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Road Reports

Who: Metallica, w/Volbeat and Lamb of God
Where: Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI
When: 11.09.09

Like their latest disc, called Death Magnetic, Metallica opened their show Monday night at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI with "That Was Just Your life", one of a full six songs they played to represent the newest album, which was a welcome return (well, somewhat) to the Metallidudes' formative years, specifically recalling a mixed concoction of Master of Puppets through the self-titled "black" album. The current US leg of their world tour sees Denmark's Volbeat as openers with hardcore media darlings Lamb of God offering up direct support.

Now, having seen Lamb of God before and bearing little tolerance for the popped up vibe of Volbeat's saccharin, radio friendly mainstream songsmithing, our crew opted to hangout at the B.O.B. (Big Old Building-a multi-leveled bar/restaurant "mall" for you out-of-towners) across the street from the venue and wait for the line of 12,000 ticket holders to filter into the sold-out arena before heading over to find our seats. Distressingly, we no sooner got into the beer line and the venue stopped serving alcohol – at 8:45pm(!) – why is beyond me, but we unhappily strode back to our seats and sat down just in time to catch the main act take the stage at the top of 9pm, and what a setup! The house lights dimmed as lasers shot throughout the venue as well as dancing across the floor of the stage, illuminating the crowd in lucent blue, green, and red; circling Lars' drum-kit (perched stage center) and gamboling underneath the feet of James, Rob, and Kirk as they roamed the spaciously raised structure. What followed was another new one – "Broken, Beat, and Scarred" if memory serves – and then an instrument switch to bring in some old school via crowd-sing-a-long-support during "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Four Horseman". James' banter had won the crowd over early on, as he moved from one to another of several microphones lining the perimeter of the rectangular stage nestled in the center of the arena floor, seeking choral backup from the fans throughout the evening as he brought mention more than once to the fact that they loved playing in Grand Rapids and were glad to be back (yeah, I know, they love playing every town, but this is the kind of kitsch adoring fans eat up!). At one point, he asked how many were there seeing Metallica for the first time vs. how many were return attendees, and surprisingly the response was about the same, maybe even newbies edging out the vets by a few decibels. I couldn't believe how many were seeing them for their first time, but I guess, considering the average age of the crowd and the fact its been several years since the band as come through our hometown, many of them may have been too young to experience them in the past, just now getting their first chance.

To many, the "black" album is the be all and end all of heavy metaldom, and Lars and Co. didn't fail to deliver the fans who bear such sentiments, giving them "Sad But True", "Nothing Else Matters", "The Unforgiven", and the requisite (unfortunately) "Enter Sandman", which, being proffered at high speed, was mercifully quick. Rarities included "Hit The Lights", a godsend for those of us who were there during the demo years(!), and "The Wait"; James commenting on the bands history of doing covers. Luckily for concert-goers, this segment of the evening is changed up from show to show (as well as many of the other songs), though staples to be heard at every show of the current tour do exist, and "Master of Puppets" is one of them. Watching newest member/bassist Robert Trujillo (formerly of Suicidal Tendencies) stalk and skulk about the stage with his 5-string thumper in tow was comic and amusing, in a fun and somewhat lighthearted sort of way, as well as seeing Lars periodically leap from his throne during brief breaks to visit metalheads stage-side, at times even dousing them with water delivered directly from his mouth (yes, I'm sure there were those who later walked out of the show bemusing the fact that they were spit on by Mr. UIrich)! At certain intervals during the two hour and five minute set, fireballs went off randomly across the stage, igniting a fan frenzy for "Fight Fire With Fire", another rare live treat, but the visual aesthetics were unmatched when it came time to play the all time fan-favorite "One", introduced by massive fireballs accompanying the tracked gunfire from the opening segment, segueing into flumes of multi-colored fire jetting forth from a line across the center of the stage, reaching twenty feet into the sky and searing the senses as the song culminated in its high speed riffage and insane soloing by Mr. Hammett, timing perfectly with the start/stop nature of One's crescendo, giving the concert-goers more than a worth-their-while treat. "Cyanide", "My Apocalypse", and "The Day That Never Comes" were other new songs to brew and stew under the coffin shaped light trusses, four of which were designed to raise, lower, and sway along with the progression of the set.

Other entertaining moments included Kirk giving the crowd a rather abbreviated guitar solo at one point, opening with the joyous strains of the Scorpions' "The Sails of Charon" before morphing into his own melodic flair, and the opening "oh-ee-oh" from "Frayed Ends of Sanity" briefly shook the rafters; unfortunately the song itself wasn't played. It was pleasing not to hear anything from St. Anger, and I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I was hoping for a song or two off Load and/or Reload, yet those albums were neglected as well. No matter though, for the evening ended with James announcing the last song of the night, beckoning the crowd to show one last thrust of exuberant energy before the conclusion of the set. So with lasers again splaying throughout the atmosphere, another old favorite, "Seek and Destroy", gave the fans just what they wanted, which also saw about a hundred or so black beach balls rain down upon them from the upper mezzanine, and once again, full choral accompaniment was willingly offered. The song ended and the house lights immediately went up, signaling the close of a highly entertaining show.

I have to say, having grown up with this band and seen them back in the 80's, and to this day still bearing the incredible and indelible mark they left upon my psyche as a teenager, I am still amazed at the cross-genre popularity of the outfit. Many of the groups fan-base don't really like heavy metal, yet they like Metallica; a strange and oddly satisfying paradox, for this is a group who saw scorn at the outset of their career, but these many years later are now cementing their relevance as THE dominant force – not only in heavy metal, but music in general – to be reckoned with. So, despite your opinion of their at times somewhat dubious career choices, for the metalhead of yesteryear, there truly is a bit of liberation...and justice for all.

--Raising Iron

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