The inaugural weekend of the Rock in Rio festival on the Las Vegas Strip ended with a two-hour blast of Metallica last night, in a concert that was streamed around the world via Yahoo! Live. “Is Vegas rocking today?” singer-guitarist James Hetfield shouted to the thousands gathered across the 40-acre venue. “Let’s mess it all up with some Metallica noise.”
The band’s appearance was especially anticipated because Metallica has toured almost exclusively overseas in recent years, with only occasional one-off dates, benefits and awards shows in the U.S. As fans waited impatiently for the set to begin, Hetfield finally stepped up to the mic. “I’m sorry to make this announcement but…” He began slowly, then roared the opening lines to 1997’s “Fuel”: “Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire!”
The band revealed nothing new from the album now being recorded in their Bay Area studio, the first since 2008’s Death Magnetic (and the 2011 Lou Reed collaboration Lulu). But they did perform “Lords of Summer,” a demo track released last year on iTunes. “It’s the newest song until the new album is done,” Hetfield said cheerfully. “What’s taking so long? Like, hurry up!” Metallica made the most of Kirk Hammett’s galloping riff: Hetfield stood beside him as their two guitars ripped into overlapping creepshow patterns, and Robert Trujillo stomped across the stage with his low-hanging bass. Drummer Lars Ulrich pounded the beat, his tongue stuck out wildly for much of it.
They touched on Death Magnetic with the slashing epic “Cyanide,” but the rest of the night stretched further back across the years. During “Master of Puppets,” fans shouted along during the churning speed metal riff as Hetfield performed from the far left side of the massive festival stage, closing with an ominous laugh.
There was the gloom of “King Nothing” (from 1996’s Load album) and the speedier “Disposable Heroes,” with hornets-nest guitars that accelerated to nosebleed pace alongside Ulrich’s thrashing beat. For “Sad But True,” Hetfield grunted his lyrics while Trujillo unfurled a long bass solo, his braids bouncing to every head-bang. “Come on, let’s sing it loud!” Hetfield roared. Hammett, meanwhile, drew from his collection of guitars painted like ancient horror movie posters: a Bela Lugosi Dracula guitar for “Unforgiven,” a Boris Karloff Mummy guitar for “Enter Sandman,” and Lugosi’s White Zombie on “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Playing on an atypically cool 63-degree evening, Metallica kept it heavy, and Hetfield was a warm and brotherly host, as usual. Right behind the band onstage was a small crowd of lucky fans, some lifting cell phones to watch the moment just inches away on a tiny screen.
During the encore, Metallica ripped through the straight ahead rock of Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey in the Jar,” which Hetfield introduced as “a song we love playing. It gets people bouncing.”
The crowd was still bouncing when the band closed with the early Metallica standards “Creeping Death” and “Seek and Destroy” then spent several minutes lingering onstage to wave their goodbyes, tossing guitar picks and drumsticks into the crowd. It was a fittingly loud and aggressive end to Rock in Rio’s first weekend in the U.S., and it set a high standard for next week’s pop lineup to match.
“Thank you, Vegas,” Hetfield said, “Thank you rock & roll.”