Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Metallica at the Honda Center (née The Pond), 12/10/09

I have few concert-going regrets in my life.  To name a handful: seeing 311 instead of Nine Inch Nails back in '99 (hey, I was young); missing my only chance to see the original Black Sabbath lineup because my friend Jeff had the bad luck to get some flaming foam finger in his eye; and my friend's mom accidentally throwing away his ticket to see the Ramones on what we thought was their final tour, back before either of us were old enough to drive (I still have my unused ticket, sigh).  Though I was fortunate enough to correct the last one by catching them at Lollapalooza '97, that show was also the source of perhaps my biggest regret.  That would be basically falling asleep during Metallica's headlining set.

Now, don't think my snoozing was some sort of review of the show they put on that night.  Quite to the contrary; from what I can remember they were very strong.  It's just that I was a fat sixteen year old kid who wasn't yet used to the kind of grind an all-day festival entailed.  I'm sure the second-hand high from the abundance of pot smoke didn't help my alertness either, but whatever the reason, by the time Soundgarden and then Metallica got their turns I was wiped.  And it's plagued me for years because both bands have been essentially done since then, with Soundgarden breaking up and Metallica sinking into irrelevancy with the truly, depressingly awful St. Anger.  But last year Metallica came back with their best album in twenty years, the riff-fest of Death Magnetic, and a couple weeks ago (and twelve years later), I got to finally experience one of the best metal bands of all time.

Due to the amazing generosity of a friend, my girlfriend Nikki and I got to enjoy the concert from one of the boxes at the Pond...er, Honda Center, complete with free drinks and food (thanks, Dave!).  Let me tell you, I like standing on the floor in front of the band as much as almost anyone, but I'd go for this setup just about anytime.  The stage was placed in the middle of the floor, with eight microphones positioned around the edges so lead singer James Hetfield could roam and sing to every section of the arena at diffferent points of the set.  They started with "That Was Just Your Life," the solid opener for Death Magnetic, which I have to admit was met with a slightly tepid response.  Though there were plenty of younger fans, there were quite a few Metallica veterans who obviously weren't especially familiar with the new stuff.  "The End of the Line," another new song, seemed to rope them in a bit more, but like the wily old bastards they are, the band switched into classic mode with a punishing rendition of "For Whom the Bell Tolls."  The uptick in energy from the crowd was palpable, and they sang along maniacally, with Hetfield happy to let them.  Next was the somewhat random (but totally awesome) "The Shortest Straw" from ...and Justice For All, and then "Fade to Black."

Throughout the night they did that, bouncing back and forth between the new material and old, all while avoiding anything from the time between Metallica (the "black album") and Death Magnetic, which actually made me a little sad.  I know it's not a popular period, but I actually enjoy the Load and Re-Load albums; they were my gateway into appreciating Metallica, and they're far more diverse musically than anything else they've ever done.  I'd certainly trade "Nothing Else Matters" and "Sad But True" for "Ain't My Bitch," "Bleeding Me" or even "Fuel."  But I was very happy with what I got, which was all but one of my favorites from Magnetic, classics like "One," "Master of Puppets" and "Seek & Destroy," and even deep cuts like the previously mentioned "The Shortest Straw" and the killer "Trapped Under Ice."  And if they played the recorded versions of intros to some songs so they could catch their breaths, or drummer Lars Ulrich messed up ever so slightly a couple times due to over-exuberance, so what?  The first Metallica show that will actually live on in my memory more than compensated for those things with a relentless force and passion I'm glad I finally got to see.

Set List: That Was Just Your Life / The End of the Line / For Whom the Bell Tolls / The Shortest Straw / Fade to Black / Broken, Beat and Scarred / Cyanide / Sad But True / One / The Judas Kiss / Kirk Hammett guitar solo --> The Day That Never Comes / Master of Puppets / Battery / Kirk Hammett guitar solo --> Nothing Else Matters / Enter Sandman

Encore: Too Late, Too Late (Motörhead cover) / Trapped Under Ice / Seek & Destroy

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