METALLICA - Philly Hardwired: Career Suicide & Redemption!

May 13, 2017, 11 days ago

By Mark Gromen

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Been almost 34 years since last shot Metallica (December 30th, 1983: Fountain Casino, Aberdeen, NJ, opening for Twisted Sister!) Mind you, seen them a few times since (as a fan), at least one gig on all the major tours, up until a certain point, including theater show w/ W.A.S.P (interviewed Cliff & Kirk, in their hotel room, that morning), opening arenas for Ozzy, Allentown Fairgrounds w/ Metal Church, supporting Van Halen (and others, on the '88 Monsters Of Rock tour), the "faulty" lighting truss on the Justice dates, snakepit stage for Black album, outdoors/Dynamo, Holland '99 (with Manowar, at that time, the two biggest metallic acts in one place, simultaneously) and both nights of the debut Orion Music fest (in Atlantic City, NJ), where they first hit upon the idea of playing the old albums in their entirety. Over the years, they've become the biggest name in rock, let alone metal, and I've continued to support underground/fledgling bands on the way up.

Now headlining football stadiums (Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles play), leapt at the opportunity to see a show under the stars, virtually in my backyard. It was a generational crowd, middle-agers reliving their youth, old-timers/(grand)parents taking their kids, as well as youngsters out to witness their first concert, including one tyke's first crowd surf. Not everyone was a "metal" fan, Metallica long ago transcending the exclusive province of metalheads, embraced by all walks of life. That said, Doro drummer Johnny Dee and famed shutterbug Ross Halfin were seen in the pit, prior to the show. According to early weather reports, was supposed to be held during a 24 hour stretch of rain, that mercifully didn't appear. Maybe God loves Metallica too.

The white stage, with a wall of five folded video panels behind the band, stretched the entire width of the field. At times the guys onstage were so far away from each other, they'd need a cell phone to communicate.The fabled snakepit (couple hundred select fans getting an up-close standing room only area ringed by a walkway) makes its return. Never would have guessed Metallica employing a record-scratching DJ, as intermission entertainment, the air filled with Drowning Pool and Limp Biscuit before the San Fran clan go onstage. After the oft used AC/DC call to arms, "Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock n Roll)", the stadium went black, a short snippet of spaghetti western was shown (accompanied by Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy Of Gold" theme), then followed (on the video screens) by the intro to "Hardwired", the four members' visages morphing into the album artwork,although the static-crackle audio still sounds suspiciously like the start of Kiefer Sutherland's 24 series on Fox TV, to these ears.

So the band is off and running. In the middle is Lars Ulrich, with his minimalist drum kit, minus any enormous stadium riser. Kirk Hammett (guitar) is stage left and Robert Trujillo (bass), right. Frontman/guitarist James Hetfield a commanding presence, in front of Ulrich. The song is predominately red tinged. Another newbie, "Atlas, Rise" follows, Hetfield switching to one of the numerous mics, pre-positioned around the stage and ringed walkway. This time, stage left. As Kirk takes the solo, the rest surround Ulrich's kit. "For Whom The Bell Tolls" sees a giant bell onscreen, behind the drummer. Hetfield continues his tour, singing from stage right as Trujillo and Hammett make a circuit around the ring. At one point (a rarity the rest of the night), the two guitarists play side-by-side, in front of Ulrich. Much of the action is caught on the video screens, so those located at the far end of the stadium, where the performers appear almost ant-like (judging from my later survey throughout the venue) can see faces and expressions as clearly as the photogs down front.

Merchandise was plentiful, with the cheapest T-shirt going for $40, up to an exclusive,event-only football jersey, in Eagles green, for $100. As the photographers exited the pit, "Creeping Death" saw pyro cannons shoot skyward, the heat briefly warming the air on a chilly spring evening. Policy that I couldn't keep my camera, so during my trip to the car, the band aired "The Unforgiven" and most of "Now That We're Dead", returning to my seat to see each of the band members dwarfed by one of four, free-standing Japanese Taiko drums they were pounding on. Hetfield had his guitar slung over his shoulder as he railed against the skin. Song ended with James taking the drumstick to his guitar strings. "Moth Into Flame" saw the video wall bellow images of smoke, chains and flames, like an old steel mill/foundry. It got progressively more intense, eventually showcasing a video conflagration. Behind the band, a real flame traversed the stage. The monitors also focused on Robert and Kirk on the semi-circular gangplank, as Hetfield is isolated, in the far reaches of stage left.

