Metallica Ends Whirlwind Pittsburgh Weekend With Crushing Exclamation Point
Greta Van Fleet and Ice Nine Kills opened the show for the enthusiastic Pittsburgh area crowd that collectively veiled the ballpark seats and field with even more black T-shirts than a Pirates home game.
But Metallica raised the Jolly Roger in their own way, boasting four character skulls on the eye-popping artwork of the Pittsburgh show’s official tour poster. Between the opening and headlining acts, images from the poster were blasted across the big screens that surrounded the outfield stage.
The show put an exclamation point at the end of a three-night stadium concert extravaganza at PNC Park over the course of four days, a stretch that kicked off with Billy Joel on Thursday night and continued Friday night with The Stadium Tour featuring Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. The Pittsburgh Steelers also hosted a preseason game next door at (.. and it’s still hard to say it …) Acrisure Stadium on Saturday night during the day off from the live music smorgasbord, making it a wildly busy four-day, fan-filled frenzy on the North Shore.
Fans viewed this particular Metallica show as a very special event, not only because of the grand scale of a stadium concert but also because the U.S. dates this year have been so few and far between. The tour kicked off in February in Las Vegas before heading off to South America. A show in California and one in Boston served as an appetizer for the band’s 10-day European tour. Then a set of Buffalo and Pittsburgh shows around last weekend followed, with only one big last stop in New York City’s Central Park late next month left on the curiously sporadic tour schedule.
With no new Metallica album released recently, the tour has undoubtedly been a “greatest hits” showcase coupled with stadium-sized visual show help a four-man band keep tens of thousands of fans feeling close to the action in the huge venues. The band has been playing their most popular concert staples like “Enter Sandman,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Seek and Destroy,” “One,” “Creeping Death” and “Master of Puppets” at every show. “Nothing Else Matters,” “Sad But True” and “Moth Into Flame” from the band’s most recent album have also been in heavy rotation.
The band has made a point to mix things up ever so slightly to make each show unique, however. The Pittsburgh show got a “Battery” at the beginning of the encore, while the Buffalo show from just three days earlier got a “Blackened” in that slot on an otherwise identical set list between the last two shows.
One of the oddballs from Sunday’s outing ended up being one of the show’s highlights, some hard-core Metallica fans may argue.
“Question for you — because this is the poor little album,” front man James Hetfield asked the crowd, “What do you think about ‘St. Anger’?”
The band then launched into a blistering version of “Dirty Window” from the “St. Anger” album — debatably the band’s most under-appreciated and overlooked work.
Another great nugget that has made its way into regular rotation on the recent Metallica set lists this year has been the title cut to the band’s second album, “Ride the Lightning,” a song that had not seen the light of day on stage much in decades until the sophomore album’s anniversary helped revive its timeless live strength. This song really got the veteran Metallica fans in Pittsburgh going.
The show was nice and loud, and the big LED screens behind the band helped weave together sound and vision, as the huge metal audio wave was synchronized with a state-of-the-art video spectacle that was a true feast for the eyes.
As always before any Metallica concert performance, a recorded album version of AC/CD’s “It’s a Long to the Top if You Want to Rock’n’Roll” signaled that the show was about to begin. It was followed by dimming of the lights and playing of the trademark entry song “The Ecstasy of Gold” from the Clint Eastwood classic film, “The Good, The Band and The Ugly.”
That led to Metallica taking the stage in bold fashion with “Whiplash” — a vintage cut from their very first album – which was met with an unbridled roar from the crowd. A slight sprinkle of rain accompanied the band as they tore through the early era thrasher, threatening the predicted chance of rain that evening. But the drizzle subsided, and the show churned on with gusto as the anthem “Creeping Death” was followed by traditional show closer, the mega-hit “Enter Sandman.” It was a perfect, three-punch knockout of an opening segment.
The band played the first few songs on a smaller platform that extended from two catwalks that joined in the middle of the crowd on the floor, as two remote cameras suspended from wires (like those seen during NFL kickoff coverage” buzzed around their heads while fans raised horns among a sea of cell phones taking videos.
It was a blissfully chaotic frenzy to behold, and it’s an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
For over 40 years and through many different periods of its evolution, Metallica has been cranking out hard rock and heavy metal that today several generations of fans enjoy.
Personally, I’ve been a big Metallica fan since the late 1980s. Like many of the band’s old-school fans, I kind of lost my connection with them around the time of the “Load” and “Reload” albums. It was during the COVID-19 social distancing shutdowns that I found myself roped back into the fold. As a concert nut who was about to go insane with no concerts taking place during the pandemic, I gladly paid to go see Metallica’s special Encore Drive-In Nights concert played at drive-in theaters across the country in 2020. It was a show prerecorded two weeks earlier from a secret location (a California vineyard) specifically for the drive-in event. It was a simple, non-flashy performance. But it was so good – because when you take everything else away – Metallica is simply a really good band.
