Once again, Metallica has just proved they are the people’s metal band. Friday night, August 25th, over 78,000 charged up metaheads packed Los Angeles’ SoFi stadium making it the highest attended single-show the venue has ever seen, coming only a week after Taylor Swift held the record with an attendance of over 70,000. While numbers certainly dictate an aspect of Metallica’s overwhelming success, they manage to be the world’s most acclaimed metal band given how seamlessly their music transcends through generations. Friday night’s show certainly drove this point home, as the sea of concertgoers painted an eclectic and diverse range of fans from longtime followers who’ve worshipped the band since their early club days, to more recent fans who’ve discovered Metallica through their viral ‘Stranger Things’ appearance. Metallica’s music is quite literally resonating with more people than it ever has, but is the band still able to pull off a live performance worthy of such a massive audience?
Before getting into that question it needs to be said that Metallica weren’t the only legacy act gearing up to deliver an absolutely crushing performance that night. Hours prior to Metallica hitting the stage concertgoers had already begun piling in to witness what’s possibly the scene’s most talked about and anticipated ‘reunion,’ Pantera. Having some reservations going into this Pantera ‘reunion,’ or ‘celebration’ as many are calling it, I can say it was thrilling just as it was nerve wracking to see if this iteration of Pantera could really pull off the same ‘tough as nails’ vibe, hulking groove, and mesmerizing musicianship as the band brought back in their heyday. It’s safe to say Pantera not only crushed all my reservations but got me wholly excited to see them perform again.
Much of which is due the fact that each member brought their A-game. For one, ‘A New level’ of Phil Anselmo certainly has emerged, one with a far more fun and ‘namaste’ like attitude and far less controversial vibes. Performance wise Anselmo is the best he’s sounded in two decades, and the same can be said for bassist Rex Brown, who’s bass chops have seemingly persisted throughout the years. However a lot is owed to Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante, who arguably had the biggest shoes to fill stepping in for the Abbott Brothers. Both Benante and Wylde went above and beyond in doing justice to Dimebag and Vinnie and ultimately they’ve made this ‘reunion’ worthy of celebrating.
There’s no question that Pantera were absolutely meant for the big stage (and in this case a gargantuan stage), as the sheer power and consistency they brought that night was felt through every crevasse of the Stadium. In fact, Pantera were so incredibly good in this environment it had me suspicious as to whether or not Metallica could keep up with such a ferociously heavy opener like Pantera.
As the lights dimmed and Metallica rolled the tapes for their longstanding opener “The Ecstasy Of Gold,” the crowd roared with an excitement that would soon be matched by an equally powerful opening riff, that of “Creeping Death.” To say it was a strong opener would be a vast understatement, as it was the perfect song to set the tone for what was a masterfully crafted setlist by the band. In fact, Metallica’s decision to follow “Creeping Death” with like minded heavy classics “Harvester of Sorrow” and “Leper Messiah” felt like a treat for their core metal audience, and furthermore matched the mayhem of Pantera’s set. However, it wasn’t all just heavy classics, Metallica played an array of songs from their entire catalogue but it was the structure in which they ordered the setlist that kept the show so engaging and unexpected.
Songs like “Fade To Black,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and even “Orion” offered some space and nuance between the bands more thrash or heavy groove songs. But what really sold these songs was frontman James Hetfield’s remarkable ability to communicate with the audience. Whether it was choreographing fans to chant and thrust their fists into the air during a heavy guitar break, or him sounding charismatic and infinitely humble to be standing in front of 78,000 fans, Hetfield as well as the rest of the band embodied what it truly means to be ‘rock gods.’ In fact, at one point in the set Hetfield expressed how he never imagined Metallica growing into the sizable force it is today, and that only a few miles from where he was standing that night was where he first drew the Metallica logo…on a napkin.
These moments truly made one feel like they were a part of something special that night, and beyond putting on a fantastic metal performance it goes to show just how appreciative and inclusive Metallica is with their fanbase. And that’s something that truly separates Metallica from many artists their size — their undying appreciation for their fans. Friday evening’s setlist certainly gave off the impression that it was one made for their eclectic audience, regardless of what decade you discovered the band. But the unwavering sense of belonging is truly the atmosphere that makes a Metallica show transformative and unlike any other concert you can see. That and the band’s masterfully crafted songs.