In the great Eighties metal tradition, Metallica’s tour-opening show was an affair full of overlong drum solos, guitar doodling, buried vocals and exuberant pyrotechnics. The evening’s opening song, “Helpless,” was so over-amped and poorly mixed that the seminal rockers seemed a parody of seminal hard-rock parodists Spinal Tap. By the third song, “Of Wolf and Man,” the house sound had coalesced into a tenuous balance, but the mix was never quite right all night.
Lead singer James Hetfield promised that the show would mine the past, and the band delivered, playing songs spanning their entire catalog, from Kill’em All to last year’s Reload. It was clear upon hearing the tunes back-to-back that the older songbook is full of complex melodies and distinctive guitar riffs, whereas these days Metallica favor the speed metal variety. But for most of this evening’s show, largely due to the inconsistent sound quality, melody was relegated to momentary windows of clarity. Lars Ulrich’s drumming was mired beneath the overwhelmingly aggressive guitar work of James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett. Other than by sight, it was difficult to tell there was even a bass in the mix.
Yet, there were moments of clarity and undiluted musicality. Songs like “The Memory Remains,” “The Thing That Should Not Be,” “Until It Sleeps,” and “Bleeding Me” were the strongest of the set. Other favorites, like “One,” “King Nothing” and “Wherever I May Roam” fell to the overzealousness of the players. As if to prove that metalheads lay claim to rock’s best sense of humor, Metallica commenced their encore with the semi-acoustic tune “Low Man’s Lyric” sung in its entirety with a faux British accent.
As the show drew to a close, Hetfield remarked, “We kink ass.” But, in light of this particular performance, the comment reeked of wishful thinking.