To view a full slideshow of photos from this show, click here.
With Gojira and Lamb of God
BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
Thursday, October 1
Better Than: Pretty much every other big metal show I've seen this year including, possibly, Iron Maiden at the same venue. (Heresy, maybe, but I felt much more connected to the band this time. See below.)
Well, I showed up to the BankAtlantic Center last night a Metallica show virgin and left..... Um, I'll skip the grossest metaphors but today I am feeling used and abused -- in a good way. I am now convinced that Metallica is one of the top five live acts currently touring, hands down. The show was technically flawless and ingenious in its production, seemingly designed purely for the pleasure of fans, and providing nearly two hours of fast, furious fun from the headliners.
While the guys in Metallica may have suffered a little image-wise with Some Kind of Monster, thoughts of group therapy and fine art auctions are quickly wiped away as soon as they take the stage. These are clearly some of the biggest badasses in rock and roll, and they clearly enjoy every minute of being onstage. Oh yeah, and although he gets upstaged in the press by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett is absolutely a guitar god who should be worshipped more properly.
Is that enough fan girl-ism in one paragraph? What's more remarkable is that I entered teh show as a Metallica fan, but not really an obsessive one. But I even left impressed by openers Lamb of God, whose sort of groove-oriented sound usually fails to do much for me on record. This is a band that is unabashedly populist -- they have a song called "Redneck" and dedicate songs to the military -- but as such, they deliver.
Frontman Randy Blythe boasts some of the most impressive vocal control in the genre, with all his various registers of screams booming equally powerfully. In fact, if the metal thing ever gets boring, he could probably have a pretty good run as a pro-wrestling announcer. It even sounds evil when he sings "Happy Birthday," as he did for his bassist John Campbell, who was celebrating his 37th last night -- and who also boasts an incredible wizard-style beard.
I can't say anything about the first band of the evening, the French quartet Gojira -- and I suspect most other people can't, either. That's because we were all trapped in disorganized entrance lines that took about 30 minutes to get through -- even if you already had your tickets -- thanks to the venue's somewhat overblown safety precautions. Actually, of the many shows I've been to at BankAtlantic, this is the only one in which I've had to submit to both a thorough bag check and pass through an airport-style metal detector.
All kinds of printed rules and restrictions were posted everywhere, and the whole thing caused a cluster-fuck at the door. Oh, and they stopped serving alcohol at 9:30 -- precisely ten minutes after Metallica took the stage, and almost two hours before the end of the concert. I found all this kind of laughable -- has a big Metallica show really been dangerous in the last 15 years? -- as well as borderline insulting and maybe even classist, although in a misplaced way. Consider that this was, also, one of the few shows I've attended at the arena at which the complimentary Lexus-only parking lot was completely full. Call me crazy, but I figure after someone's paid upwards of $60 or however much for a ticket, $20 for regular-schmo parking, $8 for a beer, $40 for a T-shirt, etc., they probably just want to see their favorite band and have a good time, not try to act like a drunken cretin with a secret weapon.
Enough about that. Metallica! The band took the stage at about 9:30 p.m., almost an hour after Lamb of God had cleared out, and didn't leave it for almost two hours afterwards. Metallica's thrashy roots have meant that the band has always been one of real-life awesomeness rather than flights of performance fantasy, and their stage design reflected that Rather than set up at one end of the arena, the band opted for a square stage set up directly in the middle. Lucky fan club members got floor admission, able to crowd right up to the edge of the stage, and even those of us in actual seats a few rows back could see every Lars Ulrich tongue waggle.
There was no backdrop or silly props, just some speakers onstage and microphones (and identical guitar pedal boards, awesome) at every corner. This made for a serious connection to the band from the get-go. These musicians can seem like such larger-than-life stars, it's easy to forget they're people actually playing instruments -- especially when every riff is so searingly dead-on perfect. But when fans can see James grin or catch a full drink from Lars, it's possibly the best arena translation of the band's underground roots.
And to spread that experience around as much as possible, everyone worked every side of the stage. You could be guaranteed that for every song, James would be singing at least 25 percent of it directly at you. Even bassist Rob Trujillo got his chance to shine, thanks to the stage design, and even got an awesome little spotlit solo at one point, right before "No Leaf Clover."
The whole thing wasn't completely bare-bones, though; there was, indeed, a little production flare. In the only non-cheesy use of lasers I've see this year, at certain points, the stage would explode in pulsing, angular rays that looked like something out of a Mission Impossible movie. Other times, those plain amps would explode in not just plain ol' pyrotechnics, but multicolored flames.
As for the set list, there was something for everyone, pretty much -- all the big crowd-pleasers, plus a few deeper cuts. As the tour is dubbed the "World Magnetic" tour, obviously, there were several sections from the band's most recent offering, Death Magnetic. That's excellent in my book, as the album marked the band's serious return to form. "That Was Just Your Life" opened the set, and other live selections from the record included "Broken, Beaten and Scarred," "Cyanide," "The Day That Never Comes," and "All Nightmare Long."
But yes, there were songs from the early classic albums. From 1983's 'Kill Em All: "Motorbreath" and "Seek and Destroy," though those wouldn't come until the encore. From 1984's Ride the Lightning: "For Whom The Bell Tolls." There was "Master of Puppets," of course, from the album of the same name. From ...And Justice For All, "One," and even "The Shortest Straw." And of course, there were some selections from the band's sort of commercial phase in the '90s: "Sad But True" from their 1991 self-titled record, "No Leaf Clover" from that weird 1999 album S&M. But probably the most pure fun came during the last four-song rush of the main set. In a grand-slam of hits that I was sure would send everyone around me into an apoplectic frenzy, Metallica roared through "Master of Puppets," "Damage Inc.," "Nothing Else Matters," and "Enter Sandman."
But as amazing as the band itself was, what makes many metal shows so absolutely fun is the sense of community, of being among a mass of people who are really fucking excited. Seriously, the entire arena must have done the wave about eight times before Metallica's set, in a release of pure anxious energy. These were people who cheered the roadie testing the bass drum. When was the last time you saw that at an indie rock show? Oh yes, and as the ratio of males to females was about 15 to to one, for those of us without a Y chromosome, trips to the bathroom were a breeze. Thumbs up all around.
Personal Bias: The only other time I've seen Lamb of God was on a really disgustingly hot day in West Palm Beach two years ago during that sad last incarnation of Ozzfest. I actually really disliked the band before last night's show.
Random Detail: Another fun production touch was the moving lighting rigs shaped like the coffin on the cover of Death Magnetic.
By the Way: Are we really going to be forced, from now on, to look at flashing advertisements for personal injury lawyers between bands? The worst part was the ad screens accidentally turned out at one point during Lamb of God's set, which I took as a very ominous, foreboding sign of the future.