It’s been a great concert season for me, and it’s still going. Of all the bands I was seeing this year, the one I was most excited about is probably Metallica. I remember being a fan of Metallica when no-one knew who they were outside of the metal world. I bought ...And Justice For All on the day it came out (as well as the $5.98 EP, I wish I still had my copy of that CD). I watched them become huge with Metallica, go alternative with the Loads, lose their way and come back with Death Magnetic, an album that’s not the equal of the first three, but at least shows them going back in that direction. So, when they announced a tour, I joined the fan club, and got tickets to three shows. The first show I tried to buy, sold out the moment it went on sale, getting tickets to these shows was tough. I had a GA ticket for the second Sydney show, and seats for both Adelaide shows.
In Sydney, my friend and I showed up around 10 a.m. and were about 13th in line. Ticketek in Australia are fighting scalping by making people collect tickets the week of the show. That’s fine for locals, but we flew in, had to drive in to the city, find the office, get tickets, then head to the venue. The way Iron Maiden handled it in the U.S. (a machine at the gate that prints a ticket from your credit card) was so much better. Around 1 p.m., a security guy came by and handed out his business cards with a number on them. This was the order in which people had arrived that day. We were 18 and 19 (he only handed out 22). By the time we were let in to a staging area, we were more like number 100. Just before we were let in, the guy got us in order of our cards and let us in a few minutes before. That was a brilliant idea, one I very much appreciated. As a result, we were able to just walk in, and take a place.
The stage on this show is in the middle of the GA area, which means that there’s really not a bad seat in the house. We stood just to the right of the middle on what appeared in hindsight to be the back side. The first band, Baroness, played on the other side of the stage. We were not close, but also not far away enough. They were pretty average. Second came Lamb of God. Their music is good, but I am too old, I guess, to like their style of guttural vocals. They played right in front of us. Some guy pushed through the crowd and to the barrier to my right early in the set. He and I fought for the whole show, he had three friends he was trying to push in as well. He got two in at one stage, but he was down to one by the end of Metallica. I get there early for the barrier, and I will fight anyone who tries to push me out. I know the barrier can be rough, and that’s cool, but people who actually attack you just spoil the show.
I had noticed some mirrors on the stage, but had not realised what they were for. Metallica starts with "The Ecstasy of Gold," and then it goes dark and a laser light show starts. I am glad I saw this from seats as well, so I could see everything they were doing, but being right in front of it was incredible. The lights hit the mirrors and reflected back out into the crowd. The first song was "That Was Just Your Life." A highlight was Rob using his shiny bass to reflect the lights out in to the crowd. As is so often the case, I like the new CD a lot more for having heard some songs live. The second song was "Cyanide," which is my favorite from Death Magnetic. From there they went in to a personal favorite, "Creeping Death." Of course, with an older song, the crowd went nuts. "Harvester of Sorrow" and "Fade to Black" followed, then the only song of the night from the Load’s, "The Memory Remains."
The stage had 8 or 10 microphones all around it, which meant that James goes from side to side and sings different songs in different places, and often changes places during the guitar solos. The whole setup was awesome, because instead of a handful of people being in front of James, everyone at the barrier ended up in front of James at some point, Kirk at others, Rob at others. Lars drum kit was in the middle and it was able to rotate, so there were three solos (two from Kirk, one from Rob) during which the crew would rotate the kit by 90 degrees, so Lars ended up facing everyone as well. I got the impression that Lars is the one who loves the stage setup the most, he frequently got up and came to the barrier, or just generally walked around. It seemed he succeeded in drawing more attention to himself than is usual for a drummer.
"No Remorse" was the first of several Kill 'Em All songs on the night, then it was "Sad But True." One thing I did notice throughout: I remember reading an interview in the Master of Puppets era where James said they toured with Scorpions and said they say the same things to the crowd every night and that they therefore suck. I guess James has come to learn what it means to try to make big arena shows work night after night. James says a lot of things every night. “Are you alive? Does it feel good to be alive? Are you with us, Sydney? We’re here to make you happy, because if you’re happy, we’re happy. Take all your love and direct it to that man over there with the black guitar." And, before "Sad But True," "Does Sydney like it’s music heavy? Metallica gives you heavy baby."
"No Leaf Clover" was next, which was nice, I met a girl in the afternoon who told me that was the song she most hoped to see, and she’d come from New Zealand so she deserved it.
The most surprising song choice for me, was "Orion." It was a great song to hear live. Next was "One," preceded by a ton of pyro. I noticed James was off stage during the bigger flames (for those who don’t recall, the Metallica/GnR riot years ago was caused by James being rushed to hospital after 3rd degree burns from their pyro). The main set rounded up with "Master of Puppets," "Battery," "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman."
For the first encore, James always announces that they are doing a cover, which changes ever night. That night, it was "Stone Cold Crazy" by Queen. Then they did "Whiplash," and left the stage again. The layout of the stage, means we could see them, in fact, James was high-fiving people on his side of the barrier. So, it was no surprise that they came out again, and their end song is always "Seek and Destroy." During this song, people in the lighting rig throw down beach balls of various sizes, all with the Metallica logo on one side, and Death Magnetic on the other. I got one and managed to get it down and home in one piece. After that, they spend AGES on stage, throwing out handfuls of picks, etc. I got a Death Magnetic pick, and my brother-in-law got Kirk and James ones, which was very cool. I got a full set of character picks on eBay for $50, the price is low because they throw so many out. Taking a pick home from a show is awesome, though.
One thing I didn’t mention is the lighting rig. The lights are mounted on four huge metal coffins, and they twist, lower, rotate etc. during different songs, which was also a cool thing to see up close. I flew home, and the following night, Metallica played a totally different set in Sydney, including a ton of songs I’d hoped to hear from Master of Puppets. Metallica play about five songs every night, and the rest changes, which is great for fans who can go to multiple shows. The downside is, if you didn’t get to hear your favorite, you can always check on the web to find out that they played it a night you didn’t go.
In Adelaide, the first night they played a totally different set, including "For Whom The Bell Tolls" (The other Ride the Lightning song I was dying to hear), "Wherever I May Roam," "Fuel," "Unforgiven," "Hit the Lights" and "Fight Fire With Fire." The cover for the night was "Am I Evil?," which I had really wanted to hear, but they stopped when they got to the fast bit -- they only played half of it. The second night in Adelaide, four songs in I was convinced they were going to play the set I saw in Sydney, but then they did "One," which was out of sequence so I knew I was good. They played "Leper Messiah" and "Sanitarium," which was my highlight of the shows, although the song I really hoped to hear was "Damage, Inc." Instead, they did "Battery" again. Other songs included "I Disappear" (which I’d also been hoping for), and "The Four Horsemen" (my favorite off Kill 'Em All). The cover was "Die, Die My Darling," which was definitely not on my list, but that was cool. I have to say, I saw Iron Maiden’s "Somewhere Back In Time" once at the barrier and twice from the seats, and I left those two shows early because it just wasn’t the same as being at the front. Metallica’s set was so huge that between that, and the changing set list, I was more than happy to be in the seats, although the barrier night was the best show, still. I’d have gone to every show they did if I could, and certainly if I lived in Melbourne or Sydney, I’d have gone to every show there, no matter what. Metallica also seem to love mp3s nowadays as you can buy any of their shows online, and they generate artwork as well, so I’ve created CDs of the three shows I went to, and intend to buy the Sydney show I missed, because if I add that show, I can do a CD of all of Master of Puppets, live. Overall, the impression I had was of a very well oiled stadium rock band who really love to play and to interact with their fans. It’s no wonder they are the biggest metal band in the world.