METALLICA at the Opera House, Tuesday, November 29. Rating: NNNNN
In a year of horror stories, one of the cheerier narratives has been Metallica’s shot at redemption.
Since at least 2003’s St. Anger (if not since Load, way back in 1996), the world’s biggest heavy metal brand have done a fine job of alienating themselves from fans. Their indulgent excursions into blues-rock, their totally unbecoming appearance in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s 2004 documentary Some Kind Of Monster, that silly Napster stuff: all of it served to ruin the band, cloistering them away in a stately Xanadu of their own wealth and arrogance.
It is stupid to say that a band that has for the better part of three decades been one of the biggest rock bands in the world is “back.” What’s more accurate, and perhaps even more important, is that Metallica have somehow, against all odds, found their likeability.
For new record, Hardwired…To Self Destruct, Metallica released songs early (and for free), gamely played kiddie instruments on The Tonight Show, and planned a string of intimate gigs at small clubs. Suddenly, improbably, these glowering, middle-aged blowhards are cool again.
When was the last time Metallica regularly played shows at 1,000-person venues like Toronto’s Opera House? 1986, maybe? The experience of seeing them there – packed in sardine-tight with other fans howling, horns high, singing along and spilling beer – was convincingly transportive.
Metallica at the Opera House.
The setlist was stacked with classics: they segued out of One into Master Of Puppets and then into For Whom The Bell Tolls and then into Enter Sandman, and it was like a trip down a greatest hits tracklist. We also got covers of Budgie’s Breadfan and Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey In The Jar (pronounced “Whiskey in the Jar-oh-ah-yeaaaugh” in Hetfieldese).
The band touched upon a few of Hardwired’s better cuts (Atlas, Rise!) but remained largely focused on proving to the crowd as much as to themselves that they could still play the sort of loud, heavy, fast, sometimes just-complex-enough metal that earned them their militia of fans and millions of dollars.
Sure, Lars Ulrich looked like some spindly little babushka, flailing away at the drum kit with a kerchief tied around his head (or was it a sort of skullcap toque? I was too far back to tell). Yes, James Hetfield went through costume changes and baited the crowd with a kind of smug, strongman confidence.
Nonetheless, it was believable that these were the same guys who were once scummy West Coast skids who created the blueprint for fast, head-banging thrash metal and effectively reinvented rock music. This charity, small gig, promo tour may just be a clever marketing ploy – I mean, of course it is – but it’s a totally persuasive ploy. Take my money. Gimme the riffs.
Reviewing shows by bands I’ve come to love when they’re decades past their prime (because I was born too late), I’ve often found myself hung up. It’s hard to enjoy the music when you’re tortured by the sense that the concert itself is a rip-off version of some better, more perfect, experience that existed somewhere back in time.
Last night’s Metallica show was a balm to such fun-ruining vexations. Sometimes you can go home again. The band just has to be willing to take you there.
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