All the lights diminish, then a purple tint, to begin "Wherever I May Roam". On the field (which is covered by a mosaic of interlocking, hard plastic squares), periodic pockets of circle pitting erupt. In a moment geared to the new generation, blurring onscreen activities and reality, "Halo Of Fire" not only sees the black & white, female MMA inspired video for said track played simultaneously, but all live shots of the band, superimposed on the wall, are also shown, minus color! It ends (segues?) with Trujillo and Hammett again closest to the audience, on the catwalk. Throughout the night, was impressed by Hammett, often accused of being an after-thought to the Hetfield-Ulrich creative team, but tonight was his triumph. spirited solos, looking younger and more energetic than any of his mates. The two trade licks, ultimately resulting in Trujillo's rendition of the "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)" bass solo, video of Cliff Burton accompanying, to great fan response.

Past the halfway point, it was all hits from here on out, starting with speedy "Motorbreath" as Hetfield donned a different/old school black leather vest, adorned by plenty of (other) band's patches. These days, to many, "Old/vintage Metallica" means the Black Album. A green lit "Sad But True" gets a huge reaction. It ends with Hetfield, on hands & knees, leaning against the back of his guitar, smashing the strings/pick-ups into the ground, to produce noisy feedback. Once more, the stage goes dark, to be broken by an explosion, animated thunder, searing flame cannons and real fireworks, shot overhead, from the lighting truss, It's to simulate the battle scene that begins the "One" video. Once more life imitates art. Plenty of smoke in the purple haze, red laser lights sweep the stage, Hammett now stripped to just a black long sleeve. Under a white spotlight, the three eventually converge, in front of drummer Ulrich.

Progresses right into an initially green lit "Master Of Puppets", the crowd singing virtually the whole thing! A drizzle couldn't put a damper on the remaining tracks, beginning with "Fade to Black", complete with clip from their Through The Never movie and Hetfield strumming a pole mounted acoustic guitar, stage right. "Seek And Destroy" sees Hetfield finally venue to the centrally located mic on the farthest edge of the catwalk, and after some small talk, delivers the strobe dominated old-time favorite away from his pals, who remain on the main stage. In a local visual tie-in to Metallica history, an old Ticketron stub, from their Tower Theater show on Jan. 12, 1985, was superimposed across the video wall. Neat touch! Thus ended the proper set, but there were still a few left.

Unnecessary, but lest the crowd energy dissipated in the short break, a fiery "Battery" reignites the faithful, for the encore. Emerging from a blackened stage, only Hetfield is spotlit, then boom! Flame cannons, even from atop the stage rigging, as a montage of breaking glass, destruction and chaos reign onscreen. Begun with Hammet's jangly guitar, a somber "Nothing Else Matters" sees banks of green lasers pierce the blue bathed stage, with the crowd taking the vocals from Hetfield. The two guitarists are once more aside each other, albeit a more refined tune than plied earlier. As the song fades out, cameras zoom in for an extreme close-up of Hetfield's pick. Then the telltale riffs to tonight's closer, "Enter Sandman". Once more, the crowd threatens to drown out the singer, as images from the '91 music video invade the scenery. Horror movie fan Hammett has switched back to his Boris Karloff/Mummy emblazoned guitar, same one with which he began the night (using three others). Another (bigger) firework display caps things off, as the band smiles and acknowledges the legion of adoring fans, Hetfield circling the ring, guitar resting on his shoulder, throwing picks as he exits. Hammett spends extra times, making a second foray onto the walkway, to distribute souvenirs.

Big production values, colossal songs, giant venue. No doubt who rules the roost. Metallica are king!

 

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