Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL – August 28, 2004

Review by Anthony Kuzminski

As abysmal as 2004 has been for the concert industry, it may very well be remembered as the year of comebacks. The first half of this year was dominated by David Bowie, on a tour, consisting largely of theaters, showcased his entire career and showed he was finally at ease in his own shoes. The same could be said of Prince whose back to basics hits tour was a rebirth. Both artists arguably performed the most illustrious shows of their careers on the heels of two back to basics albums, Bowie’s “Reality” and Prince’s “Musicology.” While both reaped tons of praise for the standout shows and return to form, one act missing from the well deserved critical praise is roaming the road and playing some of the most defining shows of their twenty-plus year career; Metallica. The difference for Metallica is they are out in support of their worst album, “St. Anger.” However, they are demonstrating they are anything but has-beens. If you want proof, go to their website and download one of the shows. Each show is being recorded and sold as a download on their website a few days later. This is forcing the band to reevaluate their entire catalog and this was never more evident than during the band’s recent two-night stand in Chicago.

I had never seen Metallica live before and my good friend, Lonn Friend, promised me a hook up last spring. Needless to say, he did well and the day before the show, I got an email saying, “you’re in for Saturday.” It was raining outside as I made my way to will call, but the second I picked up my tickets, I knew Lonn had done more than taken care of me for the evening. Section 102, row 3…three rows up off the General Admission floor, quite possibly the best tickets I have ever had. I went to my seats and saw most of the surprisingly solid Godsmack set. After their 60 minute set, the countdown began for night two of Metallica in Chicago. I’ve been a Metallica fan since ’87 but somehow never saw them live. I chalk it up to a lot of bad timing and the Summer Sanitarium shows always appeared to be in the worse locations possible, usually race tracks or speedways which usually do not have concerts. Seeing any concert indoors is always better. It is indoors where Metallica has truly ruled with some of the most inventive stage designs to ever grace an arena. On the ’91 “Black” tour they gave us a stage with a fan pit in the middle of the stage, in ’97 the stage takes up the entire floor and in 2004 the band’s stage is in the round with 360-degree rotation.

Metallica (credit Rob Grabowski, 2004)

Robert Trujillo of Metallica (credit Rob Grabowski,)

At 9 pm sharp, the lights dimmed and we were treated to the usual instrumental opening music, “The Ecstasy of Gold.” As the music reached its climax, the band, Lars, James, Kirk and new bassist Robert Trujillo appeared on stage one by one…taking their places and ready to assail the Chicago crowd for the next 150 minutes. The acoustic intro to “Battery” was heard from the sound system and right before the drums kicked in, the band went full speed ahead. Instead of using their stage lights, a dozen giant light bulbs were placed at key points on the round stage. The band tore through the song like it was 1986 all over again. While I had never laid eyes on Metallica in the flesh, I was forever a collector of their live shows on cassette and VHS cassettes back in the day. It was how I sheltered the fall from not seeing them live. I’ll say this here and now, the 2004 model of Metallica is as impressive as any period of the band. Other tours may have been better for old school reasons, seeing Cliff or Jason play bass can never be replaced, but there seems to be a sense of urgency with this band, in the here and now. Instead of resting on their laurels, they are giving back to their fans. As the 16,000 loyal fans in attendance were soon to learn, this show would give any show from the “Puppets,” “Justice” or “Black” tours a run for their money.

Metallica after the explosive opening and pulverizing performance of “Battery,” “Fuel” kept the crowd vivacious. Anyone who rags on the “Load” and “Re-Load” albums has not listened to them deeply. One thing I will always give Metallica credit for is they always push the creative envelope. Metal bands have such loyal followings for one main reason; the music, for better or worse, really never changes. How much heavier can it get? How much longer can the songs be? Other people like to rip Metallica down, but they are always forging ahead trying innovative avenues in the hope of expanding their creative juices. As much of a failure that “St. Anger” may be, I still give them their props for at least trying to do something diverse. “Fuel” in 2004 is night and day different from the ’97 track and its incarnations that followed on subsequent tours. Lars is a madman behind the drums and the velocity with which it is performed makes it sound like it could have been recorded in 1984 for “Ride the Lightning.” The fervor performance exceeded my expectations and even the skeptic’s had to believe after observing the fuel charging their engines.

The band said their hello’s to the nearly sold-out Chicago crowd before ripping to “Leper Messiah,” a gem from “Master of Puppets” performed only a handful of times in the last 15 years. “(Welcome Home) Sanitarium” followed to the roars of the metal faithful. Despite the diverse styles of music I love, “Master of Puppets” will always be one of my ten desert island discs, now and forever. It’s the perfect metal LP, with monumental songs that defined the entire metal genre for every act that followed them. The first time I heard “Puppets,” I felt like it was from another planet. I was ten years old sitting in my kitchen having my next door neighbor crank it. At first, it sounded like noise, shortly thereafter it became a religion. Only the early Sabbath and Zeppelin albums have been more influential to the metal world.

