Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Concert Review: Metallica at Busch Stadium in St. Louis June 4, 2017 -Words and Photos by Danny Nichols

In August 1986, when I was nine years old,  my family took a summer trip to Fox Springs Resort in central Missouri.  While there I made friends with an older kid named Doug Shirley who had brought some cassettes with him which were considerably different than the Olivia Newton John and Barry Manilow my mother had subjected me too.   Principal among this stack was Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”.    Before the opening track "Battery" had finished a paradigm shift in my musical interest occurred which would severely impact the rest of my life. 

This tale is not particularly unique. There may be no other album in the history of music which diverted more people down the left hand path of metal than “Master of Puppets”.    For so many of us it all began with Metallica. 

Despite their integral role in my life I had only seen the mighty Metallica once before, in about 1998. On that night I was a million miles away on the lawn at Riverport Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, Missouri.  I remember charging headlong into a large raucous mosh pit which formed during "Fight Fire With Fire", getting pummeled, and then later being very disappointed when the songs played from Kill 'Em All were performed acoustically.    

They don't tour often, the tickets are expensive, and my early life obsession with the band had waned with their mid-career changes in musical direction. Alas, Death Magnetic was a fine return to form, and their latest album Hardwired... to Self-Destruct has earned a place among their first four albums, at least in terms of quality, if not in nostalgic value.  The time had come to see the thrash masters again.

The day's weather could not have been much worse, alternating between thunderstorms which would not have been out of place on the Ride the Lightning cover, and a steady drizzle.  By the time we found a good spot up near the front of the extended stage, I along with the other denizens of the Busch Stadium field were soaked to the bone.  Following a tremendous set by metal's most underrated band Volbeat, there was an extended delay while a canopy was built over Lars drum kit to keep it dry.  Fortunately, although starting late, the set was not truncated.
The occasional crowd surfer tumbled overhead, and a few small and quick moshpits did spring up around me, but mostly the Metallica fans, (twenty years older than when they were opening giant mosh pits the last time I saw them), were content to pump fists, and shout in jubilation at each song.
The set list was a good cross section of their career.  Metallica has too many songs from too many eras to have pleased everyone. Sure I wished it had included “Creeping Death” , “Ride the Lightning” and “Disposable Heroes”, but surprise inclusions such as "Whiplash" and "Battery" nullified those omissions.   
Standing just a few feet away from a secondary stage when this most hallowed of bands played seminal thrash metal masterpiece “Seek and Destroy”  was a highlight of my concert attending career.   They were immediately forgiven for having performed their debut album tunes acoustically last time.

There were a couple of mishaps.  They trainwrecked the ending of "Whiplash" and had to restart "Fade to Black" when James' acoustic guitar was presented to him out of tune.  He angrily kicked it out of his way.  My brother thought these instances may have been staged, but I think they were legitimate and only served to make the evening more memorable.  When not everything happens as planned it reminds me of the intricacy and complexity which goes into every Metallica song and performance.  In a nod to a similar mishap at the Grammy's , James led off "Moth Into Flame" by jokingly asking the audience if his microphone was working.  It was, and he was in perfect voice.  Maybe it is the key in which he sings, but unlike so many other vocalists of his generation, Hetfield's voice sounds exactly as it did in his youth. 
Robert Trujillo is a beast.  I will never admit anyone can ever be a better bass player than Steve Harris or Geezer Butler, but if I could admit this, Trujillo proved his mettle to me on this night.  One of the best moments of the night was him stomping to the front of the stage and performing  metal’s most famous bass solo “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” while a video of Cliff Burton played behind him.  Up close it was evident just how difficult this song would be to play.  Still, like the legendary Burton before him, Trujillo nailed it on “take one”.

Lars Ulrich was amazing.  Last summer I read Paul Brannigan's biography of the band "Birth, School, Metallica, Death" on a flight to and from Lars' native Denmark.   This book convinced me Metallica would not have achieved the success it has without the boundless enthusiasm and sheer will of its drummer.   Lars certainly has his detractors, but I am not among them.  He is a great drummer, who was flawless on the evening.
Kirk Hammett was similarly flawless, as one must be when playing to a stadium full of fans who have committed every note of every solo to memory.  Hammett and Trujillo performed an interesting two man pseudo-solo which contained elements from the song "I Disappear".  It would have been great to see him get a few moments more in the spotlight and play an extended solo.  I dig those things, but I understand with a catalogue as extensive as Metallica's this would have come at the expense of some other tune I would have surely missed.
This tour is a triumph for heavy metal.  It defies logic that a thrash metal garage band from San Francisco could possibly be headlining a stadium in St. Louis.  This sort of musical aggression rarely finds an audience of such size, and may never do so again.  I felt truly fortunate to have witnessed such an event.  
Metallica plays "Seek and Destroy"
James Hetfield
Hetfield and Trujillo assist Ulrich during the "Now That We're Dead" drum solo.
Kirk Hammett
Trujillo and Hammett during the "I Disappear" solo.
James Hetfield
Metallica plays "Master of Puppets" at Busch Stadium
Robert Trujillo
Lars Ulrich plays under a rain canopy.
James Hetfield
The mighty Metallica

Hetfield and Hammett
Metallica gives us fuel and fire, during the playing of "Fuel"
Robert Trujillo
Metallica performs "One" at Busch Stadium
James Hetfield
Kirk Hammett
James Hetfield
Ulrich and Hetfield

Metallica closes with "Enter Sandman"

The final notes of a glorious night

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