CONCERT REVIEW | Hall of Famers embrace the ‘old stuff’
To win over the crowd at the Allstate Arena Monday, James Hetfield first tried that old standby, hometown love: “Chicago is a Metallica town, right?”
The crowd roared yes. Then came the second tactic: “We figured out what really goes well with new stuff,” he said, before lowering his voice to speak just under it: “Old stuff.”
That did it. As the band kicked into “Sad But True,” a punishing give-and-take with the crowd from the 1991 “Black” album — one of the most beloved installments of their career — four giant silver coffins affixed with stage lighting lowered, an over-the-top moment for a band known for its 25-year history of big and sometimes bad moves.
“Old stuff” is what Metallica ran away from in the 1990s through the 2003 “St. Anger” album, a period pockmarked with collaborations with symphony orchestras, litigation against fans over illegal file-sharing, a film documentary that felt like a parody and musical choices that compromised the band’s hard, lean and dense sound with pop savvy.
“Death Magnetic,” released last fall, is Metallica sounding like they’re on a mission to correct the past. This year they are finally inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and with such an honor comes new music and a tour that willfully positions the band back with the “old stuff,” a sound combining psychosomatic lyrics with high-caliber musicianship and group sneer.
One-fourth of the band’s two-hour show, the first of a two-night stand that continues tonight, was dedicated to the new songs, which match the band’s early sound: “That Was Just Your Life” and “The End of the Line” opened the show, a pair of songs that lasted 15 minutes and featured unexpected interludes, crowd chanting and swinging tempos due to Lars Ulrich, the gentleman drummer who directs this band with constant deft maneuvers.
The stage was decidedly old school as well: Low to the ground and set in the middle of the arena, allowing a give-and-take with fans that generated its own excitement. There were lasers, shooting flames and explosions, plus symphonic entrance music that sounded like the band might appear riding chariots and brandishing whips.
While all of that was tailored for the pre-YouTube era of “Wayne’s World,” the band revisited its past sounding especially re-engaged. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett sped through solos that turned into blurs, but there were times, like on “One” and “Ride the Lightning,” that his playing paused to reveal a dramatic, dark elegance. Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo combined to give the rhythm a slight bounce while Hetfield bellowed in the higher octaves.
“All Nightmare Long,” a new song, galloped in triple time, a reminder of their early days as speed metal sophisticates. They huddled near Ulrich’s rotating (of course) drumkit, until the song broke loose and they all moved in separate directions.
Mark Guarino is a Chicago journalist. Visit mark-guarino.com.