Live review, photos - Metallica, Melbourne 2010
Who's saying what
Rod Laver, Melbourne
Thursday 16th September
The stage here is like a giant steel pool table. In the middle of the room. Four lots of identical amp configurations lie mirrored across its spine, back to back, creating essentially, four identical stage settings connected by the drumkit in its centre. Eight identical microphone and monitor set ups placed around the stage (where the pockets would be, if we stay with the pool table motif for a moment), allows whomever is nearest, the ability to just wander around singing wherever they find themselves. Which means that the crowd "pit" is, essentially, a moat around the entire band. All of which, quite clearly, is awesome.
And a lot to take in. Here's some notes:
- There are are no guitar pedals on stage, save for a couple of Crybaby Wah Wah's in at least (maybe more) two mic "pockets". The band quite obviously moves through different guitar tones, from phase, to clean, to crunch, to soloing etcetera, without ever touching a pedal. Which means there must be someone off stage doing it for them. Interesting.
- At either end of the room there are two pits built in to the stage. They contain guitar techs, security dudes and other useful people, and act as a sort of pit stop for the band. During short breaks in the middle of the set, the band members disappear into these (frontman James Hetfield and bassist Robert Trujillo down one end, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett down the other; the pits are shoulder height so you see in), to do all manner of athletic techniques. Ulrich gets a shoulder rub and a tee shirt change, whilst Hetfield skols from a thermos and gobbles down what presumably are vitamins or throat lozenges. Trujillo wets his hair and...I can't see what Hammett's doing. (Selecting another questionably fruity guitar design perhaps - I kid!). All this is interesting. Playing metal is such a physical thing, requiring feats of endurance and a rigorous technique that escape nearly all other forms of popular music. Metallica are both the biggest metal act in the world and one of the few that could conceivably still tour the planet playing shows of this scale well until they die, basically. But their genre is against them. I mean, just a half dozen of Hetfield's infamous downstrokes would probably sheave Keith Richards' wrist clean off his arm.
- Which brings me to Lars. Lars has the hardest task here. His nemesis? His younger self. Ulrich clearly now struggles with some of the decisions he made on the kit when he was in his youthful prime, things that the older body doesn't want to do. The wayward scattergun rolls and chopped rhythms of 'One' being the most notable. (Though what he does achieve is formidable, it must be said.) Also, as a persona, he is amazingly ridiculous, like a cartoon. He makes absurd faces even when doing simple drum work, pumps his fist while leaping off his drums at songs end (in an uncanny nod to the room's ghost of Lleyton Hewitt), and he endlessly takes his cups of pink drink to the edge of the crowd and spits it into eager faces, all the while mugging like some visibly gurning elf. This isn't exactly uncool. It is a pretty fucking weird thing for a grown man to be doing - when you think about it - but it's perfectly encouraged in the theatre of Metallica. The sway of which we fell under long ago.
- The lighting configuration that hangs overhead is a colossus of Spinal Tap meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind type awe. After a barrage of sweet lasers (!) for Death Magnetic's furious one-two openers, 'That Was Just Your Life' and 'The End of the Line', four giant steel coffins affixed with lights - previously nestled amongst a spiderweb of scaffolding - lower menacingly down from the ceiling during the opening bass widdle of 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'; it's the first goosebump moment of the night. (Actually that's a lie: as the band initially approaches the stage in darkness to Ennio Morricone's spine-tingling 'Ecstasy of Gold', the guy next to me is POUNDING on the steel barrier in front of us, and SCREAMING his guts out. I mean, he probably did damage before Metallica played a note. Nothing better could be happening to him than right now. And as the famous silhouettes gather at one end of the darkened stage to holster their instruments and nod to the techs, in a flickering hailstorm of camera flashes lighting up the arena, and the capacity crowd joins in on the "Ohh ohhh....OOOOH OH OH OHHHH", I have to say - magical. If there are seven wonders of the musical world - things to "must see" before you die - this classic entry is one of them).
- Lastly, there's fireballs. Lots of them. Some of them different coloured. A reminder of the primal attraction to all this. "Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire": PHOOOSSHHH *smell of burnt hair* YEAAAAAHHH!
It's hard to get a handle on acts of such largesse. "FUCK YEAH MELBOURNE!" and "Do you feel what I'm feeling *insert city*?!? *ROAR* must be part of the script these days, regardless of how well a show's going. Still, Metallica haven't been here for six years and their apology seems legit. Tonight is the first of (an eventual) five night run of shows in Melbourne alone, on a sold out sixteen date Australian tour, and the group - especially Hetfield - seem genuinely pleased. The frontman is in a particularly good mood tonight, hamming it up with abandon, cracking smiles and at one point, during 'Master of Puppets', raises his mic stand above his head like an excited King Kong. Hammett tends to run around soloing and nodding at the crowd, whilst Trujillo focuses mostly on his instrument in between vibeing on pockets of the mosh. Lars mugs and tries to breathe.
The middle of the set is a heavy highlight. 'No Remorse' from the band's 1983 debut Kill 'Em All runs in to Black Album highlight 'Sad But True', which then cascades into Master of Puppets' hair-raising 'Welcome Home (Sanitarium)'. The main set closes with 'Nothing Else Matters' and an 'Enter Sandman' that seems strangely muted. They return with their Diamond Head cover of 'Am I Evil?', a 'Whiplash' that features giant black beach balls raining down from the ceiling, and with the house lights on, finish up with 'Seek and Destroy'. Pick throwing and drum stick passing ensues, and while the crowd goes batshit - in a sense - they have seemed to have been looking on in shocked awe rather than furious participation. Perhaps the lack of a single focus point (ie: a traditional "us v them" stage setup) contributes to this, but I think it's also a lot to do with - it seems - the fact that most people can't believe the band are back in Australia.
After a fantastic mid-set version of 'Fade to Black' from 1984's Ride the Lightning, Hetfield thanks the diehards for sticking with Metallica. For coming back to see them through the changes, experiments and, well, getting older. A sea of people who've loved this marginalised music (Metallica being the exception) their whole lives, roar back. And before running full throttle into the surprisingly tough 'Broken, Beat and Scarred' from the arguably return-to-form Death Magnetic, he evokes why: "Maybe this is your first time. Welcome to the family".
A thrilling portent of what's to come during their antipodean stay. Yeah, you should go.
(Pics: Tim O'Connor)
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