WORDS BY STEFFAN CHIRAZI
PHOTOS BY ROSS HALFIN
The 2019 European WorldWired Stadium Tour has drawn to a close. Steffan Chirazi waffles on about a “support fly” and the mass breakout of good vibes as everyone at HQ wonders whether he has heatstroke or drank the “wrong” tea.
The mood as we start our descent into Mannheim is relaxed. As various people in the party avail themselves of a light snack, read a fun magazine, or quietly chit-chat away, Eric Johnson, the band’s tour manager, is busy fashioning a small sleeveless jacket out of a cocktail napkin for the WorldWired Tour’s latest "staff addition," Festus.
Festus is flighty, a bubbly little chap who is perpetually hungry as he literally buzzes merrily around. And just as I am about to dismiss him as bit of a beggar, James Hetfield informs me with great seriousness that Festus is not just a new addition to the traveling band party, but is his emotional "support" fly (yes, an actual insect). That’s right, little Festus, small, green-eyed, and hairy, is weaving his soothing way around the cabin making everyone feel just spiffy. And James, being the sharing kind of guy he is, happily lets everyone on board avail themselves of Festus’ gifts. Johnson loudly announces that it’s very difficult to complete the needlework on the tiny jacket he’s been fashioning for Lil’ F, which causes James to later ask Sarah (backstage/wardrobe) to add “Festus jackets” to her ever-growing set of custom clothing orders.
He will then soon after break the news to us that he saw Festus land in Johnson’s drink, which was promptly swallowed by Johnson. This ingestion left James pondering whether this now made Eric the emotional support animal…?
Welcome to the final day of WorldWired Europe 2019, a stretch of 25 sold-out stadium and festival-sized venue dates which has seen records broken, ears pulverized, and spirits lifted to stratospheric levels.
Let’s throw down some facts shall we? Ready? Metallica sold 1,400,000 tickets for the 25 European outdoor shows.
There were over 73,000 people in Prague at Letňany Airport, which was the biggest show of the summer, closely followed by a gathering of 71,000 Irish fans at Slane Castle. Attendance records were broken in Milan (Italy), Trondheim (Norway), Hämeenlinna (Finland), Tartu (Estonia), Moscow (Russia) and Bucharest (Romania). Here’s one for ya… 1% of the Finnish population was at the bands show in Hämeenlinna! And here’s another… the band’s show in Tartu was the biggest rock-show ever in Estonia – 59,099 – and breaks the record previously set by, errr, Metallica’s 2006 show in Tallinn!
Finally (and I think THIS figure is particularly important) local charity donations for these 25 shows totaled one and a half million euros. That, my friends, is pretty goddam cool, whether they’d want me to say it or not, ‘tis the truth.
Oh, and Lars drank 932 cups of Earl Grey tea, along with 847 small cans of Perrier and chewed 412 toothpicks (these last few statistics might’ve been made up, but I’ll bet they’re in the ballpark).
The shows, as statistically shown, get bigger, yet the vibe makes everything seem smaller and more intimate. The band itself seems to get tighter, tougher, sharper, and also seems to have more fun out there. I remember an early concern about these summer stadium sojourns being that the switch from a tight indoor stage back to the massive stadium snake pit would take its physical toll on the band.
Errr, not so much. If anything, they appear to have more energy on these bigger stages than when they first went out in 2017, as if the top of the snake pit is a charging point which rapidly shoots the crowd energy back into the band.
I think that more than ever, Lars, James, Kirk, and Rob are extremely comfortable both with what they share together and what they don’t. Over the years (and this has been discussed in the past) there was perhaps a slight anxiety and nervousness about “what the other guys were doing,” or what they might be thinking about a particular situation. But now, there is such a total acceptance of each other as individuals and the collective, that the performances are subsequently even more consistent and supercharged.
The production took on some subtle changes in Europe, the WorldWired production crew making adjustments to ensure that the WorldWired show is the best it can be. On this leg, the downstage lighting fixtures were changed to leave a nicer looking downstage edge as well as create a more dramatic appearance. Speakers were added for people sitting close on the sides to increase and enhance their audio experience, and the giant “M” and “A” are now lit better to pop louder on the eye.
Two NFL-style overhead cameras were flown above Lars and just outside the snak -pit, bringing bird’s eye views and close-up angles not typically seen at stadium gigs. I won’t lie, at first I wondered if it would be possible to ignore them as they felt very intrusive to my sightline. Within three songs in Portugal, I’d forgotten they were there because as most production people (and perhaps even people-people) will patiently explain, fans tend to look at the band, not camera equipment.
It also felt to me like the giant screens were that much crisper and sharper, that with these new additional angles there was better band coverage than before, maybe better utilization of the camera quality than on previous legs. There was certainly (to my eye) the best marriage yet of graphics with real-time camera footage, the band melting into some of the animation scenes to create what looked like a 3D set, especially during the likes of “Harvester” and “The God That Failed.”
With the S&M² shows less than two weeks away (yeah, let that sink in), there’s obviously been some preparation slid in along the way (mostly in tuning) to ease the pressure and set those wheels in motion. This has resulted in a few major treats on this final European leg. Munich got “Ktulu” for the first time since Copenhagen in February 2017, and hey, that ain’t too shabby… but Mannheim hit the jackpot.
