Saturday, May 15, 2010
Soundtrack to nightmares, soaring to the ecstasy
Metallica have been the backdrop to many, many, many years of my life. From Hetfield's tortued lyrical meanderings and the structued musical pumelling there is a quality about Metallica's output that even maintaned true fans through years when they experimented.
The first time I witnessed Metallica was in '86 in the Ulster Hall with support from Anthrax. It was a gig with some great friends in attendance, at least two of whom are no longer with us. Baal, Rab, Alan Sid, Stevie, Kyle, Michael, amongst many others.
That day there was many a pint sunk (the lest said about the Alhambra the better!). To this day the Anthrax set is a little hazy, but Metallica at times took the breath away from me, despite Hetfield's arm being in plaster and guitar tech (John Marshall I think) filling in the rhythm parts.
I've seen them subsequently, sometimes good, sometimes great, but nothing really compared to that day.
That is until Tuesday night.
Let's be straight about this for a start. Metallica is a business. The music and the show may be at the core of the business, but the Metallica machine sustains the equivalent of a medium sized Northern Ireland company; from staff members beyond the band through to outsourced suppliers and graphic designers, let alone the business suited wankers that occupy the upper echelons of certain record labels.
But, for all the massive logistical challenges that puts the Metallica machine on the road, it would be nought without the willingness of the band members of turn out and play for two hours with an obvious delight to dw what is essentially their day job.
Even with the obligations placed on them by contracts Metallica could do what so many bands do, hit the festival circuit, turn in an hour and a half and jet off to wherever bands go when they care very little about their fans.
Instead Metallica lay on a stage set, which very, very, very few acts would dare take on the road. Although the record company might be paying some of the cost, the vast majority of the cash for eight massive coffin lighting rigs, an 'in-the-round' set with all the complications of where to put monitors etc, and the manpower required to design and erect such a set came from James, Lars, Kirk and Rob as the principals of Metallica plc.
But to consider all this in some way diminishes the experience. Stepping into the arena on Tuesday night, there was a sense of awe at the sheer scale of the set, the intimacy of the in-the-round set-up and the sheer devotion of those gathered.
Yes, there were in advance a few naysayers. Some who have become disillusioned through the Load to St Anger years. They I can forgive.I cannot forgive some of the little people who were not born when The Black Album was released, yet still seem to have more opinions about 'the good old days' than their ill-formed brains justify. But that is jut bitching, and makes me sound like a grumpy old metaller.
Setting aside those 'get over it, old man' comments (shut up my children! I am entitled to be grumpy at my age!) it is hard for me to be impartial about Metallica (also Maiden, BLS, Marillion and all incarnations of Sabbath).
So, how to comment on Metallica's appearance at the Odyssey Arena. There's no point me trying to be impartial. I like many who have commented on various online fora and social networking sites were blown away by the Metallica experience in its totality.
It would be easy to rhapsodise about the song selection - and easy to bemoan the songs that weren't aired (yes Sid I too would have loved to hear Disposable Heroes given an airing!). But what was gratifying and immensely pleasurable that the set lists on both nights spanned from the very earliest to the latest Metallica...including 'fans only' material like Breadfan.
I hesitate to rehearse the songs and the associated stage show elements (descending coffins, pyro storms etc) as each person has a unique association with a Metallica song. For me All Nightmare Long sounded a good as Seek and Destroy and One...and Nothing Else Matters...and Master...and...well you get the picture!
Metallica were, as much as possible in the contrived setting of a big budget prodution, a force of nature. Brutal and measured at the same time. Yes, there are heavier out there. Yes, there are more precise out there. Yes, there are better Metal drummers than Lars. Yes, there are better metal singers than Hetfield. Yes, there are better soloists than Kirk, and dare I say it there are a few (very few) better bassists than Rob. But but them all together and almost miraculously emerges a power that defies greatness to reach another level, that soars with an elemental pulse and reaches a height that only an exalted few acts can reach.
Metallica's dystopian musical and lyrical lndscape can paint a nightmarish vision of struggles with mental health (Fade, Sanatarium to name but two) but can also unify with a 'us against them' spit in the face to the mainstream.
I may be biased, I may view Metallica through rose-tinted shades, but fuck it! Metallica were awesome in Belfast; at times magesterial, at times furious, at times poignant, but all times fucking metal.
"Awesomer than an awesomer thing has ever been," one young fan said in the chilly post-gig air. His father beat me to the punch line..."yer not wrong there son!"
Hurry back James, Lars and co - more people need Metallica in their lives!
Pix courtesy of Simon Graham - as with all pix on the website from Simon or Carrie (both amogst the best of lens peeps out there!) contact me if you want to order a print!