“This place is so rich with history, and we’re gonna MESS IT ALL UP. Just kidding!”
James Hetfield may have cracked a joke or two at his own expense, but he was beaming with unbridled joy along with the rest of Metallica at the Apollo Theater last night in Harlem. The Apollo holds just over 1,500 people – a fraction of the sold-out stadium crowds Metallica’s accustomed to playing – but the iconic status of the venue inspired nothing short of an exceptional two-hour set.
As a landmark with firm footing in pop and R&B folklore, the Apollo stage is where some of the most celebrated voices in American music – James Brown, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill, to name a few – were discovered and revered. For one of the world’s most infamous heavy metal bands to approach the Apollo’s footlights is a historic feat in and of itself, and this wasn’t lost on the band or the invite-only crowd of Sirius XM listeners who spent the majority of the evening matching Hetfield roar for roar. Marking Metallica’s performance with an otherworldly distinction seemed appropriate, as their drama and drive made for a number of moments that gave the namesake of the theater – Apollo, the Greek god of music – a run for his mythological money.
Hetfield – who rallied the crowd with a bellow of “APOLLOOOOO!” every third song or so – tapped into a barbaric intensity each time he invoked the name of the theater. Kirk Hammett let his penchant for Jimi Hendrix tributes rip with a solo line from “Voodoo Child” as the rest of the band barreled into “The Day That Never Comes.” Hetfield, Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo attacked their respective solos together in the bars leading up to “One,” which Lars Ulrich fortified to produce a poignant tribute to Metallica’s former bassist, Cliff Burton, who passed away in 1986. “Enter Sandman,” “Creeping Death,” “Orion” – each number in the second half of Metallica’s set was met with the fervor most acts reserve for a final encore, with “Seek and Destroy” conducting the energy of the evening into one explosive closer.
The fans present and accounted for – who subsequently clamored for Ulrich’s drumsticks and a flurry of guitar picks thrown by Hetfield and Hammett at the end of the set – were the luckiest ones, though an estimated 25 million listeners tuned into the concert, which aired on Sirius XM’s limited-run channel, Mandatory Metallica. Satellite broadcast aside, the small stage with the seismic history suited Metallica well, they paid their respects to the Apollo’s legacy with a performance fit for the beloved icons that came before them.