Heavy-metal veterans show their opening acts and 40,000-plus fans how it’s done.
Music, Mon. July 17, 2017
Sunday, July 16 at Rogers Centre
The members of Metallica may be greying around the temples, but their ferocity still packs the mightiest of roars.
Thirty-two years after the brazen four-piece from San Rafael, Calif. made its Toronto debut at The Concert Hall (back at a time when the genre was known as thrash metal and the band sandwiched between W.A.S.P. and Armoured Saint from the where-are-they-now? files) Metallica vanquished Father Time to the sidelines on Sunday and gave the somewhere-between-40,000-and-50,000-faithful the time of their lives.
It’s almost an injustice to call the multi-generational leagues of Metallica followers “fans,” as they’re just as much a part of the show as the band itself, singing word-for-word at the top of their lungs and often drowning out singer James Hetfield on such songs “Wherever I May Roam” and “Hit The Lights” in the process, reveal how much the Metallica canon has ingrained itself into their collective DNAs over the years.
The new material from Hardwired . . . To Self-Destruct, their first album in nine years, is no less potent than the music that came before it: ear-battering, machine-gun rhythms delivered by the hard-line rhythm section of bass player Robert Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich, check; blistering, lightning-fingered leads that define and articulate powerful melodies, succinctly executed by guitarists Kirk Hammett and Hetfield, check; typically dead-on topical observations about some of society’s scourges and struggles in general . . . well, you get the idea.
And it’s all packed and packaged into a larger-than-life two-and-a-half-hour spectacle — their first big venue show here since 2009 (they were at the Opera House back in November for a special benefit) — with all four Metallica band members projected onto a three-storey screen, complemented by whatever accompanying video or bit of animation the song being performed at the time required.
The optical treats included the as-expected spectacular pyrotechnics that Metallica has built part of its reputation on, but kicked up a notch: hot flashes of eyebrow-singeing flame one could feel the heat from all corners of the ballpark, and a neat “march of fire” effect delivered during “Moth Into Flame” not far from Hammett’s stage perch.
However, the candy-coated visual do not detract from Metallica’s musical potency. From the opening volley of “Hardwired” — and blessed with sound that wasn’t just loud but crystal-clear — the group replicated authentic arrangements of their best known material and even offered a couple of twists of the newer stuff, most notably a lengthy African drum coda on “Now That We’re Dead” that found Hetfield beating out rhythms on a snare while the other three exercised their inner tribesman on gigantic timpani-like instruments.
“Bet you all didn’t know that we all wanted to be drummers,” Hetfield quipped after the impressive demonstration.
Ride The Lightning’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls;” And Justice For All’s “One” and “Wherever I May Roam” from Metallica were among the 18 songs that were given sinewy workouts, as various members took the time to stroll down a ramp that looped midway into the arena and still managed to house something that has been a constant in the band’s stage show since the mid-’90s — the pit.
During the pre-encore rendition of “Seek And Destroy,” the entire band moved to the front of the loop and drummer Ulrich plucked a kid from the pit — he must have been 13 or so — to bash out the first four beats of the song on the kit before returning him to the pit.
And that may be the biggest change in the Metallica philosophy over the years: At the top of the show, Hetfield emphasized that the show “was a celebration of life” and the word “family” was brought up a few times throughout the concert — underscored by a lingering screen shot of the late Cliff Burton, Metallica’s first bassist who was tragically killed during a tour accident — during Robert Trujillo’s lengthy bass solo.
Now that the guys are all in their early 50s and have outlasted the competition for this long, priorities have been examined and readjusted, as well as a new appreciation for accomplishment.
Following the three-tune encore of “Blackened,” “Nothing Else Matters” and a tour-de-force rendition of “Enter Sandman,” the band members stuck around for a good five minutes to slap hands, throw out guitar picks and drumsticks and individually express their appreciation for over three decades of support.
Openers Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat played to the biggest Toronto crowd of their careers, and made the best of the opportunities despite muddy sound. Avenged Sevenfold, in particular, have an engaging frontman in M. Shadows, whose powerful pipes fronted a very savvy and confident outfit whose following will grow tenfold due to this impressive performance. “Hail to The King” and “Bat Country” were the highlights of an hour-long, nine-song set that served more as a teaser for a return headlining tour earmarked for early 2018.
The crowd numbers, though, certainly weren’t the only education for these bands: it was Metallica who has opened the curtains of possibility, showing them — and us — firsthand regarding the ways to properly to grow and establish a gravity-defying legacy.
That Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo still a fire in their bellies that seems to glow brighter with each passing year is both reassuring and inspiring.
Metallica still rules.