Better Than: Megadeth.
It was anything but amateur night at the Apollo Theater Saturday night as Metallica, unarguably the world’s preeminent metal band, raged through a two hour-plus private concert on the hallowed Harlem stage.
About 1,500 SiriusXM listeners were the fortunate audience members, who, surprisingly, didn’t give as good as they got from the band. Thirty years into their career, Metallica may be multi-millionaires who shop at Armani and collect art instead of mosh pit battle scars, but they still play with the ferocity and joy of the young thrash band they once were. Metallica’s epic songs never disappointed, the well-oiled stadium stars bringing the noise to fans who, at times, seemed disappointingly dispassionate for such a legendary gig. Sure, there was air-drumming and fist-pumping, but the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Metallica in such an intimate venue should have incited a Beatles-at-Shea Stadium-like frenzy among the faithful. (Plus, the gratis beer and wine all evening should have added fuel to the fan fire, though the line for drinks was about four songs long)
That said, Metallica were in top form, kicking off with the clarion call “Hit the Lights,” from their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All. The quartet–founding members Lars Ulrich on drums and singer/guitarist James Hetfield, along with guitarist Kirk Hammett, and the newest member, Robert Trujillo (who has now been with the band for a decade), played every tune mandatory for a proper Metallica gig (with the exception, perhaps, of “Leper Messiah,” “Wherever I May Roam,” and “The Unforgiven”).
Of the 18 songs, only two were off the band’s latest, 2008’s thrashy throwback Death Magnetic (“Broken, Beat & Scarred” and “The Day That Never Comes.”) From shout-along “Master of Puppets” (audience participation heartily encouraged by Hetfield) to “The Memory Remains,” a quirky mid-tempo rocker, which on CD, features, dusky, haunting backing vocals courtesy of Marianne Faithfull, Metallica were spot-on but never sterile, the small-for-them stage lending a nice intimacy to the band members’ interaction. Exceptional were the chugging classic “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” with the manic energy of drummer Lars Ulrich–who frequently stood while playing–and smoking solos courtesy of Hammett.
Following “One,” “Sad But True” and “Enter Sandman,” three of the band’s bigger hits, Metallica chose the punky rager “Battery,” off 1986’s Master of Puppets, as an encore. It looked like Metallica was calling it a night but, invoking (unwittingly or not) some Apollo history, Hatfield teased the audience with the promise of another song, the crowd booing when it looked like the band wouldn’t return. (Shades of the Amateur Nights when the audience gave voice to their dislike of a particular act and the offending artist was “swept” off the stage by “the executioner.”)
Ultimately concluding with the seven-minute long classic “Seek & Destroy,” the stellar show (also broadcast live on SiriusXM’s “Mandatory Metallica” channel), hammered home why Metallica remain on top after three decades (transcending the untimely death of original bassist Cliff Burton, the ousting of perennial whiner Dave Mustaine, and the 1996 haircuts and image upgrade that one pundit joked “shocked the world”). Long hair (Trujillo), short hair (Hetfield) hardly any hair (Ulrich), it doesn’t mater; by any other haircut, they rock as hard.
Random Notebook Dump: “Is this that Wizard of Oz marching song before the flying monkeys?”
Critical Bias: I sometimes find Lars Ulrich an irksome little fellow for no rational reason.
Katherine Turman is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, out now.