Friday, 27 February 2009

Metallica @ Manchester MEN Arena (Feb 26 2009)

FOREWORD - (I never intended to write this much about this gig. I have been to much better shows in the past year and never spent even a tenth as much time writing about them. Sorry Megadeth, sorry Maiden.)

I went along to see METALLICA on their current European tour last night, this was only the 2nd date of the current leg of the tour, so I didn't know (or want to know) the setlist before I showed up. I'll try to keep this as a positive review as much as possible; I could easily turn into an old school grouch over this show, as they played mainly new material that I am not familiar with. But I am trying to see it from the band's P.O.V. and it must be refreshing for them to not have to go through the same old back catalog of songs that they have been playing for the past 25 years again and again. So there as only a handful of Metallica "staples" played at this show. I think they played 1 song off each of the first 3 records, 2 off "And Justice" and 3 off "The Black Album".

One more thing before I kick off - And this is a kind of admission here I guess - I have not heard ANYTHING from the last Metallica album, "Death Magnetic". Nope, not one single song. Does that make this review kind of pointless? Probably. One thing that it does mean, I can't give you a proper setlist (not without copy/pasting it from somewhere else on the internet first) because I genuinely don't know the names of the stuff that they played!

Anyway, here's what I recall.

First things first - I never arrived at the venue until after the 2 support bands had already been on stage. I never saw THE SWORD. I never saw MACHINE HEAD. My loss I guess, right? Oh well. I got into the arena just as Metallica's road crew where on stage setting their stuff up, as well as sound checking.

I walked into the arena area to see that the stage was directly in the centre of the place - not at one end of the arena, as is the usual for these kinds of shows. So, if you had a "Standing area" ticket (like me), you could pretty much stand anywhere around the degree perimeter of the stage area. I guess that means the people at the MEN had to have extra stage security at hand. Also, there was a huge lighting rig directly above the stage. I mean HUGE as in RIDICULOUSLY HUGE! The rig was clearly custom built for this tour, with 4 coffin-shaped boxes incorporated in it, each bearing about 20 lights inside. Also, there were another 4 identical coffin light rigs in each corner of the arena. This is a huge tour, the money being spent on the road crew and the transport costs for the stage and rig must be enormous. So much for the economic meltdown huh!

More about the actual stage area - As the stage was in the center of the arena, this kind of makes it "frontless", or should I say, every side of the stage is surrounded by crowds.. so every side of the stage was the front at some time or another. Once they were on stage, the band had to run around quite a lot to cater to each side of the arena. More about that later. The stage had 8 microphone stands placed around the perimeter (1 in each corner and 2 more along each side). The drumkit is in the centre stage and turns around to face a different edge of the stage periodically. Also the lighting rig drops up and down... to begin with it was way up as high as 50 feet in the air, then at one point it was literally dropped down as close as 10 feet from the stage. (I haven't even told you about the lasers or the flamethrowers yet!)

Okay, this is where it gets difficult. As I said earlier, I don't know any of the newer Metallica stuff, that is to say, I don't know any of their new material since they became arena rock gods. It's kind of been intentional that I haven't bothered with the newer stuff. Sorry. But, that said, the songs that they played at this show were really fast and had their "trademark sound" to them, you could clearly tell it was in the Metallica mould. If I was to sit down and listen to their new record I am sure that there would be a few tunes there that I could really come to appreciate. However, that doesn't change the fact that I didn't know ANY of their new stuff played last night.

Okay, I just did a quick search online and found the complete setlist:

  • That Was Just Your Life
  • The End Of The Line
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls
  • Wherever I May Roam
  • One
  • Broken, Beat And Scarred
  • Cyanide
  • Sad But True
  • Turn The Page (Bob Seger cover)
  • The Judas Kiss
  • The Day That Never Comes
  • Master Of Puppets
  • Blackened
  • Nothing Else Matters
  • Enter Sandman

  • See what I mean about "all new songs?". They played a bunch of them. Granted, the band gets to play pretty much a whole new set (with a couple of exceptions) and so everything gets to sounds really fresh. But let's be honest, how many people go to see Metallica specifically to hear the classics? It's a double edged sword of sorts. But their performance cannot be faulted... more about that below.