Not since The Fillmore in 2011 has the band performed “The Outlaw Torn,” so yes, that is eight long lean “Torn-less” live years before it was supremely unfurled here in Mannheim. It was – to these untrained musical ears – virtually flawless. If there was a misstep here or there, it was blown out of the water by the fact that Metallica was playing this mighty, majestic, pocket-hanging, groove-soaked, Sabbathesque deep cut classic. Maybe it is down to the undeniable next-level comfort and ease with which James, Lars, Kirk, and Rob are working together these days. But as it hit the middle minute, it was suddenly so obvious that “The Outlaw Torn” is not just jewel in the crown territory, it is the perfect center-point of a live Metallica show. Let’s all take an educated guess as to where it might next be heard, but more than that, I have to wonder if it is about to become a set standard. I saw jaws hitting the floor, lots of them, and I’ll bet yours will be too as you check out the footage and audio. Trust me, there was added electricity too.
I’m sure you have by now hung out in the shower with LU as he gave you his Euro-wrap, and when he says it has been “next level” for the band, he is not lying. That “level” has resulted in some songs taking on new lives and personalities, mostly due to their authors and composers finding new grease in those gears. “Revenge” has become a favorite, with Hetfield visibly curling and twisting himself into the gnarl of its feral chorus, whilst “Memory” has firmly established itself as an early set-pacer both on and off the stage.
The Rob & Kirk “doodles” continue apace, except these aren’t “doodles,” they’ve evolved into carefully conceived, carefully planned and carefully developed tributes to all corners of the musical map, embracing work in vans, hotel rooms, and even Hawaii. They are chosen and performed with love and respect. And virtually every time, these European audiences jumped onboard for the ride with gusto. In Warsaw, there wasn’t an unused larynx or pair of hands in the house as they busted out Czesław Niemen’s “Sen o Warszawie,” and whether it is the Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored” in the sheeting rain of Manchester, or Rammstein’s “Engel” in Berlin, this is not just appreciation and love for a nation’s music, it is showing the deeper, eclectic and passionate sides of RT and KH.
It is fun watching Lars stride out from behind the big kit to take “point” on the mini-stage at the top of the snake pit. There is swagger, a healthy dose of attitude and a good slice of humor all wrapped up into a powerful Larsian ball and thrown at starting pitcher speed towards all in the room. He is playing as well as I’ve seen him in the last decade, and I put that down to a level of enjoyment, engagement and confidence that appears to have him playing with a relaxed calm that rarely came easily.
And then there’s Het. Talk about finding a fresh seam of comfort and a subsequently more fun pocket to play out of… over the last four months, he has visually settled back into a more Black Album era style, and performance-wise, he seems to be having as much fun as I remember having consistently since the early Death Magnetic tour. The man is smiling – a lot – and the man is really enjoying playing, appreciating not just the moment but the fact that, say, 64,000 people show up in Mannheim to see the band. James does not take that for granted (indeed none of them do) and when he says what he says about the Metallica Family, don’t write it off as musician bullshit. It isn’t. He feels it…
…which brings me to perhaps the biggest thing I’ve picked up from this entire four-month WorldWired European run. This is tribal. This is familial. And this place which Metallica and the fans create between them in every city feels so much like a giant fucking safehouse amidst the sea of bullshit and chaos which appears to be wrapping itself around our planet. It isn’t just about escape and entertainment, it’s also about generating some basic humanity, about simply being nice to each other.
Now look, I know people don’t go to Metallica shows to be polite and sing “Kumbaya” to each other, what I’m saying is that the social temperature at WorldWired shows this summer has been so wonderfully, wholly positive. The Black Ticket family are a major part of that, and the band met both Pawel Kaczynski and Erynn Halvorson, each of whom went to every European show. Pawel saved for two years and quit his job to do this, and as Erynn is one of our Fifth Member scribes, I’ll let him tell his story as he wishes to. Meanwhile, in Poland I ran into Alexander Zaikin, from Belgorod in Russia, which he proudly told me was exactly 666km from Moscow. Alexander spent the previous ten years without ever taking a vacation between his two jobs, he lived in “shitholes” as he termed them, sold his car, and has been on a decent amount of the summer tour. It is also his first time out of Russia, and he was (as he explained) grateful to Metallica for giving him the opportunity to see so many new cities and have so many new experiences.
Alexander told me how much he was enjoying meeting other fans, and looking around at the shows, it was easy to see why his first European travels were so positive. On WorldWired, people smile. Strangers talk to each other. I haven’t seen ANY fights or brawls, and I haven’t seen or sensed ANYTHING other than a mass collective committed to having fun and being decent to each other in the process, whether that be the four men onstage or the tens of tens of thousands of you who crammed stadiums, fields and (as LU said in the showers earlier) the occasional air field. The vibe has been (as our main sponsor likes to say) next level.
It is why James Hetfield told Mannheim that this final show of the European summer WorldWired run is bittersweet. No one is unhappy to be going home. But everyone is going to really miss the very special thing which has been created between Metallica and you… to be continued Down Under after a couple of small soirees in September.