BY STEFFAN CHIRAZI
Goddamn, that was a rootin’ tootin’ six-barrel shootin’ mofo of a throw down in Lil’ Old Balty last night. (Did I say “goddamn”?)…sorry, it’s just that sometimes I am not sure my “proper English vernacular” gets the Metallica point across. So I thought I’d address the immediate aftershock effect of the first date on Metallica’s WorldWired 2017 North American tour with some Americanese. Because truth be told, last night was like a big rolling ball of General Patton, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood striding across the massive plains (read; enormous Metallistage) and magnificently marauding in murderously efficient fashion to remind everyone who throws things down the best when it comes to rockin’ stadiums.
It was a performance of confidence and strength, one which summoned all the electricity that Metalli-music creates merged with the experience and inner-strength of knowing they will always bring it. For two days the guys had been working on final elements of the show, right up to the final moments (and yeah, let’s hear it for the production team who live 28 hour days and stretch elastic time beyond its physical boundaries) but I’ll bet a buck no one out there knew that. Put it this way… the night before, had you been inside M&T Bank Stadium at around 1:15 am, you’d have seen the heart of ’Tallica’s production team on the far point of the Snake Pit ramp reviewing the screens with Lars and James (not to mention Dewey making sure the flooring onstage showed no loose edges courtesy of his handy, err, “torch!”) and, indeed, a hive of crew still beavering to make sure technical aspects were where they needed to be. If I told you that the production team, Lars, and James then moved their careful review inside to the dressing room and into a further 90-minute meeting, you should not be surprised! Attention to detail of details might be exhausting, but it is why the show was as seamless as you could imagine.
The production itself is subtle but contains many, many layers and might well be my favorite for many a tour in so much as it augments what Metallica is and does, yet allows the music to wholeheartedly be center stage. I will confess, I had (at first) had my personal misgivings about the amount of white at the core of it all, but it soon becomes clear that it is a neutral palette (or even screen) which allows the lights to spin their magic and the finer elements of the production to breathe.
Those two giant M & A letters either side of the enormo-stage frame the affair wonderfully, and then there’s the mini-stage at the end of the Snake Pit ramps which creates a club in a stadium. The pyro is back and the fire is alive, but behind it all lurk five giant, giant video screens. Showing things on screens is one thing, but weaving a story through the entire set, merging live action with video clips, effects pieces, and even a portion of the movie is quite another. Your eyes are never, ever able to avert from action somewhere, yet it is not over-assaultive. It “could” be almost trippy at some junctures, especially when James or Rob or Kirk are on a side-ramp singing and behind them is a giant Lars on the screen looking like he might engulf them. And there are moments when your mind plays tricks and giant figures on-screen take on the same proportions as the ramp-roving Metalli-members. Look, whether you see that sort of stuff or not is individual, but what I can tell you is that you will absolutely not find yourself drifting away from this WorldWired production. In fact, it achieves the seemingly impossible by making a stadium setting feel engaging and (dare I say it) intimate.
One other thing. This. Band. Is. Very. Very. Very. VERY LOUD!
They WILL rumble yer colon with the combination of a fresh, spanking hot PA and some giant sub-woofer-like speakers which appear designed to level you physically. With Motörhead sadly no more, I think ANYONE attending WorldWired ’17 can safely know they are seeing the loudest band on the road. Maybe the world as it stands. Yet somehow, somewhere, despite the workout for your ears and offal, there is not a lasting effect of total and utter physical deprivation. Think of it as one of those great roller coaster experiences which leave you fearing for your sense and sensibilities, yet you end up overwhelmingly satiated and satisfied.
We know those songs, those glorious songs, and thus I will spare you an adjective-driven recount of every note of every number. What I will say is, perhaps more than ever, the devil is in the details. The little flourishes. The magic moments which have been introduced. James’ haunting, acoustic pre-amble to “Halo On Fire,” reminding us that he will always ask questions, always carry a passenger which needs careful control (it is my opinion that “Halo…” is one of the Hardwired… songs which carries the deepest reservoir of both meaning and struggle – I’ll have to ask him), but it gives this already wonderful, melancholic, Celtic-flavored classic an extra dimension. And then there’s Kirk and Rob’s medley, a smooth-flowing, effortless-yet-epic jam through “Bleeding Me” and “I Disappear” before Rob throws down his memorable “(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth” tribute to Cliff. And then there are those giant tribal drums which appear during “Now We’re Dead,” the four band members taking a segue moment to commune over some deep percussion, a joining of sorts, perhaps even slightly ritualistic.
Perhaps the biggest ritual revival of all, however, was the fact that Metallica was back on US soil, kicking off a North American run, and roaring for a US audience like the proud metal patriarchs they have ascended to being.
Apparently, Lars told Rolling Stone recently that the AT&T Park show pre-Super Bowl was an “eye-opener” in respects of showing the band that people en masse still gave a shit. If you think deeply about that comment, if you take a moment to step aside from Metallica’s legend, their size, their enormity, you will get a glimpse into the very heart and soul of a band that knows nothing other than to push, self-improve and (ultimately) be the very best they can be. Because bands who think they’ve made it and can rest on their laurels don’t sit in the cold until 1:30 am watching video screens. They don’t keep reimagining, reworking, and reinventing classic songs to be even better. And they don’t doubt that perhaps, just perhaps, they aren’t the biggest hard rock, heavy metal rock, or whatever fucking LOUD BAND you want to genre-lize them as, in the world.
No. Metallica might well be all those things, but the reason is that they still (deep down) believe they “might” lose those titles, and thus Metallica retains the core appetite and desire to fight for pole position, both creatively and as a live spectacle. On the evidence of Baltimore, consider their ongoing mission a success.