Live Sh*t: Binge & Purge
Elektra Records, 1993
REVIEW BY: Paul Hanson
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/04/2003
Even though I wasn't planning to give Metallica's huge box set another glance, I put this box set in my CD player and VCR this weekend. Instantly, I remembered why this was a dream come true when it was released in 1993.
My wife bought this for my birthday. I have to say that it achieves what it was after: freezing the band for a moment in time in what had been their most successful and popular state of their career. They had "Nothing Else Matters" played at weddings, they had Grammys, they had a powerhouse show that rocked the world. Riding high. Never mind the details, 30,000 feet above ground and all looks good.
The CDs and two of the videos capture the band at different points of their tour. The San Diego video is from the beginning of the tour, the CDs are from one of their last dates on the tour. So, the band achieved what they wanted, which was to capture the band, as a well-oiled machine in the midst of what had been their most gueling tour to date.
But, wait, there's more.
Metallica includes a video from the ...And Justice for All tour and put that in the box set. The Justice tour was an amazing site. The lighting rig swings down, stage props explode, I don't want to ruin it for you. The band's intense material was a flexing of musical masterpieces in waiting. So you end up with a monster three-video, three-CD release, or, in essence, an exercise in endurance. Just how much Metallica can you endure in a sitting?
Can you sit through three Metallica concerts, back to back? To this day, I find it an achievement to do so. There is a lot of material to cover, so I'll gloss over what doesn't work, like the amazingly long "Seek and Destroy" on CD 2 with a bunch of people "helping" to sing the words "Seek and Destroy" that may work when you see Hetfield intermingling with the crowd but, without that element, this song gets long and boring. Then there's starting the third CD with the "Nothing Else Matters" ballad. Why? Why? Why not make the second CD end with a ballad so the first track of each CD can start with an upbeat rock song? (They later repeated this mistake by opening CD 2 of S&M with this song.)
So let's go to the positive. In chronological order, the only place to begin is the Seattle concert video, which was recorded in 1989. To clear the air, I am a huge, huge, huge Justice-era fan. The Seattle video is perfect, mainly because I enjoy the material so much. I can't say a single negative word about this video. I can watch it repeatedly. To me, the band had hit their creative high and tracks like "Blackened" and "Harvester of Sorrow" intertwined with "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Master of Puppets" give me a kick in the ass.
Next up is the two videos from the San Diego gig. If you've seen the video for "Whiplash" (yes, there was a video for this song that actually got played on MTV), you've seen part of this concert. What you didn't see is Ulrich switching drum sets during the interlude of "The Four Horsemen," Hetfield trying to do a drum battle, in the classic Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa style, with Ulrich, and Ulrich's undying ego as he says, more than once, "Check this shit out." Translation: "I think this part of our show is really cool, you will to." There's something to be said for "action" not words. Hammett plays his guitar solo with a pre-recorded rhythm guitar and Ulrich, which sounds cool, but the whole guitar solo/drum solo section gets long. The band is better when they are seen looking at each other and smiling. The only thing I don't understand about this San Diego concert is why Hetfield has to resort to "I can't hear you" cliches. He would be a much better front man without constantly saying "C'mon you mother f*ckers, let's go!" As a group, the band is as tight musically as they could ever be.
But wait, there's more.
That statement is disproved when you get to the three CD concert from Mexico City at the end of the same tour. After being on the road for a long long time, the band sounds like they are on auto-pilot. That can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. On one hand, they are playing their material tight. Ulrich's drumming is dead-on, especially during "Sad but True" and the Justice For All medley. Hammett's playing on the master material, like "Whiplash" and the encores "No Remorse" and "Motorbreath" are insprired. You get a glimpse of the band's sense of humor when they launch into "Ride the Lightning" and the song falls apart. It's obvious they hadn't practiced that one for awhile. Then there's the cover of Danzig's "Last Caress" and the impromptu "So What."
But wait, there's more.
The box set also comes with a large booklet. This booklet is a collection of set lists, media schedules, behind-the-scenes planning regarding what the next single should be, and, my favorite, an invitation from a fan for the band to come to his house for Thanksgiving. It gives fans a new perspective of all the decisions the band has to make and all the interviews with the media the band had to do. There's also the "scary guy" stencil which adds no value to this box set.
I grew tired of this box set a couple of years ago. I stopped listening to it routinely a while back and put the CDs or videos in now when I want to remember what it was like in 1993. You have to remember that their self-titled release was the number one record for a zillion weeks in a row, their videos were played non-stop on MTV, they orchestrated a huge tour with Guns-n-Roses and Faith No More, and they played Moscow. This box set captures their finest moments.