Click on photos for entire Metallica slideshow
(all photos by Timothy Norris)
Guys are scary when you get a bunch of them together, be it at a Promise Keeper's meeting, a Harley-Davidson rally, a strip club or a Metallica concert. Pour enough testosterone into a room and some uncomfortable stuff usually ends up going down. Last night at the Forum, the male to female ratio was 12.4 to 1, the men's room line was way longer than to the women's (you don't want to know what those gorillas did to that bathroom), and the mosh pits on the floor, packed general-admission shoulder-to-shoulder with a few thousand, were as rough and aggressive as I've ever seen.
If you were on the floor, you couldn't
see all the action because you were in the middle of it. But the view
from the cheap seats was amazing. From there, it looked like footage of those old Joe Louis boxing
matches, all grainy black and white, of a mass of men in an arena surrounding a ring in the center. Except that it wasn't a ring but a
stage, there were four guys up there instead of two, and blood
wasn't being spilled onstage but down in the crowd. (Or maybe a bullfight in hell.) The oval floor of
the Forum, which used to be home to the Lakers, was mostly people dressed in black, and within seconds of the band's rolling onto the stage,
the joint was dark, the Bic lighters were held high, and the
testosterone permeated the air like Louisiana humidity.
Then lots of lasers and four dudes with assload of gear, fury, volume and, most important, precision, men who've been playing together for 25 years (well, three of them, and bassist Robert Trujillo could have fooled me) tore into “That Was Just Your Life,” from their new Death Magnetic album. In the total darkness, the lasers tore through the Forum and shined little beams on the crowd, frenzied. From there, Metallica moved to another new one, “The End of the Line.” Playing two new songs to open a concert is a dangerous proposition, but it paid off when the band ripped into “The Four Horsemen, from the epic Ride the Lightning (the record that blew skulls wide open in 1984). When that happened, little pockets of moshing started to open up, and from above it looked like a satellite image of a swarm of hurricanes forming over the ocean, clouds swirling before turning into ominous eyes in the thunderheads, pushing not wind but men, circling and slamming. At some point during the night there were five mosh pits spinning out of control on the floor. Hitting the massive double whammy of “Ride the Lighting” and “One” only infuriated the men more. (The ladies were smart enough to stay away from the storms.)
The band was obviously out to prove that middle-aged fellas with wives and kids can still push it hard, and they did so. Sure, Metallica blew a few stops, missed a few notes, but not many, and it's a testament to their locked-in metal grooves, the quick twists and turns, the dueling guitar solos, that you know a flub by how seldom it happens. But the thing about a Metallica concert is that in the band's ironclad structure there is very little room for improvisation. They play the songs the way they were recorded, lick for lick, drum fill to drum fill. It's impressive, yes, but surprise us from time to time, you know? Give me an 18-minute version of “Battery” with a bongo solo, or a surprise tambourine. (I was kidding about a bongo solo, but if Fucked Up can pull it off, Metallica can).
But such sentiments voiced aloud would probably get me clocked in the nose. These are not rational people when it comes to their favorite metal band. They came to let off some steam last night, did what they needed to do in lieu of therapy, a bar room brawl, a cock-fight, or a bathhouse orgy. They let loose. By “Master of Puppets” the mosh pockets had turned into blood and sweat-lubricated Slip-n-Slides. The man-circles spun slower but with more determination, beaten down yet more determined than ever, like a fighter going into the 15th round. (Recall that two opening bands, the amazing meta-metal band The Sword, and the macho cookie-cutter sameness of Machine Head, got the crowd going three hours earlier). Down in the pits, shirts were torn, punches were thrown. But more often than not the men pushed to the floor were pulled up by others, and by the end of each song the beefs were settled with a man-hug and a complicated handshake. All's good, dude. Ride the lightning.
Metallica at the LA Forum, December 18, 2008
(set list courtesy of setlist.fm)
1. That Was Just Your Life
2. The End Of The Line
3. The Four Horsemen
4. Ride The Lightning
6. Broken, Beat And Scarred
8. Sad But True
9. Wherever I May Roam
10. All Nightmare Long
11. The Day That Never Comes
12. Master Of Puppets
13. Fight Fire With Fire
14. Nothing Else Matters
15. Enter Sandman
16. Breadfan (Budgie cover)
18. Seek and Destroy