    The REAL gig, for me at least, began with the encore.

    Okay, this got me joining in for the 1st time all night - Metallica came back on stage and played BLITZKRIEG. I have never heard them play this song live before.... man, do they EVER play Blitzkrieg live? Fucking awesome rendition of it too, every solo in place. They redeemed themselves hugely by playing this song. And if that made things all better, then the next song made this old hack even more of a believer...

    Next up Metallica played THE PRINCE!!! The fucking Prince! They could have played any old cover as an encore and I would have been happy... Breadfan... Stone Cold Crazy... Am I Evil... The Wait... Crash Course... any of those. But they chose The Prince?! How obscure can you get? Most Metallica fans at this gig will have walked away at the end of the show saying "Oh man, that was a great gig! They played Blitzkrieg and Blackened!". Which is a fair shout, by all accounts. And I would wager that the newer fans there will have been very happy to have got such a huge number of the newer tracks played live by Hetfield & co... but really, the highlight of this concert is that METALLICA played THE PRINCE. I wager that this song went way over the heads of most people at this show... they won't have appreciated that Metallica gave an airing to one of their least-played tracks here tonight.

    The last song of the night (as usual) was SEEK & DESTROY. Metallica often close by playing that one. Strangely they decided to play this one with the house lights turned up high, supposedly so that the band could check that the crowd was all joining in with the chorus (what?).

    But then, in a bizarre development, about 1 minute into the song, about 100 massive inflatable balls of all of sizes were dropped down onto the crowd. Surreal and unnecessary, this ended up with the stage area being swamped with huge black inflatable balls - the band then proceeded to wade their way around the stage to finish the song, kicking balls back into the crowd as they went. This then descended into farce, as people in the crowd became "Souvenir hunters", fighting with each other to catch a ball, pin it to the ground and uncork it and deflate it to take home. What the fuck is all that about??? This stunt has got to be costing a lot of money, all for the sake of a spectacle at the end of a Metallica live show? A ball drop? I've seen it all now.

    Considering that this is a big tour and that each date of the tour is going to be a "big event", Metallica have a lot of work to do on each and every night from now until the last night of the tour (they won't be finished in Europe with "The World Magnetic Tour" now until August, that 6 months of shows!), so this is going to be an expensive and techincally extravagant show to keep on the road for such an extended period of time. I hope that they are paying their road crew well (ha, yeah right).

    The set began with a prolonged beams of laser light, for the entirity of the 1st song the stage (and so the whole arena) was flooded with the most amazing light displays. It was like something from the circus rather than a heavy metal gig, it was almost TOO much. Later in the set (during "One" I do believe) we had our 1st taste of the flamethrowers that are lined across the centre spread of the stage (either side of Ulrich's drumkit). That's a lot of propane right there. The heat off the flames went right across the arena like a wave, watch out for those James lad! Laser beams and flame throwers... being at this gig was like being in a 2 hour long rock video, with sore knees as a result.

    Once on stage the band had a lot of work to do, the 3 guitarists must have covered some ground up on that stage, running about from one side to the other, entertaining each face of the arena. Hetfield looked especially sweaty up there under those hot stage lights, running across to and fro like a sprinter at times. There was a lot of time when they were all facing in the opposite direction to where I was stood, but then 2 minutes later Hetfield or 1 of the other guys would run back across and play a solo to another corner of the arena to "wow the crowd". So I have got to applaud their effort in that department, they will be fitter than ever by the end of this tour. The same must go for other bands (Iron Maiden comes to mind) who hit the road with a massive and elaborate stage show.

    One thing wrong with the central stage situation - There is no designated area that you could call a moshpit. The stage took up so much of the floor area that there wasn't much room between the seating area (up each side of the arena) and where the stage began... 5 to 10 metres of room in between, tops. So that area was being used to both watch the band and to make your way around the arena to get to the toilets and to the bar. It made thrashing out to The Prince nearly impossible.

    Okay, I've had enough reviewing this gig for today. I won't go into a long diatribe about the people in THE CROWD, I would only end up sounding bitter and twisted. It was a good show, but FAR too many new songs in the setlist. That's pretty much all you need to know about this gig.


    kingdavid said...

