Metallica awes 40,000 fans
SINGAPORE — At the turn of the millennium in 2000, Metallica was among a number of artists who filed a lawsuit against Napster on grounds that the peer-to-peer file-sharing Internet service had shared the band’s entire back catalogue without its permission. Thirteen years later, Metallica’s complete discography is now legally available on commercial music streaming service sites like Spotify.
Before its landmark concert at Changi Exhibition Centre last Saturday night, Metallica addressed the impact of music streaming on the future commercial viability of recorded music. While singer-guitarist James Hetfield’s flippant response was that in the future kids would simply press a button on their computers to call up their favourite music (welcome to the future, buddy), lead guitarist Kirk Hammett attempted a more measured analysis: “It’s similar to 100 years ago, when performers had to travel around the country to earn a living — musicians can no longer rely on recordings”.
Of course, the difference between a troubadour in 1913 and Metallica in contemporary times is a high-tech, professionally choreographed concert that can be best described as an assault on the senses. Once the quartet Hit The Lights, the 40,000-strong crowd was overwhelmed by an aural and visual rock experience unlike any other ever seen and heard in Singapore. Especially at the untested venue — a specially built-up space somewhere in the nether regions of Changi usually reserved for massive air shows. The sheer magnitude of the crowd required an appropriately managed approach to meet the needs of Singapore’s biggest rock attendance in recent memory.
Earlier at the press conference, in a rather needlessly defensive riposte to a query on Metallica’s “relevance”, drummer Lars Ulrich stressed that the band would finalise its set-list only an hour before the concert to give fans a different Metallica experience, with an understanding of the importance of history to its fans as well.
It is instructional to note that thus far, the set-list for Metallica’s Asian shows have been largely similar, drawn from the band’s first five (classic) albums: Kill ’Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, ...And Justice For All, and the eponymous “Black” album. However, it is completely unnecessary for Ulrich to defend Metallica’s choices at this particular stage of its career. Thirty years in, the band has established itself as a rock institution ala The Rolling Stones, its existence as a legacy artist unassailable.
This truth was plain to see as the band delivered one classic track after another (Sad But True, … And Justice For All, One, et cetera) in pristine sound and high-definition video on the superb state-of-the-art equipment, the audience ignored the crushing bodies and distance from the stage to scream, shout, dance, jump and sing along to every single song.
The more cynical punters who might have found the display somewhat polished to within an inch of its life would probably have found the performance of Canadian opening act Anvil more to their liking. The trio provided a snapshot of what the origins of thrash metal might have sounded like — no-frills and viscerally honest — as Steve "Lips" Kudlow (guitar), Robb Reiner (drums) and Sal Italiano (bass) gave the early bird crowd a simpler perspective of metal. Songs like Mothra (whereupon Kudlow used a vibrator on his guitar!) and Hope In Hell warmed up the crowd sufficiently to have this writer imagining what it would be like to watch the trio in more austere surroundings.
In truth absolutely nobody was unhappy with Metallica’s performance. In the final analysis, putting aside all the gimmickry, the key to Metallica’s success is its ability to connect with fans with its heavy, emotionally-wrought metal anthems.
“Never opened myself this way / Life is ours, we live it our way / All these words I don't just say / And nothing else matters,” chorused Hetfield and the audience, with fists in the air. At the end, the cameras zoomed in tightly on Hetfield’s right hand as he gave a “horns up” and revealed the Metallica logo on his plectrum before playing the familiar riffs to Enter Sandman.
As mayhem and pandemonium ensued, there was no denying the power and the glory of being there, seeing and hearing your favourite band, sharing the live experience with your friends and like-minded fans — together in real life, not alone in front of a computer. Nothing else mattered.