Saturday, September 21, 2013

Metallica at the Apollo Theater

James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica
Since its beginnings in 1981 in Los Angeles, California, Metallica has been the world’s prime flagship banner-waving thrash metal band. At a time when hard rock bands were recording ballads in oreder to get played on rock radio stations, Metallica went in the opposite direction. Inspired by the likes of Motorhead, Metallica played faster and harder than any other band. The band’s third album, 1986’s Master of Puppets became one of the most influential thrash metal albums in music history. The band expanded its musical direction and reached a wider audience with its eponymous fifth album (fans refer to it as The Black Album), which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The concert film Metallica: Through the Never opens in movie houses next weekend; the soundtrack is available on CD.

Why did Metallica choose to perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem? I guess someone had one of those “ideas.” Fans who were able to score a ticket to the free Sirius/FM concert at the 1,506-seat theater benefitted, however, since the last time Metallica played in New York it was at the massive Yankee Stadium. At the Apollo, I sat in the first row of the balcony, which was the closest I have been to Metallica since I saw the band at L’Amour’s club in Brooklyn in the early 1980s. “I can’t believe they let us play this place,” singer James Hetfield told the audience shortly after the concert began. “This place has so much history. And now we’re going to mess it up — kidding.” No pyrotechnics, no LED screens, no high-tech lighting, just Metallica playing its greatest hits, distraction-free, on a small stage to a small audience. What a performance! Opening with the first song the band recorded as a demo, “Hit the Lights,” followed by “Master of Puppets”, “Ride the Lightning”, “Harvester of Sorrows” and others, ending with “Enter Sandman” and returning for a three-song encore that ended with “Seek and Destroy,” there was no better heavy metal concert ever. While Metallica has experimented with sounds on some of the most recent albums, at the Apollo, the set all sounded like the Black Album-era, Hetfield singing forcefully and crunching the heavy riffs, Kirk Hammett flying all over the stage playing fast but melodic guitar leads, Lars Ulrich playing drums like a volley of cannons and Robert Trujillo thumping strong bass lines. For those who thought Metallica lost its path in recent years – they were wrong. At the Apollo Theater tonight, Metallica proved that the band remains the reigning champion of heavy metal music.

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