A Happy Homecoming for Metallica: There was a moment during Metallica‘s first of two shows at the enormous SoFi Stadium on Friday evening when frontman James Hetfield allowed himself to enjoy some nostalgia and a bit of pride.
Metallica have been a stadium-filling band around the world pretty much since the release of the self-titled “black album” in 1991. Even before that, they were playing arenas. So it’s quite heart-warming to know that their massive and loyal fanbase still touches Hetfield’s heart (and his bandmates’ too, we’re sure).
Between songs, Hetfield took a moment to marvel at the fact that his band’s now iconic logo was stretched across the walls backstage at the SoFi, a logo that he was scrawling on a napkin 41 years ago in Norwalk, “about 15 miles from here.”
Later, midway through the still gorgeous “Fade to Black,” he paused to say (words to the effect of), “We’re so glad that you’re here. We all have bad days, hopefully this is a good one, but remember that you are never alone.”
Hetfield has always been a more sensitive soul than he’s given credit for — just watch the Some Kind of Monster movie, where his own battles are played out in public. But generally on stage, he’s been more about the “Fuck yeah motherfucker” or “We’re here to kick ass” lines. This thoughtful metal frontman with a ton of experience behind him is one that is easy to embrace, particularly because the old intensity is still there too. Metallica, it seems, cottoned on to the fact that vulnerability, honesty and empathy in males don’t signal a lack of strength. Quite the opposite.
On the subject of stirring emotions, Metallica still has the best intro tape in metal, in rock, indeed in music. When Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” (from The Good, the Bad & the Ugly movie) starts playing as the light go down, you feel the breathe sucked out of you. As the beautiful piece builds and builds to the powerful climax, you’re stuck between appreciating the score and enjoying the anticipation of what is to come. From their early years, it’s been an inspired choice. As it proved to be again in L.A.
Metallica played two shows at SoFi, as they have been in every city on this tour. Two different setlists, and different opening bands on each night. On Friday, they opened the show with “Creeping Death” followed by “Harvester of Sorrow,” as they did when this writer saw them at the Milton Keynes Bowl, England, almost exactly 30 years ago.
They were spectacular in 1993 — full of fire, and the sort of energy a thrash metal band gets when it realizes that, somehow, it’s become one of the biggest bands in the world. It’s different now, but still impressive. Those two songs are a brutal way to kick off a show, and they were followed by “Leper Messiah” from the Master of Puppets masterpiece — not an obvious choice but a superb one.
The set allowed for tunes from across their wonderful arsenal of albums. “The Memory Remains” from the underrated Reload, “Nothing Else Matters” and “Sad But True” from that “black album,” “Seek and Destroy” from the Kill ’em All debut, and three from the latest 72 Seasons including a crushing “Shadows Follow.”
By the time they ended with a perfect “Master of Puppets,” there were beachballs bouncing around the crowd that surrounded their ring-shaped stage. Fear not, there was still a mosh pit. But there were beachballs too. Getting older is fun.
Pantera only reformed last year, after breaking up in 2003. It’s well known that guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered on stage in 2004 and then his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, died in 2018. Many believe that Pantera without those two isn’t Pantera at all, but frontman Phil Anselmo has made it clear that this isn’t so much a reunion as a means to pay tribute to his fallen former comrades.
It’s complicated by a history of strained relationships, but then life often is. What can’t be denied is that guitarist Zack Wylde (Black Label Society, etc) and drummer Charlie Benante (Anthrax) do a stellar job, joining classic lineup men Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown.
“Walk,” “Fucking Hostile,” “I’m Broken,” “This Love” — all sound great, even if the band occasionally appear a little lost on the huge stage. Pantera were always best seen up close and personal.
Anselmo has been a tit in the past, notably at a Dimebash gig in Hollywood, 2016, when he screamed “white power.” That remains unforgivable, though he asked for forgiveness at the time. It wasn’t subversive or “punk,” it was just fucking gross. Anselmo swears it doesn’t represent him or how he thinks — it was a bad joke. Whether you can let that go — that’s up to you.
Maybe some of Hetfield’s self-reflection will rub off.
A Happy Homecoming for Metallica: Go to sofistadium.com for more info.
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