    Okay, read your review. Couple of things. I saw them in Jan in Wash DC and when the people near me said...."I didnt know they had a new disc out", I almost asked them why they even came in the first place. You could have found a set list anywhere notifying you that they would be showcasing 6 songs off DM. That disc is a work of art - so do yourself a favor and become familiar with it. Something in my opinion you should have done before the show. They played 19 songs in DC and the new stuff was fantastic. I saw them open for Ozzy for Master of Puppets and ini '92 for the Black Album, this was a great show, legendary with Hetfield stealing the show with so much energy - he owned the huge stage. The entire band put everything they had into the show - it is no wonder they had to take 5 minute breaks between songs. The lighting was like no other show I have been a giant spaceship above them streaming light - so bright - they were lit up all the time...that was great and easy for all to see. No "the prince" at my show, but I am a Load fan, so more of that would have been nice!! DM Rocks - going to the show before spinning that masterpiece is a travesty!!!

    Anonymous said...

    Ok firstly if your gonna review the gig, at least bother to turn up to watch Machine Head. Ok, The Sword, came on 1 hour before the stated time on the ticket. Worked out great for me, the moment I sat at my seat, the house lights dimmed and on came the Sword!

    Id not heard any of their stuff before, and of course the sound wasnt up to Metallicas, but it was ok, and they had a good, heavy almost Sabbath sound to them with plenty of thrash. The place was still half empty throughout their set, as most people were turning up for the stated time of 7.30, but Sword got a good reception and seemed really pleased at the crowd, and the same from the crowd.

    Next, Machine Head, good quality solid, heavy support act which sent allot of the kids wild. Defintely there for the young-uns, but again really good solid show and plenty of moshing starting down below.

    Next, Metallica. Well I was sitting in the upper teir, looking right down on the stage, and have never felt anything like it when the lights went out. Totally amazing to see just the light of a thousand phones in anticipation. Then they came out, playing That Was Just Your Life, with a laser light show which would make Jean Michelle Jarr or Pink Floyd amazed. Not what I was expecting, but it worked, maybe a bit over-the-top, but just for the light show it was great, and great for a band like Metallica to use it. Well done! They played the first song with no spot-lights on them, so everywhere was pitch black apart from the lasers dancing all around. From high-up, it was spectacular.

    Seeing as it is the World Magnetic tour, I thought the choice of about 50% new and 50% old songs was justified. Maybe Fade To Black would have been good, and Battery, but no real bother, the new songs stand out enough. And The Day That Never Comes, really did stand out for me. The end guitar parts were just amazing.

    The crowd were really up for the show, and Jaymz and Co seemed to really appreciate it, and were spurred on by it. I mean the crowd were moshing, it was great to whatch that from up-on-high.

    The encore with the black balloons was quite funny I thought, if you get Metallicas humour, you will realise they like to have a good time and a laugh, and its not all doom-and-gloom. So good on them for dropping the black beach-balls. Someone will have a nice, if rather strange momento to take home with them! After the encore the band must have stayed on stage for about 10 minutes thanking everyone and kicking the beach balls around. The place was emptying rapidly, and they were still on stage lapping it all up! I think they over-ran and the last train from Victoria was at 11.20.

    The stage in the middle really worked, it was much better than the usual at one end of the arena. It meant everyone could be closer, and get to see much more, and gave the band lots of space to run around and see everyone. It worked really well.

    I liked the part when Jaymz picked up a St George flag with the Metallica logo on it, and placed it over the amps. It fell off, and Rob put it back on. Then at the end Jaymz picked it up and took it backstage with him on his shoulder. That is stuff which means they appreciate the effort the crowd put into it.

    I last saw Metallica at Milton Keynes in 1993, never thought I would see them again. Im very very glad I did!!

    Anonymous said...
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    Phil said...

    you are absolutely spot on reagrding the highlight of the night. I was stood singing along to The Price and could tell most people around me didn´t have a fookin clue what song they were playing and why I was so ecstatic about it.

    The new stuff was great as well - I´d advise you to familiarize yourself with DM.

    Also agree that Maiden at Twickenham was MILES better than this.

    But still a great gig nevertheless !!