Valley metal fans circled the first weekend of September on their calendars as soon as Metallica announced a two-night stand in State Farm Stadium in support of their latest record, "72 Seasons." The sold-out M72 shows were billed as a “no-repeat weekend” during which the band were going to play completely different sets each night. Two different opening acts were scheduled to perform at each show as well.
It seemed like a metalhead's perfect weekend and it started off that way, until Metallica didn’t perform an encore nearly two hours into the Sept. 1 show and called it a night after just 14 songs. It was confusing at the time, but then the news came on Sept. 2 that lead singer James Hetfield had tested positive for COVID-19 and that Sept. 3 show had been rescheduled for Sept. 9.
That was the bad news. The good news is that Metallica were in top form throughout Friday’s performance even with Hetfield feeling under the weather.
Metallica had quite the entrance as they made their way to the stage in front of the massive crowd as AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" blasted through the speakers. It felt very much like something right out of a WWE introduction.
The band opened with a blistering version of "Creeping Death" from 1984's "Ride the Lightning," which set the tone for the rest of the abbreviated set. A slimmed-down James Hetfield looked hyper-focused, and vocally he sounded as good as he ever has. For most of the show, Hetfield's performance didn't seem affected by any sort of illness. The massive stage covered much of the floor at State Farm Stadium and was set up in the round, which allowed the band members to roam to different sections of the venue. It truly seemed like there wasn't a bad seat in the house.
The metal titans kept the old-school vibe going with "Harvester of Sorrow" as the fans chanted with Hetfield during the deep cut from "...And Justice for All." Drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo were locked into the groove during the unlikely stadium anthem. Speaking of the often overly criticized Ulrich, he showed no signs of struggle behind his kit on Saturday, and his showmanship was infectious.
"Holier Than Thou" was one of three songs from the band's mainstream breakout, "The Black Album," that were showcased during the show along with "Sad But True" and "Nothing Else Matters." The band even managed to have a little fun when Trujillo and guitarist Kirk Hammett jammed a little something they put together before the show that they titled "Cactus and Graffiti," which really just felt like they were buying some additional time to give Hetfield and Ulrich to take a breather during the show.
Newer material like "Lux Æterna" and "Shadows Follow" from their newest release, "72 Seasons," blended well with Metallica classics like "Fade to Black" and the instrumental "Orion."
Yellow and black beach balls covered the stage during the night's final song, "Seek & Destroy." It felt like the least metal part of the night, but Metallica fans are truly of all ages these days. That's the point in the show when things felt a little off. Fans were expecting to hear "Master of Puppets," which was scratched from the setlist, along with "The Day That Never Comes" and then the show was over. It was out of character for the band, and that's when speculation about Hetfield's voice came into play and the COVID-19 diagnosis was later revealed. While the show did feel a bit abbreviated, it just made fans all the more excited to see the band's second show this Saturday.
Speaking of notable vocal performances, Phil Anselmo absolutely slayed the Pantera classics during the band's tribute to former bandmates and brothers drummer Vinnie Paul and guitarist Dimebag Darrell during their 60-minute set. While it wasn't the Pantera we grew up listening to, it was incredible to hear Ozzy/Black Label Society shredder Zakk Wylde and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante do the songs justice and remind you just how powerful the original lineup was.
The Show: Metallica, Pantera and Mammoth WVH at State Farm Stadium on Sept. 1.
The Crowd: Metalheads, grandparents, children, families and everything in between. Metallica is truly a generational band and the diversity in the stands confirmed that.
Overheard: "They always play an encore."
Notebook Dump: Don't be surprised if Metallica makes up for the shortened straw that fans got during the first night of the Phoenix shows this Saturday.
“Harvester of Sorrow”
“Holier Than Thou"
“Too Far Gone?”
"Cactus and Graffiti" (Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo jam)
“Fade to Black”
“Nothing Else Matters”
“Sad but True”
“Seek & Destroy”