Milwaukee Magnetic: Metallica Live
Bradley Center; Milwaukee, WI; January 12, 2009
Stubbornness is a quality that runs throughout my family, which has on occasion caused a few arguments that result in an armistice more than a long-lasting peace. Neither side wishes to admit a wrongdoing, demanding instead that the other see their view and submit to it.
Over the years, this can result in tension so great that it threatens to tear apart what were once incredibly strong bonds. Despite any amount of success, that stubbornness can rear its head at any given moment.
Metallica faced such problems during the recording of the infamous St. Anger and the ensuring documentary Some Kind Of Monster. Fans watched as those egos clashed and clashed again, as none of the members wished to be kept from expressing themselves musically and personally. The result was a fascinating character study, but signaled potential problems for the band.
Flash forward to the year 2008 with the release of Death Magnetic. Whatever tensions that had existed between Hetfield, Hammett, and Ulrich were for the moment contained, and the resulting product was critically praised and hailed as their best in two decades. Coincidence? I think not.
With the accolades rolling in and millions of copies of Death Magnetic being sold, Metallica took to the road in what appears to be a two-year-long World Magnetic tour. It was one week ago that Metallica and I met up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I was witness to a band that has seemingly done away with the pettiness and squabbles that had consumed them only a few years prior. What the fans were treated to was a band intent on proving themselves all over again.
In a show of just how much they believe in the new material, Metallica began the proceedings with the opening notes to Death Magnetic opener “That Was Just Your Life” playing from the speaker system. For a minute and a half, the excitement grew until the band burst onto the stage, James Hetfield spitting and snarling his way through the track.
Praise must be given for the band’s decisions with regards to the setup of the stage for this particular tour. Only Ulrich was anchored to one location (being a drummer this should come as no surprise); every other member of the group had the freedom to roam around, choosing any of the multiple mic locations. When Hetfield would move to one side of the stage, Kirk Hammett was sure to travel to the opposite side, giving the fans an equal view of every member.
Hearing the new material was exciting, and the crowd responded as if these songs had been played in concert for years and years. The screams that greeted “All Nightmare Long” and “Broken Beat & Scarred” were only bolstered as the tracks went on, and Hetfield gave the audience a chance to participate. Suffice to say, he was not let down.
The interaction between the band and the audience was to be expected; very few buy tickets to see artists they don’t particularly care for. With that being a given, the rapport between Hetfield and the audience was enjoyable, albeit occasionally rote. I have always appreciated an effort by the artist to tailor a show to their audience; Metallica could have just as easily been playing in Boston or Wichita.
What never lagged was the level of energy in the arena. Metallica ensured that there were very few moments of downtime, keeping the songs coming. When there were moments in which the band was not on stage, such as the opening to “One,” colored flames shot forth from the floor, keeping the audience’s attention.
In line with the energy level were the songs that Metallica chose to perform for the occasion -- and there were surprises, to be sure. The classic “Fight Fire With Fire” was a shock, as was “Harvester Of Sorrow,” to a lesser extent. The end of the show saw the inclusion of two cover tracks from the Garage EP, “Die Die My Darling” and “Stone Cold Crazy.” Metallica has a very strong catalogue, and they were not afraid to dig deep for this show.
Also included in addition to the new tracks and deeper cuts were some of the songs that made Metallica into the monster act they are today. That would mean a heavy dose of The Black Album, which saw four songs represented in the setlist. Regardless of how some fans feel about that particular album, it did nothing to dampen the excitement that ensued when the opening strains to “Nothing Else Matters” issued forth from the loudspeakers or when James Hetfield began singing “Sad But True” by himself.
Two hours of metal with no intermission, classic album cuts, monster hits and a dash of something new -- what did anyone expect from Metallica? While the quality of their work has varied during the past twenty years, it was widely apparent to me that this is still a band that works every night to please their audience and refuses to phone it in. By the time the final notes to “Seek And Destroy” had been played, there was still a full crowd that would have stayed. Metallica had left them wanting the night to continue; they had done their job and were ready to move on to Detroit. Chalk up another conquered city.