Metal shows in arenas are a bit like WWE Raw or Smackdown. The air is rife with testosterone, and the audience eats up any cliche thrown its way. The undercard Monday night at the Sommet Center featured enviro-minded French metallers Gojira and the heavy Southern groove of Lamb of God, both charged with the task of amping up the crowd for the main event. Each asked us repeatedly if we were ready to see Metallica, then asked us to answer again louder, though we're pretty sure they heard us the first time. The stage moves were your standard fare for metal, but exaggerated more for the nosebleed sections, furthering the whole professional wrestling aesthetic even more. They even played on a stage in the middle of the room while entering and exiting on a catwalk to the side.
Considering they were fairly obscure about a year ago, it felt surreal to see Gojira in the Sommet Center. Visibly excited vocalist Jospeh Duplantier stated between songs, "We're opening for Metallica, fucking crazy." They utilized the massive stage to great effect, but the songs fell surprisingly flat. This is probably less the fault of the performance and more of our overestimating them in the first place. Equally surprising was Lamb of God's sounding fairly decent. But no matter how many Hank Williams or Chattanooga anecdotes singer Randy Blythe tells us, they still mostly sound like a Pantera knock-off to us.
After we were all asked one last time if we were pumped to see Metallica, the lights dropped and Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" blasted through the PA, meaning everybody was about to get some metal up their asses.
Having worked the crowd to a fever pitch, the biggest metal band in the history of the world opened with two songs from Death Magnetic--it was kinda like watching the big heavyweight title bout begin with 15 minutes of rolling around on the mat. Six songs from that album made it to the setlist, which is a bit more Magnetic-centric than we had hoped. We did get the high-flying acrobatics of "Creeping Death" and the pile-driving combo of "Master of Puppets" followed by "Battery." "One" and obligatory closer "Seek and Destroy" rounded out the pre-"Black Album" portion of the set with the curious juxtaposition of badass pyrotechnics during the former, and gigantic bouncy balls falling from the ceiling during the latter. We are also happy to report that nothing from Load, Reload or St. Anger found its way onto the setlist, though that terrible cover of "Turn the Page" did waste our time. And, just like a wrestler, James Hetfield will never be good at talking into a microphone.
If we can be allowed to mix metaphors here for a second, this wasn't Metallica's first rodeo. Packed arenas and 10,000-plus concerts comprise the majority of their touring career. What's surprising is how often a band that huge can screw up in the same way any disposable band playing 8 off 8th might. Their rather infamous weakest link was on full display Monday night: Drummer Lars Ulrich stumbled through changes more than once and fell out of pocket often, to the degree that Hetfield visited the drummer several times mid-song, drawn less by showmanship than ship-steering. That said, there's no other band on the planet that could pull off giant coffins suspended in air, shooting lasers, as part of their live show. Couple that with a guest appearance by Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister during the encore, and you got what you paid per view.