Metallica / Scars on Broadway: Benefit for Silverlake Conservatory of Music

The Wiltern, May 14.

By Paul Rogers

Metallica, with Flea, at last night's benefit, simultaneously filling their diapers. (Photo by Gary Leonard)

There’s an irony to a benefit show for a school that aims to make music more accessible charging $200 for tickets. Yet this fund-raiser for the nonprofit Silverlake Conservatory of Music succeeded as a graphic, almost shocking, reminder of the medium’s powers of catharsis and communion.

Scars On Broadway, formed by System Of A Down-ites Daron Malakian (vocals/guitar) and John Dolmayan (drums) had the unenviable task of performing songs which, with one exception (current radio-fave “They Say”), were a mystery to most. Though musically brave and dynamic, their set felt oddly stodgy. SOB share many SOAD traits – churning riffs juxtaposed against exotic harmonies and folksy intricacies; Zappa-esque lyrical and stylistic irreverence; Dolmayan’s Bonham-vs.-blast-beats muscle – while aching for the commanding timbre of a true lead singer.

Most of the black-shirted, older-skewed crowd came to witness Metallica breaking a long absence by performing (by their standards) in intimate surroundings. The veteran Bay Area bruisers, now in varying states of hairiness, unfurled a relentless “best of” set with the palpable glee of parolees, embracing each horns-aloft classic (“Seek and Destroy”, “Battery”, “One”, “Master of Puppets”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” – count ‘em) like lost loved ones. Adding a wide-eyed, garage-band zeal to their seasoned, brutal precision gave Metallica’s chugga-chugga-widdle formula fresh legs and incongruous warmth. Strutting figurehead James Hetfield both bathed in and projected the togetherness his band’s music instantly elicited, front-to-back, in this most cynical of cities.

Metallica marry metal’s technical prowess and hot-rod histrionics to the guttural venom and velocity of hard-core, producing something melodic yet monstrous, trained but untamed. Their earlier efforts, personified by 1984’s “Fight Fire With Fire” (for which Conservatory co-founder/Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea joined them), are more bile than guile, while height-of-their-fame hits like “Enter Sandman” (from ‘91’s giga-selling Metallica opus) over-buff their streetwise savagery. Somewhere between the two – i.e. the rest of tonight’s set – lies Metallica’s mongrel magnetism.

Bassist Robert Trujillo bookended his bestial prowl with bouts of unfettered bedroom mirror mane-flailing, while ringlet-shrouded shredder Kirk Hammett nurtured climbing vines of squealing virtuosity and Lars Ulrich punctuated ‘tallica’s mini-operas with rabble-rousing behind-the-kit showmanship. But all this would’ve counted for naught without Hetfield’s machine-shop rhythm guitar, fatherly growl and truck stop charm.

Metallica justified the night’s hefty price tag and supported its cause by example: when Hetfield uttered “this is why we’re in a band” as his final words he surely did propel hundreds of fingers to fretboards, sticks to mitts and mouths to mics.

-Paul Rogers

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