Friday, September 16, 2011

The Big Four... and Hating on Metallica

I probably talked shit about Metallica for a full week before the Big Four concert at Yankee Stadium, even though I'd long secured a good seat for the show. And damn it, I felt entitled to. No band—not even U2—have managed to pull such an incredible 180-degree about-face in their values and ethos.

Believe me, I fully affirm Metallica's capitalist right to go modern-day DIY and fly their own G5 plane around. But I don't support the notion that when they tour Europe, they camp out at the Four Seasons in Paris and fly back there every night from around the continent. Just imagine their carbon footprint. And how silly it is that a band that once abhorred music videos now sells "All Nightmare Long" light switch plates on their website?

It all started so innocently. In my early 'tween days, Metallica were my stars, my moon, my galaxy. I first became aware of them in an issue of Hit Parader, thinking these guys must've been really good to be that ugly yet manage to take editorial pages away from Motley Crue and Poison. I sought out their back catalog, and it was love from there on out—until I discovered punk rock as a high school junior. Then sometime between their suddenly suspicious appeal to local guidos via the Black Album and their attack on Napster, I opted out completely.

Did my initiation make me inherently hate their latter day work? Absolutely not. Metallica and I both aged and evolved, albeit in different directions. And that's within both of our rights. I've often thought about the fact that Jesus Lizard's Goat came out the same year as the Black Album, and how different my musical preferences could have been had I discovered them in 1991. That said, I salute Metallica's 30-year longevity and worldwide success.

And then I made my way to the Bronx. The near seven-hour concert began at 4:00pm, and the wraparound lines to get in foretold my company for the day, 54,000+ BMI-challenged metal fans wearing a nearly split amount of Metallica and Slayer T-shirts. The first of the Big Four, Anthrax, were already onstage and despite having the home team advantage, churned out a sonically flaccid performance to a quarter-packed stadium that included oldies like "Metal Thrashing Mad," "I Am The Law" and "Indians," with its irresistible "Waaaaar Dance" breakdown. I never thought I'd miss John Bush so much.

Next up were Megadeth. In the days prior to the show, rumors percolated that there was a chance they wouldn't play given leader Dave Mustaine's neck injury. Soon related stories emerged, from Exodus booking flights as replacements (I would've preferred Testament) to having ambulances on standby to escort the cantankerous ginger straight to the hospital for surgery immediately following their set. Mustaine ultimately pulled through and performed a nearly triumphant set, at times looking visibly in pain. Though some complained about their set list—not enough off of Peace Sells... But Who's Buying, too much newer material—I thoroughly enjoyed Megadeth. They were technical, precise and riveting when playing "Holy Wars," "Hangar 18," "Peace Sells" and "Symphony of Destruction." Even with his health on the line, Mustaine still managed to make a few political statements. To that end, playing "Foreclosure of a Dream" instead of "A Tout Le Monde" would have been more apt. Get well soon, Dave. Sorry for all the schadenfreude.

As dusk set in, Slayer finally emerged and then came the moment I'd been waiting for: to hear the "Slayer!" chant echoing throughout Yankee Stadium by the thick crowd and all the sweet subversion it brought. By far, Slayer were the loudest, the best sounding and the most relentless act of the day. Even the New York Times couldn't front on the fact that they blew Metallica off the stage. Bathed in red lights, their hour-long performance was a well-concocted greatest hit selection that plowed through "Chemical Warfare," "Dead Skin Mask," "Mandatory Suicide," "Disciple," "Silent Scream" and my beloved "War Ensemble." Not even the absence of guitarist Jeff Hanneman (Exodus' Gary Holt subbed and did a fantastic job) deterred from their laser focus. No bullshit, all pounding metal. I headbanged. To quote a first time witness: "I was waiting for Satan himself to show up."

It was nearly time for Metallica. Surveying the packed house before their set gave me a proud feeling, reminiscent of my very first concert—the Headbanger's Ball Tour '89 at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum, featuring Helloween, Exodus and Anthrax—and how it awed me to be surrounded by so many like-minded people who understood all the ostracizing and prejudice that came along with having "different" musical tastes and wearing black T-shirts emblazed with skulls.

Despite the nostalgia, I wondered how many songs I'd manage to last through. Four? Less? The majesty of Metallica opening with "Creeping Death," followed by "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Ride the Lightning," could not be denied. But during "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" something happened. I found myself disconnected and unmoved, associating the song with its ominous presence in the Paradise Lost documentary, rather than the track on Master of Puppets that exposed the band's fervid side and completely drew me in. And quite frankly, after seeing Some Kind of Monster, it was difficult to ignore the connection between psycho-speak and James Hetfield's whole "Do you feel good? We want to make you feel better!" banter. That was the moment it crystallized that any emotional connection to the Metallica "tribe" I once had was gone forever.

Though I'm glad I caught the second-ever live performance of "Orion" on my way out (I hope y'all have realized that Robert Trujillo is by FAR the coolest dude in the band these days), it disappointed me to learn that the last two songs of Metallica's main set—the marquee, signature songs they saved for last—were "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman." [And seriously, did "Blackened" need the accompanying laser show? The fucking song is called "BLACKENED."] Still, considering I stayed for 10 whole songs, I'd like to think I gave them a chance to recapture my attention and faith, but it's clear they belong to the masses now. So I dub thee unforgiven.


noyokono said...

...and you're Unforgiven II.

Charlie said...

You really summed up my impressions of the show better than I ever could have. I grew up devoted to Metallica, and learned all of their songs up to the Black Album on my guitar, which stands as my one 'hobby' outside of computer work. It broke my heart that they departed from what I enjoyed listening to. I had never seen them live, due to one thing or the other, and living in the sticks, so this show was my chance. I enjoyed hearing some classics played, but know that I've moved beyond what they have to offer now. Thanks for the write up. Looking forward to catching the Testament / Anthrax show later this fall!