When the Metallica family gets together to celebrate the holiday season in Utah, it’s getting harder and harder to fit everyone in one room.
“The Metallica family is here tonight,” said frontman James Hetfield as he looked out over the mass of pulsating humanity surrounding him on all sides of the band’s in-the-round stage Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena. “In case you didn’t know, you’re in it!”
It had been 10 years since the band’s previous Utah appearance and the extended Metallica family showed up in record numbers for Friday’s “WorldWired” reunion. The sold-out crowd of 17,574 set a post-renovation attendance mark at Vivint Arena.
I know this is going to sound weird even as I’m typing it — but Metallica actually fostered that family atmosphere theme throughout the evening. From a near 90-minute comedic and immersive preshow to the band’s actual interactions with the audience during the course of its 2-hour, 25-minute performance, Metallica set the stage for as intimate an evening as you can possibly have in an arena setting.
As various points of the show, Hetfield personally pointed out and chatted up specific members of the crowd from his perch on stage.
Noticing a younger fan up front at one of the retaining walls on one side of the stage, Hetfield asked how old he was. The answer came back, “12.”
“When I was 12, I was not in the front row at a Metallica concert,” Hetfield exclaimed.
Hetfield then pointed out the adult next to the youth and asked if that was his dad. Turns out it was his uncle, which drew another round of praise from the Metallica lead singer/rhythm guitarist and the soldout crowd as well.
“You can give him a hug later,” Hetfield said. “Don’t do it now, that would be embarrassing!”
Metallica are complete and utter professionals when it comes to an in-the-round concert presentation, as most of the band’s tours have championed that format. While drummer Lars Ulrich was rooted on a rotating platform at the center of the stage, the other three members freely roamed and played equally to all areas of the audience. While the performance gives off the appearance of spontaneity, there’s certainly a lot of balance and synchronicity involved in pulling it off. It’s an interesting phenomenon to watch unfold.
Another fun factor was watching the band members getting up close and personal with fans in their respective pit areas down on the floor at the sides of the stage during extended solos on stage. During a duet of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” by lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo, Hetfield, for example, could be seen slapping high fives, talking and taking photos with the fans pushing up against the barrier by his break area. Such interaction added to the familial fan-friendly vibe of the entire evening.
Metallica stormed the stage following the band’s traditional introductory music and video sequence for “The Ecstasy of Gold” — better known as the theme song to the old Clint Eastwood Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” — before opening with two tracks from its current “Hardwired ... To Self Destruct” album, “Hardwired” and “Atlas, Rise!”
Metallica followed that up with “Seek & Destroy,” an anthemic mission statement, basically, from its 1983 debut album, “Kill ‘Em All.” That really fired up the crowd, with the audience, nearly as one, pounding their raised fists forward by yelling back the song’s title in the chorus at Hetfield’s direction.
“Now That We’re Dead” was a noteworthy highlight in the first third of the set. The new song is a perfect example of Metallica’s unstated mantra that a great pounding riff can only be enhanced by sledgehammering it into repeated submission. Featuring a fantastic groove, the song was given extended treatment with the addition of a full-band drum showcase midway through. Four cabinets arose from the stage floor at the beginning of the song, and it turned out that there were electronic drum pads housed on top of each one. All four members picked up drum sticks and pounded away in catchy rhythm for a couple minutes before returning to the main song. It was a great overall showcase for this rocking tune.
Another new song which translated impressively to the stage was “Halo on Fire.” Even coming between Metallica classics like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Whiplash,” “Halo on Fire” held its own, enhanced by its Adam-and-Eve-themed video visuals.
Now would be a good time, actually, to discuss the band’s video presentation. I’ve got to applaud all the technology showing up in unique and creative ways these days in concert. The days of the straightforward background LED screens — at least in many big arena shows — appear to be numbered. On this tour, the Metallica production deploys 52 4-foot video cubes that display various visuals, colors, video enhancement and some live footage.
The cubes, which appeared on all four sides, were initially used in the lighting rig high above the stage. But they were all on their own individual controls, and they began descending and ascending to different levels throughout the evening. Occasionally one grouping would lower almost to stage level and surround one specific member of the band. They were definitely a cool addition.
Another technological wonder occurred during the new “Moth Into Flame.” Several hatches were opened in the stage floor, unleashing a swarm of 100 autonomous micro drones with an LED light. Think fireflies without the lights blinking on and off. The drones flew in circular patterns above the stage, and occasionally darted back to their original hatches before again returning to the air. Some flew up into the video cubes above, and lost their light — an apropos “Moth Into Flame” visual. Comically, Hammett even swatted one of them encroaching on his personal space with the headstock of his guitar — immediately altering its trajectory much like swatting a fly out of mid-air. What will they think of next?
“Metallica is seriously grateful after 37 years to still be up here doing what we’re doing,” Hetfield said after the song. “Thank you for showing up — not just for Metallica, but for live music.”
The ultra heavy “Sad But True,” the eloquently vicious “One” and thrashing “Master of Puppets” closed the main set.
The band returned for a three-song encore featuring “Fight Fire With Fire,” “Nothing Else Matters” and a raucous “Enter Sandman,” one of the most commercially viable headbangers of all time.
Once again adding to the fan-friendly atmosphere, band members didn’t simply offer a perfunctory wave and a bow before running offstage. No, the band members literally spent a full six minutes working their individual ways around the stage, greeting fans, tossing out guitar picks and drumsticks and heartily engaging with the emotionally spent crowd. Each member also took the microphone to personally offer a parting shot to the audience.
These are things you don’t see at your typical rock concert. Then again, as the band’s show proved Friday, Metallica is anything but typical. Here’s hoping it’s not another decade before the band once again decks Vivint Arena with bows to riffage.