The job of a music critic is sometimes akin to that of a fourth-grade teacher.
You have to be nice because, gosh darn it, those little whipper-snappers are still cute in fourth grade. But they are starting to grow up fast, so you have to be blunt at times, too, to make sure they understand boundaries. You also have to give them their grades up front. So I'll do the same for Metallica and all their fans and haters.
On Friday, August 4, in Glendale, Metallica got a solid 94 percent.
Would I have felt the same way if I had shelled out $160 plus taxes and fees to stand on the floor of the gargantuan football stadium? Maybe. Metallica played 18 songs, so it was roughly $10 a song for those folks and quite honestly, I'd guess every one of the few thousand people on the floor probably felt like they got exactly what they paid for.
As much as James Hetfield, Metallica's rhythm guitarist and lead singer, can sometimes come off like a giant douche (before you get mad at me, watch the documentary about the band, Some Kind of Monster, and tell me I'm exaggerating here), he was pretty damn charming and seemed to genuinely enjoy being in the greater Phoenix area again. Hetfield led the band through a pretty rockin' set of new and classic songs during the more than two-hour performance.
Metallica's set kicked off with a pretty badass intro.
Before the band took the stage, some classic Sergio Leone footage was shown across the giant video screens that lined the back of the huge stage (replete with stage right and left catwalks leading to a small stage about 15 yards from the main stage) while the Ennio Morricone song "The Ecstasy Of Gold" played. Metallica has used the track as their intro since the '80s. As the video wound down, the band kicked into "Hardwired" from their latest album, Hardwired ... to Self Destruct (2016), which was surprisingly good.
The band lost a few points, though, as many of the songs from Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct sound like recycled early Metallica riffs. So much so that there were times it seemed like they were busting into something old only before it became clear it only sounded old. For example, they played "Atlas, Rise" second, and it has strong hints of riffage from 1983's Kill 'Em All. (Listen to "Atlas, Rise," then listen to "No Remorse" or "Jump In The Fire.")
However, the five new-ish songs they played were good enough to keep the crowd pumped up. Considering they were surrounded by enough classic Metallica songs to please even the most jaded old-school Metallica fan, the band's mix of showmanship, pyrotechnics, lasers, and video remained highly entertaining throughout.
Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett is still an absolute shredder, and his propensity for cool-looking guitars made for a great spectacle as well. For several songs, Hammett played a killer ESP model with an image of Boris Karloff's Mummy on the guitar body. There were times when Hammett stole the show. When he and bass player Robert Trujillo traded solos about halfway through the concert, the crowd ate it up.
The two virtuoso performers kicked off their jam session with a bit of Chic's "Le Freak," and everyone in the audience knew they were in for a treat. Hammett played the rich guitar part while Trujillo threw done some thick, percussive bass. Trujillo's rendition of "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)" was accompanied by video of the late Cliff Burton, Metallica's original bassist who died in a tragic bus accident in 1986, playing behind him. It was nothing short of amazing. Trujillo is really the unsung hero of Metallica these days, and it would be hard to name a better bass player in rock 'n' roll.
Drummer Lars Ulrich seemed to be having a blast, too. While he has a tendency to over-drum at times, he is the motor that drives the band. Though sometimes, he drives a little too fast.
During "Master of Puppets," Ulrich pumped up the BPMs to the point where Hetfield struggled to keep up, mangling two key riffs near the end of the song. Luckily, it's an eight-and-a-half-minute song, so two small flubs were probably unnoticeable (and unmemorable) to much of the enraptured audience. When Metallica initially kicked into the title song of their classic 1986 record, the crowd responded with the loudest roar of the night up to that point.
Another standout moment early in the set was "For Whom The Bell Tolls" off the band's best album, Ride The Lightning (1984). Last night's version was stellar — and capped by an absolutely vicious crabwalk by Trujillo, getting low and nasty while still rockin' the bass (like Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man).
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Throughout the night, the crowd was vocal and consistently played the role of fifth member by loudly singing along and taking over the lead vocals on a number of songs. Hetfield seemed to eat this up and constantly encouraged the crowd to join in. Hetfield also had a very cool moment during the end of "Nothing Else Matters" where he flashed his guitar pic featuring the Phoenix rising symbol to the crowd via the giant video screens.
All in all, it was a great show. For those that missed it, don't feel too bad, though. Parking difficulties meant that a good portion of the crowd, including this reviewer, missed most of the opening sets from Gojira and Avenged Sevenfold.
But as Hetfield said during one of his many entertaining speeches between songs, "Metallica brings the metal." On Friday night, they did just that.