METALLICA London o2 24 October 2017
Good god, these tickets are expensive. But then, Metallica tour every 8 or 9 years. So I can kind of divide the year by the pounds. And, most years they only do about 50 or shows. When you're a band that are that big in near enough every country in the world, there's only so many shows left ; and too many cities. And whilst Metallica are still themselves these days, the thrash metal Rolling Stones, they're also a ruthless and efficient business. Like U2, Metallica have become far bigger than they actually are, and Metallica can put their logo on something and sell it to you, they will. If its a skateboard, a beer flask, a fridge, or even, god forbid, music – they will. And the music seems to have become, almost, irrelevant sometimes, or perhaps a small part of what the huge Metallica machine offers.
These tickets by the way, aren't by any standard the most expensive. You can spend £2,000 for a meet-and-greet. Or £300 for “The Whiplash Experience”, whatever that is. Presumably with sandwiches and a complimentary drink. Which is utter bullshit, but if peoplepay it, more fool them.
It doesn't make the show any better, of course. On the back of last years overall unexceptional “Hardwired To Self-Destruct”, the remove of a year has made those songs better : like many great bands, their material takes a while to unlock every intricate depth and flavour. At first listen, “Hardwired” felt like a backstep to the 90's era Metallica, where the band were straddled between thrash metal gods and standard hard rock megastars. With the benefit of a year on the road, “Hardwired” is a better record. And it shows : tonight the band play seven songs from it – more 'new' songs than any previous tour in 25 years – and none of those songs sound as if they don't fit.
It's also, resolutely, a fan-friendly set ; but not a set for the casuals. If you want “Until It Sleeps”, or “St.Anger” dream on. A large number of their hits are now in rotation ; that is played, but rarely. “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Harvester Of Sorrow,” “Fuel”, “The Memory Remains”, or “The Day That Never Comes” - some of them get played some nights –but less than half . Not at all. Tonight, on the second night, the band bring out some of their rarer choices. As is often their way, Night #1 is the more conventional set and Night#2 is always for the rarer material. This lineup of the band can play probably 90% of their large catalogue with minimal rehearsal, aside from the handful of songs they've never played live.
Even in the enormous O2 – the largest indoor venue in Europe – Metallica make it feel intimate ; primarily by not standing at the far corner of the room, but by placing the stage in the centre of the room. Sure, there's huge chunks of choreographed and rehearsed moments ; a huge drum solo with all four members of the band on portable drumkits in “When We're Dead”, or a drone display during “Moth Into Flame”. Also, and perhaps more depressingly, the predictable between song banter contains 3 references to the 'Metallica Family' in the first twenty minutes, 3 references to 'being alive', and we're also asked 4 times 'Can you feel it, Lahndawn?”. There's also the usual flashpoints, lasers, and fire ; all of which exist to prove to you where your money has gone. There's also 48 mobile video cubes with 192 sides hanging from the ceiling that show a mixture of live footage, preshot film, and imagery. It's all slick and professional, and ultimately, quite surprising – yet not. Metallica are one of those bands that dogged powered through with energy and alcohol for about 20 years, and then slowly turned into a precise business surrounded by industry pioneers to become a practiced and determined money making behemoth. The band would have got nowhere if they didn't have the songs, though. They coulda been contenders, and coulda been as big as Great White if the songs just were terrible.
It’s a slick business operation and a ruthless one. Probably the only band that sells so much useless tat with its logo on apart from this lot are Kiss, and were The Beatles. They even have their own record pressing plant for all their vinyl editions.
Thankfully, Metallica aren't playing the same 18 songs in the same set order for 113 shows in a row. This time round, for example, we get “Leper Messiah” (10% of shows), “Confusion” (about 15% of shows), "Last Caress" (2% of shows), "Creeping Death" (10%), and the first time ever performance of “Spit Out The Bone” (1% of current shows). It may not sound like much, but keeping it fresh, changing the song choices around, and presenting something that feels different every night matters – especially in the age of instant broadcasts and accessibility via Periscope and Mixlr and Setlist.fm and YouTube. And since every show is recorded, mixed, and released by Metallica.com, it needs to be different. I love the idea of not knowing, of being surprised. That's why I avoided the Internet – I want to see what it is, and not to be able to predict every last moment.
As it stands, by playing much of the newer material Metallica inspire and annoy. The new record is as good as the others, but newer and not so loved. There’s also a dearth of ‘big hits’ ; with just a quarter of the set being radio hits mostly loaded towards the end. But Metallica aren’t really the kind of band that have hits these days (is anyone?), but instead a self contained, oblivious entity that doesn’t play the chat show game and knows its audience are secure and mostly found. They could play two hours of LP tracks with no huge hits and the audience would probably be just as happy. What’s strangest is seeing this band carry on – 35 years in now – without ever compromising musically [or, by and large, commercially] as a huge business and a huge band. I wouldn’t’ve thought this was where the band was going 30 years ago when I started listening to them ; but then, who was thinking about the future, in the past?
Given the overall scarcity of Metallica tours (this is just the second tour of UK indoor dates in 22 years), I may never see them again. I can’t say for sure if this is the end for me seeing them; probably not. But if so, they put a show as good as any of their past ones I have seen, and keep their reputation intact. Sure, they’ve changed, but the world has changed, we’ve changed, and we keep changing. Always changing, always the same.
The Ecstasy of Gold
Seek and Destroy
Fade To Black
When We're Dead
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Halo On Fire
Moth To Flame
Sad But True
Spit Out The Bone
Nothing Else Matters