BY STEFFAN CHIRAZI
When a band doesn't tour its home turf for eight years, then it is fair to wonder exactly how a tour is going to go. When Metallica announced 27 shows in North America to bring their WorldWired tour to stadiums, you'd have been forgiven for wondering how it would go. You wouldn't have been alone. In Montreal, as we discussed the shows to that point, Kirk Hammett shared with me a worry he'd had before that first date in Baltimore: that when onstage, he'd look up and see bank after bank of empty seats. A common fear for artists I suppose, but not entirely unfounded. Remember, that last tour had been in arenas. This was in stadiums! And whilst there are people who are paid to evaluate the demand for tours, until you see faces, until you don't see a single seat left in front of you, there will always be trepidation.
I don't know the exact figures (around a million people saw these North American dates) but I didn’t see anything other than seas of people covering stadium stands and floors. And I didn't see anything in the dressing or tuning room other than a band that was enjoying, no, relishing the opportunity to open up that Metalli-engine on full throttle again in the US and Canada. Now look, you can view that as hyperbole if you wish, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and both the numbers and fan reactions night after night tell you there were dangerous glycemic levels of goddamn pudding being eaten everywhere.
The production was a triumph. Five giant screens delivered both live flow and video content, augmented by deft but cool touches like the Hardwired… inflatables and the giant “M” and “A” at either end of the set up which framed everything. And I don't know if it was just me, but as the success of the mission became undeniably tangible, the pyro seemed to get bigger and crazier!
Indeed, there were times on this WorldWired tour where it felt like the new power in the old school rager days. Because Metallica ripped through stadiums before...but honestly, perhaps never with the cohesion, verve, power and energy of these WorldWired shows.
“Hardwired” itself is one of Metallica's best ever set openers, a jet of fiery intent which set the pace of every show supremely, in the process establishing itself as a classic. To follow it with a second new song each night (“Atlas, Rise!”) and to see those seas of stadium folk losing their shit to a double new song dose at the START of each show was something you really don’t imagine happening. It has come to the point where “Creeping Death” is no longer a compulsory affair. It underscores one of the main triumphs of these stadium shows: the emergence of Hardwired... songs as not just set mainstays, but expected classics. People went waiting to hear an “Atlas...” or a “Moth...” and, as James said to me, having people wanting the new songs and even complaining that there aren't more in the set was new territory.
The guests who came out to play were nothing short of great. Local H brought their sweaty, Chicago rock to a handful of stadiums after winning the opportunity join the lineup of support acts for five shows. Mix Master Mike wove tremendous metal tapestries with his decks, throwing in breaks, beats, and curves that connected everything. Volbeat and Gojira made sure that the concept of a “support” act was smashed to smithereens as both brought crunch and power to the stage early on each night. As for Avenged Sevenfold, they upped the ante yet further – Matt stalking the stage with effusive confidence and presence, a ringleader in not just warming up a crowd but claiming some new bodies for themselves.
These days, touring is less about cramming every available day with a show, and more about a schedule that both embraces everyone’s lives and just feels right for Metallica. These shows illustrated exactly why it's the right approach. Because each one was delivered at optimum levels of performance and energy. There were no “off-nights” or times when it “wasn't happening.” Every show felt fresh, whether in the St. Louis rain or the Miami heat, and every show felt sharp and rust-less.
Part of the other reasons behind that is how (to my eyes) the Tuning Room has become an even more vital part of the vibe than before. Now that three quarters of Metallica no longer reside full-time in the Bay Area (think about that!), the Tuning Room has become their point of reconnection and initial energy exchange every night. Whereas before such things were done at HQ, now the Tuning Room is (for all intents and purposes) HQ, and with less time and more urgency required, there's an argument for saying that the relatively “new” circumstances have seen a greater focus and “lock-in” than previously.
These shows also delivered quite possibly the best – and loudest – sound I have ever heard on an outdoor run by anyone, and that all stems from the sound being supplied by, err, Metallica. There were subwoofers at the front of the stage that massaged my intestines vigorously night after night, sweeping through them via my feet before exploding through the top of my head. I think it is safe to say that Motörhead's record as the loudest band in the world finally got taken.
Another thing I've talked about, but will reiterate here, is how the annex stage for “Seek & Destroy” brought a smaller venue feel to a portion of the show. Indeed, expanding on that point, the ramps around the Snake Pit were worked better by the band than I ever remember simply because they genuinely wanted to get closer to you!
And why wouldn't they?
Because perhaps the unspoken stars of this North American run have been your damn fine selves. The Met Family craved another US tour, and when it arrived, the Met Family did not disappoint. You showed up in enormous numbers of course, but you also did other things which were genuinely observed and humbly appreciated by Lars, James, Kirk, and Rob. You brought your children. You brought your mothers, your fathers, your cousins, your brothers. You brought friends who didn't “know” and you brought old-skool hardcores who perhaps lost their way. You brought back the overwhelming communal love and energy of a community and family that sees this band (and saw these shows) as much more than an evening's entertainment, a family that sees these as life-affirming moments of togetherness that unite everyone from everywhere, whoever you are. Whether singing along to “The Memory Remains” and “Seek & Destroy” or bouncing to “Halo On Fire,” this was the sort of special commonality you wanted to share with each other. I found myself really tripping on the positive emotional energy I felt, and I know James felt the same way.
It felt fitting to end in Edmonton, an ardent, hardcore home for Metallica (remember those Through The Never shows?). It didn’t disappoint; the fervor and volume unrelenting from start to finish. And watching those four men leave the stage, I can tell you they didn’t leave one micro-atom of energy spare, spending every last one on those crazy Edmontonians!
Without wishing to sound like Captain Obvious, the North American WorldWired Stadium tour was a resounding, sold-out success. But more than that, it was mighty and majestic reaffirmation that Metallica owns stadiums like no other act in live music, that Metallica fights repeatedly to make sure it remains at the pinnacle of its performing potential.
Now onto Europe, where Metallica will be returning to arenas with a production which will bend perceptions, exceed expectations and once again show that this band always love an opportunity to push limits and prove that the words ‘can’t be done’ are not part of their DNA. Look, I am not allowed to tell you that it will have XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX or be XXXXXXXXXXX. But you can excitedly expect something completely different from what’s been seen on the WorldWired tour so far. I might already have said too much...