Live & Loco: First Metallica Show (Metallica at Lincoln Financial Field 5/12/2017)
Lincoln Financial Field
South Philadelphia, PA
Friday, May 12, 2017
Let me keep it funky with yoūse: I don’t really bang with Metallica like that.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect that they’ve carved out a career that has them headlining stadiums 35+ years into it. There are people whose musical opinions I deeply respect that love their eighties work, usually up to and in some cases thru their Black Album “breakthrough” of ’91. After that, I’m pretty sure it gets dodgy even for die-hards.
But for me? That respect rarely translated to actual love. When they were at their biggest during my high school years, I was much more likely listening to Nirvana, Dre & Snoop, Tribe, the Marley and Led Zep box sets, or even Prince in decline, than Metallica.
Some of those tastes have shifted, but not necessarily in the direction of this Northern California-bred iconic heavy-metal band in the interim. I’d hear their stuff enough walking through the parking lot of an Eagles tailgate to get my fill. The subsequent two decades of Metallica’s own actions didn’t help. The Napster battle, the fledgling file-sharing company founded in the same Northeastern dorm rooms I once occupied, in hindsight feels fairly prescient from an artist rights perspective. But at the time, while Lars was angrily testifying by bringing in scrolls of kids’ names into courtrooms, as he made multi-millions? The optics said it was a bad look.
Further resentments formed after college, while working for Guinness, at a pre-Metallica show, Guinness-sponsored Happy Hour event outside JFK Stadium in D.C. Manning a VIP booth in VIP, James Hetfield came passing thru, at which point we naturally offered the Metallica co-leader a Guinness. This was approximately 5 or 6 PM. “Huh-Huh, the black stuff”, Hetfield demurred, “I think it’s a little early for that”. Say what?!? Aren’t you the guys who dubbed yourselves “Alcohollica”, the supposed badass dark overlords of metal machine music? 5 PM is too early for an ice cold Guinness? FOH.
Both of these reactions made more sense by 2004 when the unintentional comedic masterpiece, Some Kind Of Monster, documentary arrived. These weren’t really my kind of rock stars. Which was fine, because they also didn’t make my kind of music. There was undoubtedly skill and true power to it, but there was also something so aggressively Anglo to it, that felt a little alienating to my sensibilities. From a rock & roll perspective, I still lean heavy in the direction of the groups who raised me like The Rolling Stones.
That’s enough context, or slander depending on your perspective, to bring us up to present day. When word came down that Metallica was visiting Philadelphia in May, the second stop on the American leg of the WorldWired Tour, supporting a 2016 album I’d never heard, it didn’t make much of a ripple in my mind. The only circumstances bringing me to that show were likely the ones that got me there: a gifted ticket afforded this broke-boy writer with no press pass for this one, accompanied by two of my best friends since ages 6 and 9 respectively.
As the days approached to the show, I became more excited with the possibilities of a good night out while crossing another legendary act of the list. Shout-out to my man Danny Granite for putting this evening together, because I came away with either a newfound, or loudly reinforced respect for this band.
After a Happy Hour spent over at the David household in Philly, with a larger group of friends who weren’t going to the show, we made our way over in an Uber around 8:30. The event was scheduled for 6 PM, but nobody on the opening act list was getting us into Lincoln Financial Field earlier than we needed to be, to see what we were coming to see. In fact, word from a friend on the inside was that Avenge Sevenfold, one of the scheduled prior acts, had already cancelled. This was of no major consequence to us, besides slightly ramping up our premeditated arrival time to 8:30 from 9.
Once inside the Linc, a place that due to sheer size and its large open corners doesn’t set up as an ideal concert venue, we began the long pilgrimage to our seats. While entering the stairwell amidst a throng of frothy Metallica fans, the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly began to play with some crazy visuals playing from a four-screen set up, even more impressive than the two end-zone giant screens deployed by the Philadelphia Eagles. Soon after, the band took to the stage amid screams, then launched into what at first sounded like “Blackened”, from And Justice…For All, but turned out to be the title track from the new album.
