The excitement was palpable. A 14-year wait tends to do that. Backstage at catering, Mike Ness and the rest of Social Distortion are hanging out to see the show since they played nearby Greensburg, PA the evening before. Editor in Chief of Rolling Stone, David Fricke, is prowling the rear tunnels just before showtime. And somewhere in those bowels of PPG, the four horsemen of Metallica are preparing to seek and destroy.
As comedian Jim Breuer warmed up the crowd with snippets of classic metal songs and graphics of the bands like Motley Crue, Pantera, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and the like, the audience began to sense the time was near and began moving or peering toward the tunnel closest to the soundboard. The traditional entrance music of “The Ecstacy of Gold” from the movie The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly played as clips from the movie flashed on dozens of cube-like screens hanging from the high rafters. And then they hit the lights.
The opening pounding chords of “Hardwired” punished the crowd as the band took scattered positions on the open in the round stage setting and James fired on all cylinders, “We’re so fucked! Shit outta luck! Hardwired to self-destruct!” In short, it was glorious. Metallica has been doing this stuff since 1981, so it is no surprise that they know how to get a crowd going and keep it going for a few hours. But, this was special for Pittsburgh; it was so long since the band had come there in almost a decade and a half, and it was the first time playing the PPG Arena, an arena not only built to house the NHL Penguins but also geared towards hosting the biggest acts in music.
As Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammet, and Rob Trujillo went into another ‘newer’ song, “Atlas, Rise!” they were truly cognizant of the desire to hear the ‘old’ stuff. So, when “Seek and Destroy” began it started a dream setlist of 18 tunes geared towards touching on their expansive career, rather than just stuff from their last record. In other words, the fans had spoken and Metallica listened. “Wherever I May Roam” and “The Unforgiven” quickly followed as Lars would periodically get up from his rotating drum kit and fist pump the crowd into a frenzy. Another one off of Hardwired…to Self Destruct, “Now That We’re Dead” ended with a drum circle of sorts as rectangular posts rose from underneath the stage to host screens on their four sides and drum machines on their top. It was somewhat unique but the only critique may have been that it lasted a bit longer than it should have, particularly when another fan fave could have fit in that spot.
“Creeping Death,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “Whiplash,” “The Memory Remains,” followed in succession, becoming a trifecta of classic thrash. Rob and Kirk chased one another around the stage and kept a light-hearted atmosphere in front of the brutal rhythm as the screens displayed pictures of their past including many of deceased member Cliff Burton, but curiously, or maybe not so curiously, no pictures of former bassist Jason Newstead.
“Moth Into Flame” brought one of the coolest concepts of stage entertainment as tiny drone-bots rose from beneath trap doors in the stage to becoming swirling lit up swarms that went up and down and circulated. It was an amazing little detail that shows Metallica’s attention to the latest production technology to add that something extra to their performance. “Sad But True,” “One,” and “Master of Puppets” were brilliant and it may have been enough if the band ended there. But, they brought the goods for the encore as well.
“Spit Out The Bone” was the only ‘new hit’ that made it for the last hurrah and was accompanied by “Nothing Else Matters,” and “Enter Sandman”. As a complete show, it was a resounding success and captivating from start to finish. The musicianship of each member fits perfectly with the other and the love for what they do and are able to do show through. One of the most touching moments of the evening may have come when James was thanking the crowd from old to young for supporting them. He stopped to address a seven-year-old boy, Lennon, who was there with his ultra-cool parents. “I know I wasn’t at a Metallica concert when I was your age,” Papa Het reminisced, “but I wanted to be,” he lamented. And thus, from the experiences, or lack thereof, from a young Christian Scientist (Hetfield) could be the source from the seeds of rebellion were planted for what would become a key ingredient to the sound of Metallica. Well, last night, a sold-out PPG Arena was there instead of wishing they were there and came home with a lifelong indelible memory of heavy thrash metal bliss. Welcome to the Metallica family young Lennon, welcome.
All photos AWeldingphoto © 2018