December 12, 2009
HP Pavilion At San Jose
Better than: Getting drunk with your boss at the office holiday party.
Still alive and kicking out the jams more than a quarter of a century after making Kill 'Em All, Metallica doesn't really have anything left to prove. The band members are metal giants, they've written tons of amazing songs, they keep getting Grammys, and their most recent album, last year's Death Magnetic, made them the first group to have five albums debut at No. 1. After stumbling through the first half of the decade amidst James Hetfield's trip to rehab, Lars Ulrich's ill-advised public battle with Napster, and the sometimes-comical infighting documented in Some Kind Of Monster, Metallica is back on track. And it's having a great time, as evidenced by Saturday's show in San Jose.
The band's four-month North American tour, which commenced with a Marin History Museum benefit in San Rafael, came to a close with another (sort of) homecoming show. Hetfield repeatedly addressed the crowd, beginning with the promise that "Our mission tonight is to make you feel better." It sounded like a statement from a man who's getting high on life rather than booze these days. While the band's toned-down demeanor runs contrary to any teenage fantasies of Metallica being the scariest band on the planet, the group has no problem bringing the noise when it's plugged in. The group's attempt at looking menacing in a photo at the merch table seemed pretty forced--one imagines they all started laughing after the pose--but while "Harvester Of Sorrow" was exploding out of the speakers and the pit was churning, it was difficult to argue that anyone in the Shark Tank was going soft.
In fact, the audience deserves a good amount of credit for making the show rumble, with some floor patrons reenacting a prison-yard clash and fans in the seats growling along with Hetfield and accurately mimicking Kirk Hammett's magic with their air guitars. It may not look like the Canadian-tuxedo-and-mullets crew of the past--the preponderance of short hair was actually kind of surprising, and didn't seem to have anything to do with male pattern baldness--but the energy was there in spades. Fists were constantly pumped and more than a few heads banged with a vengeance. The band's in-the-round setup is pretty genius, giving everyone in the stands a good view of the on- and off-stage antics, and while it led to occasionally losing track of where Hammett's solo was coming from, the group did an excellent job of using the whole stage and not succumbing to the fact that they're all in their mid-40s.
A well-executed "One" with flames shooting out of the stage was a slam-dunk highlight, as were old favorites like "Master Of Puppets" and even "Nothing Else Matters," which found Hetfield sitting in a chair for most of the early-'90s ballad. And Death Magnetic songs "The End Of The Line" and "Cyanide" did just fine keeping up, though Metallica wisely, predictably ended the two-hour-plus show where the band began, firing one last ear-ringing shot into the night with Kill 'Em All's "Seek & Destroy."
Personal Bias: ...And Justice For All was my first Metallica album, purchased in junior high. Something about the songs scared the shit out of me, and I remember thinking that the band must be from a remote village in some Eastern Bloc country. Songs off that album are still my favorite to hear live.
Random Detail: With his hair slicked back, James Hetfield looks like Lenny Kosnowski from Laverne & Shirley.
By The Way: Kirk Hammett seems to have pretty good, eclectic taste in music, putting Radiohead, Dengue Fever, Sigur Rós, and Interpol on his lists for best songs and albums of the decade, as reported in Rolling Stone.