Last Night: Metallica At Honda Center, Anaheim

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The Hype: After establishing themselves as thrash gods in the 1980s, Metallica became mainstream rock stars with their excellently accessible self-titled 1991 album. The band then proceeded to pretty much suck for the next 15-years-plus. Just when so many of us had given up hope for another great Metallica record, though, the group teamed with super producer Rick Rubin for Death Magnetic, easily the best metal/hard rock album of 2008. Current tour has so far been well-attended and garnered glowing reviews. Expectations high!

The Show: Whatever demons plagued Metallica in the past were nowhere to be found when the band performed Thursday at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The iconic metal act fired off lean, riveting, meticulously shifting assaults that swept the reportedly capacity-crowd of 17,600 into an alternative reality where fast, heavy drum-n-guitar forays conquer all. The four men–all in their mid 40s–stalked the stage with a youthful sense of determination and glee. Singer-guitarist James Hetfield, who from 20-feet-away looked ripped and at least a decade younger than his actual age, approached his performance like a metal messiah sent to save the congregation of thousands from all the petty, frustrating shit that life hurls at us on a daily basis. He crouched low and made eye contact with the fans in the pit while speedily punching out spot-on rhythm guitar chords, smiled while surveying the audience in between barking out commanding lyrics, held the mic stand above his head like a medieval weapon while cajoling the crowd to sing along with the Metallica anthem “Master of Puppets.”


As to remind the audience that although the band has been around since the early 1980s we were not attending an oldies show, Metallica, covered in a crossfire of sharp green lasers, smartly opened with “That Was Just Your Life” and then “The End of the Line” the first two tracks from Death Magnetic. The band then elated fans with a fully animated resurrection of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” off Metallica's near-flawless 1984 thrash masterpeice Ride the Lightning. The rest of the set followed a similar pattern of beloved classics and hits (“Fade to Black,” “Sad But True,” “One,” “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “Enter Sandman”) peppered with strong Death Magnetic cuts (“Cyanide,” “The Judas Kiss,” “The Day That Never Comes”). Oddly, Metallica chose not to perform the new album's most popular song, “All Nightmare Long,” but when a band plays at the level they did last night it's just not right to complain about setlist choices. 
Drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo sharply navigated each tricky time signature. Kirk Hammett displayed his unmatched ability to deftly shred and then turn around and issue raised-lighter-worthy sweetness. Hetfield roared like a lion. Metallica performed in the round–well, it was a rectangular stage, but in the center of the packed floor–with only the aid of lasers, sparsely used pyro and giant coffins that only came down occasionally, barely hinting at unintentional Spinal Tap silliness. Three songs into the performance, the veteran band had transformed the sterile Honda Center into a hot, sweaty, testosterone-intense room that felt as intimate and urgent as any club show this reviewer has attended in recent memory. The intensity, and overwhelming sensation of catharsis, persisted throughout the evening, making last night that rare arena show that almost completely envelops you.   

The Crowd: “You're 11 years old throwing up horns in the front row and I'm 46 yelling at you!” said an amused Hetfield between songs. Yes, middle-age metal heads brought their young children along, which is either really cool or highly troubling depending on your view of parenting. So, from little tykes out on a school night to old-timers with alarms set for 5 a.m. in preparation of another annoying OC commute, Metallica's fanbase has morphed into that of just every other superstar rock act–except with a much higher guy-to-girl ratio and a dress code of black followed by practically everyone.
Overheard: “Nice tits!” yelled one of the many drunk cretins seated behind me at the rare women who dared enter the enormous man cave.
1. That Was Just Your Life
2. The End Of The Line
3. For Whom The Bell Tolls
4. The Shortest Straw
5. Fade to Black
6. Broken, Beat N Scarred
7. Cyanide
8. Sad But True
9. One
10. The Judas Kiss
11. The Day That Never Comes
12. Master of Puppets
13. Battery
14. Nothing Else Matters
15. Enter Sandman
16. Too Late, Too Late
17. Trapped Under Ice
18. Seek and Destroy