By: Kevin Rolfe
November 30, 2018, was a historic night for Vivint Smart Home Arena. Not only did Metallica make their return to the venue, and Utah, after a ten-year absence, but they also set the arena’s post-renovation attendance record with 17,574 fans showing up for the concert. And I believe it! I don’t think I’ve seen that place so packed!
Before I go into more depth about the show, I want to point out a really cool thing Metallica did earlier in the day. The band helps raise money for local charitable organizations with their All Within My Hands foundation. Here in Utah, they assisted the Utah Food Bank, an organization dedicated to their mission of fighting hunger statewide. They helped raise $10,000 for the Utah Food Bank. It’s pretty cool that they would make a point to help out those in need along their tour stops.
As I was being escorted down to the soundboard area, where I would be taking photos, I was getting chills as I passed the dressing rooms and cargo boxes with the Metallica logo on them. I have been waiting to see these guys for ages, and not only was I seeing them, but I was walking backstage by their dressing rooms, and was about to review their show and take photos. It was surreal, to say the least.
As I walked through the tunnel to the arena floor, I could feel the energy of the crowd like a smack in the face. I haven’t felt that many times before. The band still was at least a half hour away from taking the stage and this audience was already in a lather. I don’t think I have ever seen so many black shirts in my life. I was wearing a black sweatshirt so I felt very fortunate to fit in!
Stand up comedian, Jim Breuer of Saturday Night Live fame was the opener. Unfortunately, I showed up after his main set. But following his stand up, he basically became the hype man for Metallica. He was all over the arena. When I first walked in he was way up in the highest parts of the upper bowl. At one point he got the crowd going with a “Metal” sing along. He would play songs like ACDC’s “Highway to Hell”, or Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”, and put the words on the screens. People were singing along as if they were at an ACDC concert. It was really entertaining. It was an awesome way to get the crowd going.
The lights went out. And the place went crazy. Metallica appeared on stage and the fans went crazier still. Metallica was set up in the middle of the arena with the drums placed in the center of the square stage. There were eight microphones set up, one on every corner and one on each side of the square. Frontman James Hetfield would make the rounds spending his time evenly at each microphone. I don’t know how he timed it out so perfectly, but he did an excellent job with it.
The band opened with “Hardwired” from their latest album, 2016’s Hardwired…to self-destruct. It was almost impossible to take photos during that first song. People were jumping and throwing their fists in the air, and giving the band the rock symbol. There would be a lot of rock hands going on in this show. I don’t know if there is a more appropriate setting for that though. I spent most of that first song just looking around at how excited people were. Ten years is a long time to wait for a band to come back. And who knows how long it will be until they come back, so it appeared as if they were just going to let it all out on this night. But it’s very possible that that’s how it always is at a Metallica concert.
Hetfield addressed the audience saying, “Salt Lake City, Metallica family, are you with us tonight?!” The crowd roared and from what I could tell, (at this point he was on the opposite side of the stage from where I was.) there was a guy getting a little too aggressive, or maybe starting a fight. James Hetfield calmly and simply said, “Alright, hey calm down there buddy. We’re all here to have some fun just chill out.” And that was it, he moved on. And from my vantage point, whatever was going on was over. Hetfield went on to say that they’d be playing some new songs, some songs in the middle of their career, and “If you’re lucky, you might get an old one.” Right then, much to the crowd’s approval, “Seek and Destroy” from their debut studio album, Kill’em All began.
Hetfield was right, they weaved their way through their career catalog, playing a song from Ride the Lightning, then something from Reload, then they’d play something again from Hardwired…to self-destruct. I’d imagine it’s hard to play newer songs when there are so many songs from the early day’s people are wanting to hear. Metallica was smart in the way they performed their new songs. First off, I have to say that their new album is good, so it’s not like when they played the songs people were bored, or not into it. It just says more to how much they’re nostalgic for the songs that made the Metallica fans. So they played two new songs to start the show. Great idea. People are so fired up they’re on stage they don’t care what’s being played. Then later they played “Now that we’re dead”. With that song, these cubes rose up from the stage, the other three band members joined drummer Lars Ulrich by playing these cubes with drumsticks. It was like a huge drum off in the middle of the song. It was an added feature to keep the audience with them and feature a track of their latest album in a creative way. I think it’s a brilliant move. Then again later in the show, they performed “Moth into Flame”. This was getting later in the show, and the appearance of a new song could have been a downer to some fans. But Metallica is wise to this type of thing happening. So the stage opened up, and about fifty lit up drones rose from the stage and flew around in various patterns throughout the song. It fit the song perfectly and again added a creative punch to the song.
The staging initially seemed simple. A huge square in the middle of the arena, tons of lights, and a screen forming a square high above the stage. But then the square screen broke off into a bunch of screens that would move and create a variety of visual effects throughout the night. And what is a Metallica show without the occasional pyrotechnics? Each element, seemingly simple, yet collectively stunning, and innovative.
While the way they present the music with staging and effects is impressive, it comes down to the music their fans love. And those songs came in abundance. Songs like “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, or “Fuel”, where huge flames burst from the four sides of the stage, sent this massive audience into a frenzy. “Sad But True” was another favorite. That song is so interesting to me because it’s almost danceable. It has this driving beat to it, and if it was constructed another way, it could totally be a dance song. Fortunately, this is a Metallica song, so it had all the elements needed to keep it in that realm. That’s the beauty of this band, they know who they are, they know their sound, and they know how to create great songs to fit into that. So instead of “dancing” there was a lot of head banging to that pulsing beat.
