Live Review - Metallica, Brisbane 2010
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Brisbane Entertainment Centre
16 October 2010
For the first hour, it's exciting enough just to be in the same room as Metallica. Metal bands don't come bigger than these four men, and since it's been six years between visits, there's electricity in the air. From the moment the lights dim and their introduction music – 'The Ecstasy Of Gold', the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – plays, we're transported. We forget we're in a big, shitty shed 20 clicks from the city centre. This show is about spectacle, and nothing's done by half. It's something special to witness a band who still sound fresh in a stadium despite having been in the game for nearly 30 years, and having punched in this weight division for more than half of that. This is their norm. By their standards, playing to 13,000-odd fans probably qualifies as an intimate show. Nonetheless, Metallica's sizeable production has taken over the Entertainment Centre for the first of three shows here. Coffin imagery lifted from the cover of 2008's Death Magnetic forms the basis of a central stage, which is kitted out with hung speaker columns, an immense lighting rig, lasers and pyrotechnics. For sure, it's an impressive feat of engineering.
While this is ostensibly a show to promote the band's last release – this tour is named World Magnetic, after all – they play just four of its songs, including the opening pair, 'That Was Just Your Life' and 'The End Of The Line'. It's during these two songs that the band sound shakiest, which is mostly due to Lars Ulrich being occasionally off-beat during the more complex parts. Everyone's losing their minds to the sight and sounds of this band, though, and as laserbeams thrill the eye, I realise they're a great big distraction to allow the engineers adjust their levels.
Still, for the band to walk onto such a technologically-loaded stage and have it sound mostly good is a damn fine achievement. As with every tour of this scale, those behind-the-scenes dudes are the unsung heroes – since they've done such an ace job, most in attendance don't pay them a moment's notice. It's not until halfway through that I realise there are four people perched precariously high above the stage, whose sole jobs are to ensure that spotlights are fixed on each of the members at all times. I wonder if they rock-paper-scissors to see who gets the relatively easy job of focusing on Lars.
Oddly, after the first couple of tracks, the lasers are all but packed away. They're replaced by flames, which lick the paint from Ulrich's kit and explode intermittently from the centre stage during 'Fuel' - in which Ulrich's drumming performance is impeccable - and later on, during the gunfire introduction to 'One'. 'One' is the best song the band have ever written, told from the perspective of a deaf, blind, mute, hospitalised soldier. The chorus describes the character holding his breath and wishing for death. The instrumentation moves from beautiful, clean guitar passages to a brutal, rapid-fire double-kick drum section and Kirk Hammett's screaming, tapped guitar solo. Incredibly, Metallica play this song like they're playing it for the first time. As they rip through the climactic vocal section section with blistering intensity ("Landmine! Has taken my sight! Taken my speech! Taken my hearing!"), I realise what a rare talent they have, to make some these tired-ass songs sound fresh. And then they follow up 'One' with 'Master Of Puppets', one of the greatest metal songs ever. There's no-one not grinning, headbanging or fist-pumping.
For some artists, reminiscence is a dirty word. Not so for Metallica, who dip deep into their back catalogue tonight, all the way back to their 1983 debut Kill 'Em All; 'Whiplash' is the second last song aired, and 'Seek & Destroy' is the final encore. Rhythmically simplistic but musically potent, 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' is a treat, and the first of several nods to long-time fans. 'Fade To Black' is a pleasant surprise - it's only been played 64 times among the 160-odd dates on the world tour so far; for real, check out this meticulously-detailed Wiki entry – and to me, it's the ultimate 'tallica ballad, as I've never been partial to 'Nothing Else Matters' (although it too appears late in the set). It’s a song of understated beauty, I'm most struck by James Hetfield's lyrics: in contrast to his Death Magnetic-era writing, 'Fade To Black' actually means something, and does a convincing job of setting a mood and recounting a narrative. Compare imagery like "Growing darkness, taking dawn/I was me, but now he's gone" to, I don't know, anything from Death Magnetic ("Breaking your life, broken, beat and scarred/But we die hard", perhaps?). Cringe, cringe, cringe.
'Enter Sandman' closes the set; having never heard the song played on this scale before, suddenly I understand clearer than ever before just why Metallica hit it big in the early ‘90s. This song was written with the stadium in mind, surely. That chorus is so ridiculous, so brash; what a breath of fresh air it must have been for those discovering hard rock for the first time. Its appeal not only endures, but increases: I like the song more now, having seen it live. It's cheesy as hell, but you've gotta hand it to the the band: cheese evidently works, as Metallica Inc. is grossing a cool $1.8 million or so for this show alone. They deserve it.
Before they cover Diamondhead's 'Am I Evil?', the band surprise with a rarely-heard snippet of 'The Frayed Ends of Sanity', which inspires yet another call-and-response from the crowd. The house lights are requested for their finale, 'Seek & Destroy', during which dozens of Metallica-branded beach balls are dropped from the ceiling and punted around by both band and fans. I'm still not sure why a KFC bucket was lowered from the ceiling as the band played 'Sad But True', but by this point, I can't stop grinning. I'm not alone.
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