I’ve seen Metallica live three times before, however all three gigs were a lifetime ago in the early 90s. In the years since, my musical tastes have expanded and drifted around encompassing many genres. My love for the band dipped as their career went through its “troubled” phase after the release of Load.
Thankfully they returned to their senses in 2008 with Death Magnetic (coincidentally I returned to mine at the same time).
The first time I saw the band was at the SECC in Glasgow in 1992 on the “Wherever We May Roam” tour. The second time was their headline slot at Monsters Of Rock at Donington in 1995 on their short “Escape From The Studio” tour, and finally the infamous Glasgow Barrowland in 1996 for a rare appearance in a “small” venue. One thing about all those gigs was they only played the first half of ‘Master Of Puppets’ at each of them. I was looking forward to that serious oversight by the band being corrected at the Arena gig.
To begin we had Metallica’s now legendary intro music from Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Every time I hear this piece of music I get an adrenaline rush but tonight it was on another level. Nothing quite sets the scene like that intro does. After it came the opening onslaught of ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Atlas, Rise’ and live staple ‘Seek & Destroy’, and a rare outing of ‘Of Wolf And Man’.
This was my first visit to the Arena since the bomb. The last time I was there was for Iron Maiden two weeks before that fateful night, a night that changed Manchester forever. It has brought the city together. And now the bee symbol, a nod to Manchester’s place in the world as an industrial powerhouse decades ago, on show wherever you look from car stickers to painted wall murals. From the new metal detectors on entry, to James Hetfield’s feelgood message thoughts of that night were never far away from anyone’s mind.
This thought culminated during the only instrumental moment of the entire evening when James and Lars Ulrich left the stage for a few minutes, leaving guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo to play Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, a song now associated with the events in May. The hairs on every single neck in the place stood to attention as everyone sung along. A truly memorable, and frankly unexpected moment, with the emblematic bees displayed on every screen in the venue.
I’m sure it can become easy to forget what city or even country you are in sometimes on a long tour but the band made sure they earned everyone’s respect in this single moment. I’m positive Robert played a line of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ too although I may be wrong, but he definitely did give one hell of a display, pummeling everyone’s lungs with “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” immediately afterwards, before the rest of the band returned to the stage.
One thing I love about Metallica is how they mix up their live sets and you just don’t know what’s coming next. We were fortunate enough to get ‘Manunkind from the recent album, you can count on one hand how many times they’ve played that live. Likewise the first song in the encore ‘Spit Out The Bone’ – not even played live until a week ago in London. That of course means you miss out on songs, played on other nights. ‘Confusion’ (a personal favourite of mine) was unfortunately absent from tonight’s setlist.
The Queen cover ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ does not rear its head very often and we were treated to ‘Creeping Death’ so let’s not think we were hard done by, because we were anything but. Best of all the band did play ‘The Day That Never Comes’ from Death Magnetic, an album vastly underrated in my opinion but also one that rarely sees any live plays these days. A real shame, but one of many highlights tonight.
The £95 entry fee is the most expensive non-festival ticket I have ever paid for, but the fifteen minutes where ‘One’ was followed by ‘Master Of Puppets’ was worth that money alone. Wow! Just stunning. And yes, of course they played ‘Master…’ in full!
‘Enter Sandman’, their biggest “hit” sent everyone home extremely happy and with at least one of their senses blown. If anyone went wondering whether Metallica are the biggest or best metal band in the world they were left in no doubt by the end that no-one deserves that title more.