On the various screens, the video for “One” appeared. Now if you haven’t ever seen the video, take a look. It’s a trip. And if you’ve seen it once, you recognize it immediately. So when the fans saw it, they were pumped. The amazing thing about Metallica is they avoided the “Power Ballad” pitfall that so many metal bands succumbed to. “One” starts as a slow tempo song, but it’s not ballady at all. That could not have been easy to do in the 80s when so many other bands were being talked into releasing slow sappy love songs to stay relevant. “One” is a deep dark song that has stood the test of time.
I think the best song of the night had to be “Master of Puppets”. They played this song at the end of their main set. This is a great song, but I was blown away at just how crazy everyone got. Chaos broke out throughout the arena. I couldn’t keep my eyes focused on one place for too long in fear that I’d miss something. On the floor, there were a few mosh pits that started. The one directly in front of me was what one might call a “friendly” mosh pit. That’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever written one, but it really was that way. The guys were all smiles, and if someone fell they’d stop, pick him up, and then start slamming into him again. There was the occasional woman that would jump in, but then she’d get moshed, and she’d exit the pit. There was one guy in particular who looked just like an 80s pro wrestler. He was really tall and totally jacked. He was wearing a black (no surprise there) tank top, with the tightest jeans in America, and a headband. He had muscles on top of muscles. He seemed to be the target of the rest of the guys. That’s usually the case, where the punier guys in the mosh pit try to take down the beefcake. I have to hand it to this WWE lookalike. He held his own. Guys were slamming into each other hard! There was even a drunk guy that came in and cheap shotted him, and instead of taking the guy out, he just grabbed him by the shoulders and escorted him out of the pit. Wrestler Guy had a smile on his face the whole time. Shirts were torn, sweat was pouring from the smaller guys. Another point for Wrestler Guy, he had a headband. So he could see clearly to take out his attackers. I have to admit, that mosh pit looked pretty fun, but with my luck, I would have been the guy to crack his head open, so I stayed away. I still don’t know how not one dude didn’t get injured. It was intense. There were people in the seats who were shouting with whatever vocal cords they hadn’t already destroyed and sung in each other’s faces. One lady had a beer in her hand and was swinging her arm around so much that I thought she was going to spill it on the people in the row in front of her. But the lady had skills. Not a drop left her cup. There wasn’t a song the entire night that surpassed the level of this song. Some may have met it, but none of them were as crazy or chaotic. The song lasted for ten minutes and at no time did the energy dip, or the crowd mellow or tire. It was as metal a moment as I’ve ever experienced. The song ended, the crowd was in a frenzy, and James Hetfield said “You make us feel good!” as they left the stage.
Metallica returned for their encore with “Fight Fire With Fire”, “Nothing Else Matters” and finished the night off with “Enter Sandman”. As I said, no song exceeded the fury of “Master of Puppets”. But Metallica was sure up for trying. Mosh pits did resume for “Fight Fire With Fire”, but I think the “Master of Puppets” moshing tired them out. I honestly don’t know how the crowd had a voice at this point of the show. They had either been singing along of shouting “Hey, hey, hey!” whenever they were asked to. But when Metallica played “Nothing Else Matters”, the crowd sounded amazing. And the top contender to exceed the craziness of “Master of Puppets” was “Enter Sandman”. The moment that song started it was pandemonium. And as huge as that song is, and as mainstream, as it became, even the truest and most hardcore Metallica fan can’t deny how much they love that song. Hetfield would sing “Exit light!” and then let the crowd follow with “Enter Night!” It was a choir of metalheads that rang throughout Vivint Arena.
This is one of the greatest bands America has ever produced. They give it their all every night. With this kind of music, it’s impossible to mail it in. It seems like it takes everything they have to put on a great show. There’s a real blue-collar feel with the band that carries over to the masses. Metallica fans work hard, therefore they appreciate a band that is working hard for them. There’s a grit to Metallica that has kept them at the top of the hard rock world. Never giving in to the “sell out to keep things going mentality”. They’ve stayed true, and it’s clear their fans are grateful for it.
As the show ended, each member of the band took to the stage. James Hetfield stated, “Much love and respect to you, Salt Lake City, from your friends in Metallica”. Then guitarist Kirk Hammett told us how much we “Kick Ass!”. Bassist Robert Trujillo yelled out a big “Hoooaaaa!” and the crowd returned the sentiment. Drummer Lars Ulrich took to the mic and reminded the crowd that they opened for Ozzy Osbourne in 1986 at the old Salt Palace. He then stated that “Unlike many of the other bands’ they were “Just getting started!” and they’d be back soon.
The contrast of having seen opera singer Andrea Bocelli in the same venue the night before was severe. It was hard to believe I was in the same place. Both shows were filled with emotion and a certain energy. But they could not have been more different. When I was leaving the arena I thought to myself ‘I’m going to sleep well tonight.’ The show was a workout. People looked like they were leaving the gym, not a concert. But I was wrong. I was so amped up it took me forever to fall asleep after the show. It was an incredible show.
Seek & Destroy
Through the Never
Now That Were Dead
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Halo on Fire
Moth into Flame
Sad But True
Master of Puppets
Fight Fire With Fire
Nothing Else Matters