Metallica fans are a dedicated bunch. Metallica fans will sing the chorus to Pantera’s “Walk” while it plays over the PA during soundcheck. Metallica fans won’t just sing along to the lyrics, but to the guitar melodies. Metallica fans will yell “METALLICA,” stretching out the last syllable to its breaking point, on the way out of the venue, long after the band has left the stage. Metallica fans are (mostly) not the type to notice that opening with “Fuel” may be a bit on the nose for Circuit of the Americas. Metallica fans will pay money to see a band whose studio output they wrote off a long time ago, and at a sporting event no less, because their first four albums are just that good.
There’s music fans, then there’s Metallica fans. And they came out in full force last night to the X Games.
The San Francisco thrash metal quartet played it relatively safe with the setlist, unloading hit after hit mostly from their first four records. Thankfully, these are songs that continue to set the standard for excellence in metal. It’s simply impossible to hear “Master of Puppets” or “Creeping Death” too many times, so much so that while there were some slight flubs throughout the night, the crowd’s devotion. Some fans hugged each other in embrace, while others took it to the series of mosh pits that opened up throughout the night. One would know just what would trigger a pit, like the first verse of “Battery” or just after the double bass roll on “One.” There was even a failed “Wall of Death,” where normally two opposing sides run into each other. This just happened to be two dudes. Not exactly legendary, but this is a Metallica show, where you only don’t have fun if you notice something too much.
Vocalist/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield even acknowledged the crowd helping him out with his vocals, whose gruff bite has seen better days. Even if he can’t scream like he used to, he still brought tender emotion to Metallica’s slower numbers like the haunting “One” and depression anti-ballad “Fade to Black.” There were times where they would omit parts of songs, like the beautiful bridge on “Battery” and an entire verse from “Whiplash,” which was actually frustrating. Metallica are only mere mortals, strangely enough, and they’ve lived harder than most bands, but still, there was no fat to be cut. Play the songs in whole!
The only “deep cut” was “Metal Militia” from Kill ’em All, and even that was treated with the reverence reserved for their hits. Even “Cyanide” from Death Magnetic got dedicated fans – the most loyal and/or least critical – singing along. One of the few acknowledgements from their mid-90s era came when Kirk Hammett played the intro to “Hero of the Day” before busting out into an extended solo before “Black.” They’ve gotten considerable milage out of their 80s discography, which has helped their audience tolerate some of their many sins, including drummer Lars Ulrich’s notoriously arrogant personality (which didn’t come out last night), a failed collaboration with Lou Reed known as Lulu, and the trash-can drum tone on St. Anger. Who knows how long the ride will last, but Metallica don’t show any signs of retirement despite wear.
Right before the second encore, “Seek and Destroy,” the crowd witnessed the luckiest man in the world. Metallica were horsing around as if they had to leave, with Hetfield in particular teasing fans by almost putting his guitar on then removing it. One fan standing behind the band (and there were many – Metallica made any of Migos’ SXSW shows look quaint) jokingly flipped off Lars Ulrich, doing what many angry fans have wanted to do without any repercussions to one of the most controversial figures in metal. Even as the crowd cheered on Ulrich during the night, they were secretly envious of the bird flipper. Metallica still has the capacity to make some fans’ dreams come true, and many left that night, at the very least, satisfied.