Metallica (credit Rob Grabowski, 2004)

James Hatfield of Metallica (credit Rob Grabowski,)

As the stage slowly rotated, it gave the audience a different view of the stage for every song. In between songs, Lars came out from behind his drum kit to slap those die-hards up against the stage. Some see this as show boating, I see it as a man who has not lost touch with his fans. There is a reason why metal fans, especially Metallica’s, are so loyal. It’s because these bands are equally devoted to them. The set lists on this tour are a wet dream come true to these fans. Never has the band been so diversified in their choices. Plus, with the extensive lighting and pyrotechnics, this is no easy feat. Even the two songs performed from “St. Anger,” the title track and “Frantic,” work much better live than they do on record. The sterile sound of the album versions is gone as Hetfield preaches to the crowd and elicits their voices until they become part of the song.

MetallicaOther rarities followed…”Turn The Page” was performed for the first time in four years and the “Black” album’s “Holier Than Thou” had its first airing since May of this year. “Sad But True” and “Creeping Death” continued to drive the loyal fans into a tizzy, banging their heads just like it’s 1989. The main set closed with “Damage, Inc,” again from the classic “Puppets” album. What struck me during the main set is how in tune the band appears to be with their instruments on this tour. Gone are Hetfield’s drunken rants; instead we have a man who still sings and performs with vengeance, but speaks with greater clarity and reason than ever before. “For those of you who did not come in here with any anger, that’s good…and for those of you who brought that anger inside, let is out in here and get it out before you head back outside.” It’s not 1986 and the band is not an underdog anymore, but after the struggles of “St. Anger” the band is driving forward and playing each and every show like its last. I believe the poor fan reaction to the album made them gaze at their back catalog and embrace it once again. Like Bowie and Prince, they are doing it in style and grace giving casual and hard core fans alike the perfect balance of their entire catalog. Watching the fans at the Allstate Arena rock back and forth made it perfectly clear as to why Ozzfest is still thriving and other festivals have gone the way of the 8-track. These fans are beyond loyal…the type that would kill for the band and music they love. Say what you want about metal heads, but they are possibly music’s most loyal following.

For the encores, “No Leaf Clover” from 1999’s “S&M” disc was performed for the first time since Michael Kamen’s death (the composer they worked with on “S&M”), at the end James somberly stated, “Michael Kamen, rest in peace.” From that moment onward, there was no holding back. “Nothing Else Matters” led into an explosive “Master of Puppets” played unedited and to perfection. One look at this metal crowd during “Puppets” made it clearly evident that Metallica will always be a draw live even if they never recorded another album. The crowd’s arms and fists were flying in the air with furor. Before the next song, the stage went black and a sound clip from Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” was played. Upon its conclusion, the crowd was assaulted by a series of pyrotechnic blasts. Never have so many blasts knocked me back. In all honesty, one of them was so forceful I almost fell over. To say they wanted you to feel shell shock is an understatement. As the smoke cleared, Hetfield could be seen strutting the few simple chords to the song that broke Metallica into the mainstream, “One.” The onslaught of guitars, bass and drums reached a climax during “One” as the band proved they still had the passion to perform. As “One” would down, the band’s most famous riff to their most famous song, “Enter Sandman,” began. As the opening chords led into the drums beating away, a deafening pyrotechnic blast erupted over the entire stage. During the encores, it was clearly evident to me that each song became more vociferous as the band was testing their audience to heights I did not think was possible. “Enter Sandman” is the point where old school fans feel Metallica sold out but by the looks of insanity I witnessed by the 16,000, I did not see anyone without their fist in the air singing along.

Metallica (credit Rob Grabowski, 2004)

Kirk Hammet of Metallica (credit Rob Grabowski,)

While many thought they had seen the final song of the evening, the band was regrouping and looking over the set list. James asks the crowd, “Who has ‘Kill ‘Em All’.” After the loud reception, the band delivered another rarity, “Jump In The Fire.” Metallica is going all out on this tour playing every song imaginable from all points of their career. If old school Metallica wasn’t enough, to end the show, the band resurrected “Dyers Eve” from .”..And Justice For All.” The steadfast fans were euphoric the band chose a cult favorite to end the show. As the final strains were played, the band went to each end of the stage and interacted with the fans. The band was throwing hundreds of guitar picks into the crowd. This went on for a solid 15 minutes, past curfew, as the band gave away little goodies that will serve as the ultimate souvenirs to those who witnessed a thrilling show for the ages. Lars then stepped up to one of the microphone’s and told the crowd that he knows many of the fans follow them from show to show and he was about to say something he does not say at every show, “How come Metallica always play their best shows in Chicago,” to roars of approval. As the band made their way to the backstage area, I pulled out my ear plugs and had a massive smirk on my face. After seventeen years, the wait to see one of my favorite bands had finally ended. Most media outlets are still focusing on the misstep of “St. Anger” but as far as I’m concerned, it’s water under the bridge as the band is going above and beyond every fan’s wildest expectations, including mine. On this current tour, Metallica has proven they are anything but has-been’s by illustrating to me they can still play with as much vengeance as they did twenty years ago. All that mattered was the passion with which they performed for two and a half hours. I for one will not forget it anytime soon. Neither will those who have fortunate enough to see them live this year. Along with Prince and Bowie, Metallica has once again, established their place in this world and will be a force to be reckoned with…wherever they may roam.

Set list:

  • Battery
  • Fuel
  • Leper Messiah
  • Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
  • Frantic
  • Turn the Page
  • Holier Than Thou
  • St. Anger
  • Sad But True
  • Creeping Death
  • Damage Inc.
  • No Leaf Clover
  • Nothing Else Matters
  • Master of Puppets
  • One
  • Enter Sandman
  • Jump In The Fire
  • Dyers Eve