Written by Drew Celestino*
Featured image by Jeff Yeager (Source: http://www.metallica.com)*
Prior to last night’s show at The Opera House in Toronto, I had seen Metallica 13 times. The last time was here in Buffalo in 2009, at the then-named HSBC Arena. Since the conclusion of the Death Magnetic tour, Metallica has not toured North America extensively at all, insteading performing only sporadically at limited summer festival dates. Meanwhile, in Europe, Metallica became something of a summertime mainstay, headlining festival after festival, year after year there. To say that North American Metallica fans have been somewhat starving to see them would be something of an understatement.
In the wake of the release of Metallica’s new record, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, they have made some media appearances, and even played a couple of small venue shows in London and Chile. But again, North America looked to be left wanting. Or so we thought. Mere weeks ago, they announced that a Toronto date was on deck, and it would be held in a venue with a 950 person capacity. The close proximity of the venue made me wonder if it was possible that I could get tickets to this show, somehow. The Metallica Club had a contest for early access to tickets at a discounted price, but they were extremely limited. I entered anyway, and either by merit of being a near 20 year member of the Club or just by pure luck, I won. I had seen Metallica in a small setting once before in 1998 on the Garage Inc. promotional tour, also in Toronto, but at the now-demolished Guvernment Warehouse. The Opera House is a third of that size. I would see Metallica for a 14th time, and in the smallest building yet.
Photo by Brett Murray (Source: http://www.metallica.com)*
The only person I could think to go with me to this event was my TLCD-cohort, the only person I know who has seen Metallica more than me, my fellow-Metallica fanboy partner-in-crime, and my friend, Jason Oberg. We drove up together, and only upon driving by the venue on our arrival did it dawn on us that we had been to The Opera House before, back in January of 1999 to see Fear Factory on the Obsolete tour. This time was obviously quite different. Standing in line outside, walking past an array of world-weary and well-worn road cases bearing Metallica’s logo, seeing longtime stage/crew manager Zach Harmon organizing his troops for the night, the contrast in scale was surreal. Metallica, one of the biggest bands in the world, was here. Electricity was in the air.
Upon entering, it dawned on us that this place was much smaller than we remembered. While we waited for what seemed like forever for everyone to get inside, it seemed like this place could barely contain the excitement in the air, much less the sonic onslaught of the band that was about to perform. And then, finally, the lights went down, and Metallica took the stage. No “Ecstasy of Gold” intro tape, no fanfare. They launched right into the classic Budgie song “Breadfan” and the night was underway. And what a night it was!
Metallica delivered a night of both old and new songs with precision and ferocity. They brought in their own sound system, and under the watchful ears of their veteran sound man, Big Mick Hughes, they sounded absolutely amazing. Every instrument was crystal clear. The guitars were tight and crunchy, the bass rumbled, and the drums were massive. The vocals were easily heard, and James Hetfield was in top form. Rob’s bass shined, and you could appreciate his playing even more in the live environment. Kirk Hammett, who I criticized in my review of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, had a great night, playing with passion and fire, and his solos were in fine form this evening. Lars Ulrich kept things moving as only he can, with an excitement and energy few drummers have. And I have yet to hear a live kick drum from any band that has the same thunderous impact as Lars’.
Photos in tiled mosaic by Jason Oberg*
The new songs, “Moth Into Flame,” “Atlas, Rise!,” and “Hardwired,” sounded excellent live, and it shows that the more Metallica gets to play them on stage, the better they get at performing them for an audience. And the audience definitely seems to be taking to them as well. Whether it’s because it was the first song released and the most familiar, or because people just like screaming “We’re so fucked!”, “Hardwired” in particular got people going. Unfortunately, those were the only three new songs played, despite us hearing Metallica soundchecking “Halo on Fire” from outside before we entered. We had high hopes it would make its live debut, but it was not to be.
Even old favorites had a new energy that I confess I have not heard from Metallica in quite some time. In particular, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Sad But True” sounded tighter and crunchier than they have in years. “Battery” got the crowd moving in a big way, tearing open the pit for the first time in the night, but it was not the last. “Harvester of Sorrow” was a crowd favorite. “Master of Puppets” had the whole building singing along, as did “Fade to Black,” which also featured some of Kirk’s best work of the night. “One” featured a moment of levity as James began playing the riff to “Fade to Black” before stopping and owning up to his mistake, laughing along with the crowd. Once the song started proper, it was excellent. And while we all would probably like to see “Enter Sandman” retired, permanently, you cannot deny its power, its place in history, and ultimately, its appeal. During the chorus, when James begins “Exit light” and prompts a response, sure enough, the entire crowd screamed back “Enter night!”
I have only one real issue with the setlist and that is the inclusion of “Whiskey in the Jar.” It’s a fine song, but after opening with a cover, in a somewhat short 15-song set, is another cover really necessary? And given the setlist performed, it seemed wildly out of place. With a catalog as deep as Metallica’s, I can’t help but feel they missed opportunity to deliver something special to an audience who was just rabid for them. But for a show this special, in this intimate space, being so close to my idols, it’s a minor gripe in a night full of such amazing music and energy. The crowd sang along regardless, and a great time was had by all.
At the end of the night, Lars said they would be back next summer, “outdoors.” I anticipate a full-blown outdoor stadium tour is in the cards. As if I wasn’t keenly aware, standing in the middle of the floor of The Opera House within arms-reach of Metallica, I looked around and I savored it, reminded that I might never get this close again. Thanks for show number 14, Metallica! Can’t wait for 15 and beyond!
Sad But True
Fade to Black
Harvester of Sorrow
Moth Into Flame
Master of Puppets
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Whiskey in the Jar
Seek and Destroy
Video by Jason Oberg*