“Protect him, we must!” Apparently, when a bunch of 30-something year old men dressed in black leather clothes, with one-too-many drinks in themselves, surround a 20 year-old kid like their lives depended on his wealth – in a Lord Of The Rings manner – while yelling this to anyone nearby: all is fine, as long as it is at a Metallica concert. Yet… Why did this scene take place?
Well, 3 years ago, this writer had the strange luck to be the only child in the neighborhood, with the rest of the houses filled with elderly couples or newlyweds with new born babies. And since I was known as a music fan, guitar player and the only non-married guy around that didn’t need to use diapers, my next-door neighbor had a spare ticket for Metallica’s first show of their World Magnetic Tour and he invited me to go along with his friends. Due to a lack of need to drink or smoke, my role was clear: protect the tickets from the hands of anyone with clammy hands, red eyes and mumbled talking. So, this writer would be able to witness one of the Big Four on their first night in México City as long as no drunken middle aged man would get his hands on the tickets. Challenge accepted.
So, with my fellow protectors and the smell of booze surrounding all, we got inside the Foro Sol with another 54,990 metal heads. 3 years later, things are a little bit different. Once again, a 12 hour bus trip to México City, then back on a round trip to home. So, this would have to be a concert worth of a 20 hour long journey and no stomach fuel. Luckily, this would be a totally different show from the one back in 2009.
Instead of the company from the cast of a Twisted Sister music video, there was a pretty girl coming with (pretty metal head girls do exist in México, who would have thought?). Instead of 55,000 people in the audience, there were 20,000. Instead of 3 nights of on-going mayhem, México City would have the honor to set a new record: 8 nights of Metallica at the Palacio de los Deportes for their Metallica: El Arsenal Completo Tour.
The thing about the World Magnetic Tour is that its main purpose was to promote their latest album, Death Magnetic. And the beauty of those kinds of tours is that artists have to get out of their comfort zone and leave everything on-stage. They have to put their hearts into it, so you can make those new songs played live part of what makes you being a fan of the band. All of it proves the value and talent of an artist: the art of making memorable music throughout the years is what turns musicians into real artists. Back in 2009, Metallica only brought a giant LED screen, some fireworks and huge balls to the outdoor stadium.
This time, we were going to witness their theatrical side: coffin shaped screens, lasers, smoke machines, gigantic props, huge light sets and more. And instead of brand new songs and a few thrash standards, this would be some sort of greatest hits live performance. And with a central coffin-shaped stage, on a Saturday pitched black night, the lights went off, four grown men went up there, began to play Creeping Death and loud they went.
After the death left, Trujillo began one of metal bassist’s classic riffs, For Whom The Bell Tolls, followed by Fuel and a couple hundred mosh pits in the audience. Suddenly, the ceiling opened up and a giant electric chair surrounded by Tesla coils (the creepy electrical devices that have appeared in almost every Frankenstein impersonation in entertainment history) began to swing on top of the band. Giant lighting flew above us along with Ride The Lightning.
After the lightning, the stage became a battle field. Explosions, machine gun noises, bullets and helicopter effects, the projection of soldiers’ shadows and the death of many attendances’ hearing marked the beginning of One. The moments between this song and Welcome Home (Sanitarium) are kind of blurry; this writer just remembers a few ass grabbings (on me), sing-alongs, suspiciously warm “beer” thrown around the place (and on me, again) and way too many smartphones recording the concert and blocking our sight.
Then …And Justice For All kicked in and, halfway through the song, there was silence for all. The sound of the guitars and the drums went off, as well as the microphones. It was a goof up. That’s when the audience quickly decided to sing all of Hetfield’s vocals along with the low volume drums. Luckily, as the sound was coming back, Lady Justice was being assembled on-stage: a giant statue that resembled the album cover from the album. So there was a huge distraction in case something else went wrong during the show.
Other theater-worth props used during the night were giant crosses rising from the stage in Master Of Puppets, giant flames in between songs, giant black balls thrown from the ceiling and bouncing all over the audience (with a few lucky ones bringing some back home) and the giant coffins going up and down the stage. But the top “prop” appeared almost at the end of Enter Sandman, when the fireworks attached to the scaffold knocked down one of the light assistants from a 15-feet height. The stunt proved the naivety of the media, since a lot of headlines on Sunday morning read “Lights, metal and blood at Metallica’s concert” and stuff like that. But a lot of us have to admit: it looked pretty damn real! Especially when the band asked the lights to be turned on and some paramedics showed up a few minutes later.
Five minutes and some concern related conversations in the audience later, the concert went on with an encore: Misfits’ Die, Die My Darling. But the night had a little life left and, as those enormous black balls (no pun intended) fell into the public, Seek & Destroy was blasted as Metallica hit the lights and the coffins, lasers, smoke machines and devices went off. For that last song, we witnessed the Metallica from 3 years ago: when it was all about the live performance and not about the technology or theatricality.
Comparing their tour then and now becomes something sad but true. Is like comparing two different worlds that are equally attractive. Back in 2009, the amount of people, the excitement of an open stadium and the fact that only 4 people with a giant screen could make thousands of us head bang, sweat and go insane like we had an endless battery were the main reasons we wanted them back in our country as soon as possible.
But now, as the venue was smaller, more intimate, better crafted, the pressures of promoting a new record were non-existent and everyone knew all we could expect were hits: we just sat back and enjoyed the show, a KISS-like version of a Metallica show. Such experiences are like remembering the best trip you ever had and the best destination you ever reached: you wished you could’ve had both in the same journey.
Comparisons come and go within each tour a band makes, especially a band that has been played through 4 different decades. Some may be good, others may be bad and there are certain concert experiences you wished you didn’t have to compare. These two wonderful nights too many mornings apart share some similarities. In both of them, this writer ended up with bruises, corporal aches, wet clothes, more than a dozen funny smells on them, headache, a mixture of a lot of people’s sweat impregnated in his skin, a huge smile on his face and the urge for another Metallica concert in the near future.
The differences were good as well. No old drunk guys wanting to pick up a fight with other Metallica fans. Instead one could just focus on that pretty girl. No 45 minute walk out of the stadium, just a 5 minute stroll. Not a single soul who would not care about my concert experience, just a lot of readers who wondered when would that post about one of the best and surprisingly amazing musical nights would be posted.
If you doubt about Metallica’s efforts into crafting a memorable concert, fear not. You’ll end up amazed, either if you witness the huge screen production or the monstrous coffin-shaped stage. Either if you are a girl, a boy, a man, a woman, a kid, a father or a mother; they got the metal madness and are able to blow any place or human away. There’s a reason they are the strongest (in this writer’s opinion) of the Fab Four (the other being Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax): their ability to evolve from angry metal kids to grown family men that love and played music through so many years, made them able to discover both the darkest and lightest sides of thrash. Kirk, James, Lars and Robert (and the previous members of Metallica) created a handful of songs able to touch all the different kinds of personalities in their fan base. And they pleased them for 8 nights in one of the most magical cities in the world with one of the craziest audiences.
But in the end, it’s not about the broken records, the tours, the ticket sales or the kind of show. It’s all about the heart put in the live performances and music… And music for all.
Jorge A. López Mendicuti | Senior Writer