Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Blistering the Lakefront, Metallica Proves They're Still Quite Mighty at Soldier Field -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening acts Avenged Sevenfold and Local H
Soldier Field, Chicago
June 18, 2017

It's certainly no big deal compared to life's real hassles, or worse, but relatively speaking, going to concerts at Soldier Field is a pain in the ass.

I don't have any particular problem with crowds, but getting there and inside can be a bit of a chore and getting out of the stadium, to & onto public transit and home can be time consuming at best and--due to poorly crowd-controlled bottlenecks--even a bit treacherous.

Logistically, I much prefer to see "big concerts" at the United Center or, outdoors, at Wrigley Field.

But only the biggest acts can fill a football stadium, not just with their fans but with their music, and when they do it can be quite galvanizing and enthralling.

Hence, while I devoted 10 hours to going to see Metallica at Soldier Field on Sunday night--just 2 weeks after doing so, twice, for U2--during the 2 hours & 15 minutes the headliners were onstage, nothing else mattered.

Despite sitting near the back and top of the stadium.

Though I know I wasn't the only one to see U2 and Metallica at the home of the Chicago Bears--meaning not just my pal Paolo who was with me at both, but various people encountered on post-show buses--these might strike some as wildly disparate bands (and crowds).

But though their musical styles are clearly different, I see plenty of parallels as both bands have been around for 35+ years and have remained hugely popular with little dissipation, despite some missteps that have brought detractors. And excepting Metallica's bass player--due to the tragic 1986 tour bus crash that killed Cliff Burton; his replacement Jason Newsted later gave way to Rob Trujillo--both quartets continue to exist with the same four members that played on their debut albums.

You can read my U2 review here, but besides both bands being able to sell out Soldier Field and deliver stadium-sized shows that were musically, sonically, visually and emotionally sensational, it was also notable how greatly each dwarfed their opening acts, who themselves are able to fill arenas as headliners.

I mean no disrespect to The Lumineers--who opened for U2--or Avenged Sevenfold, who delivered a strong set that clearly revved up and resonated with much of the Metallica crowd.

Both are popular bands who have played the Allstate Arena and similar (approx. 12,000-17,000 seats for concerts) venues nationwide. Of course, neither was accompanied by the full battalion of visual accoutrements in their opening slots, nor do I know their music nearly as well as the bands I paid to see.

But the performances at Soldier Field by U2 and now Metallica, each comprised of guys in their 50s, didn't just attest to their statures as genre-defining all-time greats, still popular enough to fill the largest venue in any city they play, they were better than their younger counterparts' by--in my estimate--a power of 10. In terms of songs, presentation, polish, grandeur and, simply, enjoyment.

Though back to my teens I was a fan of heavy metal--Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Def Leppard, Ratt--the thrash metal of Metallica was initially a bit too harsh for me (and to this day, I'm not much into their "Big Four" contemporaries Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth).

I still recall wandering into my local record store--Record City on Oakton St. in Skokie, IL--presumably in 1983/84 and unwittingly encountering a Metallica record signing, with the long-haired quartet and hundreds of fans who looked like them. I regret that I wasn't intrigued or prescient enough to get in line.

I subsequently had friends that were more into Metallica than I was, so I heard a good bit of them, and first saw them as part of the 1988 "Monsters of Rock" tour at Alpine Valley (with Van Halen, Scorpions and Dokken). But it probably wasn't until the self-titled "black album" exploded in 1991 that I truly became a fan.

Though I like several of the Metallica songs, including the five played at Soldier Field--"The Unforgiven," "Wherever I May Roam," "Sad But True," "Nothing Else Matters" and the concert closing "Enter Sandman"--I appreciate the album has softer edges than the four preceding Metallica albums.

So I have never been and am not now the most devout headbanger.

I recognize that Metallica can seem like brand name shorthand for "heavy metal" and that--like U2 over the years--they've had questionable moments that may have sapped the hardcore fandom of some. (e.g. the middling Fuel and Re-Fuel albums that seemed to focus on their haircuts, their adamant opposition to Napster, the therapy-sessions documentary, though I happened to like Some Kind of Monster.)

Everybody has an opinion, and mine is no more right than anybody else's. But the loquacious background above is to explain my point-of-view on Metallica, as opposed to at least one dubious friend and, seemingly, the Chicago Tribune freelance critic Bob Gendron--who wrote this quite negative review of the Soldier Field show that counters the experience of me, Paolo, several nearby fans directly and seemingly 50,000+ indirectly.

As neither an acolyte or apologist for the San Francisco-based band, I truly believe that for 135 minutes on a gorgeous night along Chicago's lakefront, at Soldier Field, Metallica fucking rocked.

And I loved every minute of it.

To their great credit, and unlike many legacy acts I also unabashedly love live, Metallica played 5 songs (of 18 total) from their latest album, Hardwired... to Self-Destruct.

And all of these cuts, including the title song that opened the show, plus "Atlas, Rise!," "Moth Into Flame" and more, felt entirely at home among songs dating back to 1982.

Early in the show, lead singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield proclaimed that Metallica doesn't care about their fans' skin color, religious beliefs or who they voted for, not in a way that espoused hatred or dispassion, but to tolerantly denote the concert as a gathering "to celebrate our similarities."

Backed by powerhouse drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Rob Trujillo, Hetfield then launched into "For Whom the Bell Tolls," from 1984's Ride the Lightning.

The powerful mix of new and old songs continued for the first half of the show, but once "The Four Horsemen" was performed--it's from the 1983 debut Kill 'Em All and not overtly familiar to me--it was a thunderous gallop through old glories, albeit with some softer interludes (such as on "Master of Puppets").

The brilliant "One"--sung from the perspective of a savagely injured World War I veteran and, incidentally, a song title shared with U2 (see this sublime merging of the two "One"s by the late Chris Cornell)--was heightened by poignant video imagery and, though less obviously so given the "spaceship" now within the colonnades, the concert's setting within a 1924 venue named to honor such soldiers.

Hetfield noted that this was the first time Metallica had played Soldier Field, and with video imagery on "Battery" referencing the band's first-ever Chicago show--in 1983 at Metro--he and his mates were openly gracious for the support & loyalty of their fans.

After "Enter Sandman" seemingly sent everyone--or almost everyone--happily off to bed...eventually, the lights re-darkened for a brief "Thank you, Chicago" movie to be shown, clearly shot and edited in part during the show.

It's easy to be cynical about a band of such vast popularity, with the money to do whatever it wants, but sucker as I may be I appreciate touches like a summation film, especially as it really wasn't necessary.

Sometimes in being swept up by the music, writing rave reviews and awarding @@@@@ not so infrequently, I wonder if I'm overenamored by too many bands and concerts.

Especially when contradicted by other reviews--however contrary they may seem to fans' opinions--or disbelieving friends who weren't there.

But I make no apologies; even if "wrong," I'm blissfully so.

And in this case I'll repeat myself with probably all I needed to say to begin with:

Metallica fucking rocked.

I should note that in addition to Avenged Sevenfold, who were good but not in a way that makes me want to seek them out again, Chicago's own Local H opened the show. I have a couple of their albums from the '90s and had seen them at least once way back when. It was nice to hear "Bound for the Floor" and "High-Fiving MF" among a solid 45-minute set.

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