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Pandemicmonium

Sep 17, 2021

Metallica – The Independent, SF
September 16, 2021

Beforehand there is excitement and trepidation.
The hour is upon us.
The pandemic is still with us.
And now, finally, it is time.
Vaccinations are thankfully within all inside.
Time to get Metallica back into the new world, the pandemic world, the world which has seen them not take a public stage in anger (or joy) since the SF Symphony shows in 2019; you do the math, it’s been too long for me to figure it out.
All the tension, all the worries, the concerns of life as we’ve been living are (by my reckoning) about to get a good beating at The Independent, a large slice of normalcy returning to the 400 lives who have paid $19.81 plus service charge for a $20 wristband to get inside for their Metallica live reunion, the battery and power exchange surely about to be revived, rekindled and robustly inhaled…

They take the stage with an almost post-apocalyptic “Whiplash”, perfectly pocketed at a slightly slower chug, dirty, hard, a giant unforgiving aural FUCK YOU to EVERYTHING WE’VE BEEN THROUGH IN THIS SHITTY TIME OF PANDEMICMONIUM, a triumphant dirty salute to this first show back since whenever, and right behind it? An equally brutal and cathartic “Ride The Lightning” follows, the crowd shaking off some rust, still caught between the shock of seeing a gig and the double shock of seeing that gig being Metallica in a venue this size.

“Beautiful…beautiful to see you…” says James, simple words carrying more weight than a hundred Godzillas, and “The Memory Remains” is on deck, with swing and balls, the crowd given their space to find the ending refrain and muscle memory kicking in.

“We are not here to spread covid, we are here to spread some joy…” furthers Hetfield, and “Now That We’re Dead” thunders through the walls. Again, it feels a little heavier, a little more charged, deeply in the pocket and perhaps representative of a Metallica 2021 which is crushing, but with a few more hundred pounds per square inch.

Is it me?
Is it my ears, deprived for so long?
“Holier Than Thou” comes in again on the thicker side of heavy, with an extra side of heft, and yeah, I know, they’ve had enough time to prepare, but not a step is being put wrong.
I wondered if there’d be trepidation from the band members when it came to the crowd being right there, but given the fully vaccinated status of everyone in the building, there was not a shred, Trujillo sumo-squatting at the stage lip as he holds down the end of this Black Albumclassic, screaming with the delight that fan-band energy exchange creates, you know, the one that takes your spirit away from your fears and soars to a happy place.

“No Leaf Clover” plays like a Celtic Sabbath saturated lullaby, and Het doesn’t ask, he says, “It feels good to be doing this doesn’t it…”
He doesask, “Do you want heavy?” as if it hasn’t been happening all night, but with the weight of Metallica 2021, you just knew “Sad But True” was going to be, well, heavier…and it is just that. I am going to have to spend some time and ask some questions, because I tell you, this is some primordial Cro-Magnon thuggery, and then, after a false start, “Moth Into Flame” gets the thunder-grudge treatment, straining to leave the pocket but being clubbed back into the servitude of weight and riff.

“Fade To Black”…such a relevant song in this time, “can’t stand this hell I feel” an especially resonant line, and the tension ratchets up to the break, the riff, the bridge into the final run, I mean, how many times have we all heard it, maybe how many times have we all taken it for granted, well not anymore, and the venue floor looks like a Status Quo gig from 1980 as head get banging old-style, the guitars bringing the dandruff to a crescendo, a classic journey  revisited with greater love and appreciation than ever before.

Rob brings in “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and he crab-walks with Kirk like it’s Wembley or the Stade De France, because actually, this is all that and more. The battery I mentioned earlier is feeding all parties and the band show no signs of fatigue despite a couple of trips around the sun since we were all last together.

This band has always been at it’s best in a tight pocket, and “Creeping Death” continues the evening’s impressively rust-free, chug-fat-heavy meter, igniting the floor into its first mosh-pit of the night and probably most people’s last 24 months at a ‘Tallica show (longer! there was no moshing at the symphony!) and you could call this a bit of Buddhist teaching through Metallica, because the crowd is living in the moment and giving their all in sweaty moshing.

“One” is a glorious prelude to “Master Of Puppets,” and I have to say, watching that goddamn fucking floor writhing like a snakepit (as in full of wriggling serpents) has me beaming, smiling, enjoying watching people lose their shit after so much pent-up living. Beer, arms and hair are flying, and I am wondering if this is going to drain them, because the losing-your-shit factor has been at a 9 for the entire song…

…there’s an encore to offer respite…good job… because a wild “Battery” revs and roars into frame, again with that ‘Tallica 2021 aggro-fukk-ewe vibe, the chug chugging with maximum chuggery, the refrain a spiked baseball bat around the ears.
Visceral you ask?
Yeah, it is visceral+, and when Hetfield roars, “How does it FEEL to be ALIVE?” hands curled and raised like a warrior fresh at the mount of victory, it is hard not to feel that this is a reward for all we’ve been through, a flood of fresh hope.
“Fuel” bathes the floor in red and maintains the roar, before “Seek & Destroy” comes in to close the deal and bring to a close the first pandemic era live Metallica show, which ends the longest period of time this band has ever spent not doing a gig since before they were a band.

It was everything you’d hoped it would be.
A return of might, heft and intent.
A return with (to my ears) virtually non-rust.
A return which saw an instant connection to the battery between band and fans.
A return which went one hell of a way to normalizing life, if only for a little under two hours.
And a return which shows that the people who have missed this whole goddamn thing the most, more than you and more than those on the Independent floor, are James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo…
…there are some who are born to do this, who can do nothing elseregardless of status, regardless of success. Because this is why they’re alive. Think Ozzy, think Lemmy, think McCartney, think The Stones.
And every fucking time someone asks me whether Metallica still have it, or are gonna keep doing it, I laugh.
THIS is what these men are here to do.
They have no choice.
Thank God.