by multi-colored fire pillars) and four, hulking metal gyrating coffins suspended above the stage.

But for all the lasers and fire and explosions, the band doesn't slack on performance. Hetfield takes a stone-solid, wide-legged stance and wails on the guitar like a machine and then loosens up long enough between songs to chat up the audience. Trujillo is a tree of a man who plays the bass down around his knees, and when he took it down at the end of "Sad but True," the solo bass lines reverberated deep in my bones. Hammett's stage persona is much less heavy metal than his look, but the man kills the heavy riffs in one beat then turns around and delivers floating, forlorn solos. After one of Hammett's rock-god moments in the spotlight, Hetfield returned to the stage with a stool and delivered the first half of "Nothing Else Matters" seated. Then, of course, he kicked away the stool and ended in a sort of fetal position in front of Ulrich's center-stage domain. Ulrich, who didn't have the wireless freedom of the other three members is no hide-behind-his-set drummer. Last night, he did a fair amount of calculated stage wandering himself and unless he had to be sitting, he wasn't; he was whacking on the skins on two feet.

Just as a few dozen giant black beach balls floated into the arena at the start of "Seek and Destroy,"* I bid the boys adieu. In the entryway, Metallica fans age 17 to 70 were lining up at the merch table. I considered picking up a T-shirt but decided those days are long gone. I'm happy to know the new stuff doesn't suck, and I'm happy to spend an evening headbanging with them when they're in town. Hell, I'm even going to buy Death Magnetic. But this time around, I think we'll just be friends.

*Editor's note: This post was originally published with the regrettable error "Search and Destroy."

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