Despite the touch of grey in their hair, Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo have not lost a step and are so tight together because they’ve been playing these songs for so long. That drive-in show rekindled my love for Metallica, and it made me want to rediscover the music I’ve missed since letting them fall under the radar. There are plenty of solid tunes on the more recent albums, and the last release — “Hardwired … to Self Destruct” is a true return to form. It’s old-school metal that to me is absolutely relevant today. I, for one, can’t wait to hear new music from the band.
The Pittsburgh show came to a close with the war epic ballad-turned-thrasher “One,” followed what has lately become Metallica’s renewed hit. Thanks to the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” the Metallica masterpiece “Master of Puppets” has been bombarded with whole new generation of fans via a classic song that has been given a true second coming.
Probably the most poignant moment of the concert came during “Fade to Black,” when Hetfield stopped mid-song to talk to the crowd about getting help if they every have thoughts of suicide, the topic of the song. In any other context, the speech may have seemed cheesy. But coming from Hetfield, it seemed sincere to the point where it put a lump in my throat. Isolation from the pandemic shutdowns and the political rift tearing the country apart have obviously caused stress in everyone’s lives in different ways. Hetfield himself had a widely publicized moment of vulnerability on stage during a show earlier this year, causing his band mates to leave their positions to come down and give him – a grizzled, tattooed metal warrior – a group hug. Coincidentally, news had broke just hours before the Pittsburgh show that Hetfield had filed for a divorce from his wife after 25 years of marriage with three children.
Metallica is raw and real in that way and more. The band members are getting older than they probably ever imagined was possible while still playing a style of music that’s fast and hard — in a band that relies on a chunk of their most beloved material pulled from albums of songs they wrote in their late teens and early ’20s. They are now approaching 60.
Once the grassroots, underground kings of metal, the band today is still out working hard, solidifying its long-earned title not only as the one of world’s legendary heavy metal bands, but one of the world’s biggest rock bands of all time.
As a longtime Metallica fans with a renewed love for the band, I was excited not only to get back to seeing live concerts in the wake of COVID, I was also eager to see Metallica live again. From the 1988 Monsters of Rock tour through the extensive “Black Album” tours, I was able to see Metallica several times in my younger years. From the University of Akron Rubber Bowl (demolished) to the old Richfield Colliseum (demolished) to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena or Mellon (also demolished), to the Buckeye Lake Music Center (closed – revived as Legend Valley) and the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater (all names aside, it’s always Star Lake) … I had seen countless Metallica shows, but somehow had not seen them live since the late 1990s. It had been more than 20 years!
Knowing that, I jumped on the chance to fly to Las Vegas for a mini-vacation in February of this year to catch the very first show of the Metallica tour this year. The show took place at the new Allegiant Stadium – home of the Las Vegas Raiders – located just off the strip.
There was a huge buzz about that show, obviously. The stadium itself is brand new, state-of-the-art and already decked out in black! It looks like an oblong, glass version of the Death Star from the outside.
Unfortunately, from the inside, I found that the stadium is not welcoming to concerts, particularly heavy metal concerts. That stadium holds too many people to effectively reach everyone in the crowd – and the show was sold out. Fans could tell that the bands were playing their hearts out for the massive crowd of 70,000, but it could barely be heard from the opposite end. It was not loud at all – in fact, it was quiet. And the poor sound quality was made even worse by a significant echo from the indoor arena. It was a disappointing show, but a good time.
That’s why I was eager to catch the Pittsburgh show when it came around. It was an outdoor show in a much smaller stadium. And obviously, the crew over the past 20 shows or so was able to work out any wrinkles experienced during the very first concert of the tour.
The sound quality in Pittsburgh was perfect. It was crisp and loud, and more than redeeming.
A Fresh Set List Rotation
While the “greatest hits” array of regular staples seems to be played at every show, Metallica has been weaving in various songs to keep things fresh and to make sure each tour stop offers a unique show. At first glance comparatively, most shows look very similar. But examining the past set lists from this year’s tour, it’s obvious that the band has make a concerted effort to keep a good amount of songs well-rehearsed and at the ready to bring on stage.
Some of the songs that have made appearances on the set lists in 2022 – but were not played in Pittsburgh – included: “Wherever I May Road,” “Cyanide,” “Damage Inc.,” “No Leaf Clover,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “Metal Melitia,” “Harvester of Sorrow,” “Trapped Under Ice,” “Bleeding Me” “Fuel,” “The Unforgiven,” “Hardwired,” “Fight Fire With Fire,” “Holier Than Thou,” “Spit Out the Bone,” “No Remorse,” “Blackened” and “Through the Never.”