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Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011
Better than: Lulu in its entirety. Obviously.
Turns out there is one persona non grata whom even surly, drunken Metallica fans won't be nasty to in person.
His name is Lou Reed.
But then last night, during Metallica's second 30th Anniversary show at the Fillmore, the fans were warned. Before the band brought out Reed to play a couple songs off Lulu, its much-derided collaboration album with the former Velvet Underground singer, the members issued a gushing tribute to the art-punk godfather. Drummer Lars Ulrich notified the fan club-only audience that, "If you fuck with him, he will beat your ass." But it was probably Ulrich's second warning that really made the fans behave: "If you're not nice, we're gonna play the whole album, okay?"
So when Reed finally came out, looking rather tame in a fuddy-duddy leather jacket and eyeglasses, and standing several feet back from the edge of the stage, the fans were almost completely polite (and quiet). A few scattered boos rang out. But when the group leaned into "Iced Honey," the most palatable song off Lulu, the goateed heads inside the Fillmore were nodding, if not banging. Onstage, Metallica's monstrous chug nearly drowned out Reed's flat-toned mumbling, reversing the dynamic that the two collaborators have on their record. Instead of a madman rambling loudly over discordant riffage, Reed sounded like a small piece of flotsam spinning helplessly in a whirlpool of deep black power chords.
Even "The View" -- whose studio recording is almost comically disjointed -- approached palatability onstage. Hetfield's vocal contributions were loud enough to seem purposeful, and the Metallica singer grinned wildly at his collaborator as the song progressed. Reed was for the most part stiff. (Out of indifference or fear? We couldn't tell.) None of the songs Reed played with Metallica last night -- including their raucous take on "White Light/White Heat" -- were crowd favorites, although the latter especially earned a polite reception. But when Reed's time was over, he was given a respectable amount of applause.
The contrast became clear immediately after he left, when Metallica ripped into the beloved "Creeping Death" with former bassist Jason Newsted. The ballroom filled with raised hands in the shape of devil horns, chants of "Die!" (it's part of the song), and furious head-banging. As he did throughout the two anniversary shows, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett reproduced his triumphant guitar solo note-for-note, seemingly with a minimum of effort, which drove many beery Metallica fans into hilarious air-guitarring. When "Battery" arrived next, it seemed like the room might explode. It's difficult to imagine the sonic brutality that results when Metallica, bolstered by two bassists, performs one of its classic thrash metal songs with superhuman precision in a smallish room at incredible volume. If you could bottle the experience, you could build a smart bomb. A happiness-inducing smart bomb. Even the ever-chatty Ulrich was speechless: "Jesus christ -- how the fuck do we follow that?" he quipped, after "Battery" had subsided. We didn't hear an answer.
Reed was but one in a parade of guests last night, continuing the pattern Metallica established with Monday's show. We heard from Marianne Faithful, who made a rather quiet contribution to "The Memory Remains"; Kid Rock, who delivered all the words to the Bob Seger classic "Turn the Page" without actually singing any of them; the Danish metal band Mercyful Fate, whose members reunited to play their nearly 12-minute titular song; Newsted, who should rejoin Metallica so the band can have two bass players; Armored Saint singer John Bush, who once turned down a chance to be lead singer in Metallica; Sweet Savage singer Ray Haller, who performed "Killing Time" with the band; and Scott Ian, who appeared during the finale, not Metallica's main set, and who grinned a lot for a guy whose own group is called Anthrax.