Due to line stagnation causing clusters of human confusion, it took halfway thru that opening number to arrive at our seats. Before even getting to them, there was a younger girl along the aisle, who clearly already had a few, demanding that we show her tickets as if she was another usher. Once we actually got to our seats, they were already occupied by two girls and a guy who didn’t want to leave. The millennial-age male Metallica Fan clearly wanted no parts of the debate once proof of purchase was produced. But as if often the case, his girlfriend was emboldened and far more willing to create a stir. Granite, leading our trio with all three tickets pulled up via the phone, informed them politely at first. It became clear that their entitled spokeswoman was mistaking kindness for weakness, suggesting we go elsewhere. Nah Baby, I’m not gonna be able to do it. As Mississippi Fred McDowell and later Mick Jagger sang, “You Gotta Move”. They eventually did, though the girl did so muttering “fuck off” while filing out angrily.
After putting the kibosh on that potential kerfuffle, we settled into the show. Coincidentally, so did Metallica. With the elaborate introduction giving way to two new songs, the band began to break the gathered throng off with some early classics. First up to bat was “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, off 1984’s Ride the Lightning. Now we’re cooking with gas. The slight drizzling rain that had started actually felt good and looked pretty cool amid the background lights onstage as well. Follow that up with another fan favorite, “Creeping Death”, off the same album. Even the mid-tempo Metallica-era hit “The Unforgiven” held another level of menace in this live context. The visuals beamed across 40-foot LED screens, were filled with dazzling and at times disturbing images that would have probably been terrifying if under the influence of any hallucinogenic.
The intensity was well maintained and steadily built from there. The new songs worked their way unobtrusively into the mix here and there, each somehow echoing their early work. The musicianship was stellar. Robert Trujillo, the former Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves turned “new” Metallica bassist in 2003, made sure nobody really missed Jason Newstead. Ageless lead guitarist Kirk Hammett tossed in some speedy, scorching hot leads along with his trademark riffs. Hetfield, a fairly non-traditional rock front man, has evolved into an ideal one for this band’s lane. Ulrich continues to crank out his trademark double-bass drum blasts and propulsive beat-conducting, while the dizzying middle-drum solo shared by the band was likely borne of his inspiration.
Whether a newcomer to this group’s live performance like myself, or a die-hard like the girl next to me (whattup, Tyler) attending her tenth show, it’s tough to quibble with the set list in Philly this weekend. “One”, the anti-war anthem that became the band’s controversial first video back in ’89, still resonates deeply today. “Master of Puppets” may be the most enduring song in their entire canon, given prime extended jamming space despite not weaving “Sanitarium” into it. Closing out the set with “Fade To Black” into “Seek & Destroy” alone may have been enough to leave the crowd satiated.
But for good measure, they returned with a three-song encore: 1986's “Battery”, the somewhat maligned lighters-out power-metal balladry of “Nothing Else Matters” and then of course, “Enter Sandman”. That final hit, the band's biggest ever, played ad nauseam everywhere from pep rallies to Mariano Rivera relief appearances over the last 20+ years, still managed to sound fresh in closing out this particular evening.
Despite Kirk Hammett’s post-inauguration commentary, the band as is custom avoided the subject of politics. The only allusion to the political, was to eschew them in favor of the communal, with Hetfield stating between songs early on: "We don't [care] what you've done with your life. We don't care what you're wearing, or what religion you believe in. We are here together as the Metallica family tonight.” This was probably just as well, since I wasn’t particularly interested in finding out where some of the more ornery, lathered-up, worst-contingent-of-Eagles-and-Flyers steakheads stood on such issues. There’s a time and a place. In this case, it felt appropriate to just let the crashing drums, heavy bottom and hard-charging guitars do what they do. "Metallica loves you Philly", shouted Ulrich to the crowd after a crushing two-hour show amid fireworks blasting off above, with an audience responding in kind.
34 years since Kill ‘Em All, Metallica can still pack ‘em in, while doing just that.
The Ecstasy of Gold
(Ennio Morricone song)
(with extended middle drum… more )
(with 'The Frayed Ends of Sanity' outro)