The first time Metallica performed in the Twin Cities was Feb. 6, 1985. They performed at First Ave (or, according to a t-shirt listing every Twin Cities show they’ve done, “The First Avenue”) in support of the Ride the Lightning album. Thirty-one years later, the metal monsters rolled into town for a show just down the road from there, helping to inaugurate the brand-new, sometimes-maligned U.S. Bank Stadium with a concert on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
On Friday, Aug. 19, country star Luke Bryan held the honor of being the first musician to perform at the stadium. But by late-morning Saturday, any country-music remnants from that show were washed away as throngs of black-t-shirt-clad metal-heads began to take over the downtown area. Walking through the crowds was like stepping into a metal museum of sorts, as Metallica fans donned t-shirts like badges of honor from ’80s-era tours and albums (I didn’t see any t-shirts from the ’90s or ’00s, nothing more recent than 1991’s divisive Black Album). Even if you weren’t rocking a Metallica t-shirt, you could still fit in wearing a black t-shirt representing other metal giants like Megadeth, Slayer or Iron Maiden. I saw some political shirts (“James Hetfield for President”) and even a few Rock the Garden t-shirts sprinkled amongst the crowd. My bright blue Comedy Bang Bang “Hey Nong Man” t-shirt (hey, I didn’t know I was going to the show when I left the house Saturday morning) was met with mostly quizzical looks. Probably because it wasn’t black.
The doors opened at 4 p.m., with a 6 p.m. concert start time. I arrived a bit early to take it all in and to explore the stadium. I entered the venue through a media door, which led to an elevator, which led to some confusion with the staff (more on that later). The elevator took me from the bowels of the arena to a back hallway leading to the main concourse. As I approached the doors to the concourse, I heard a roaring crowd so loud I thought the concert had already started. But no, it was just the sound of excited fans swarming the concourse, high-fiving each other, exploring the new space. Say what you will, U.S. Bank Stadium is an impressive structure. Most concert-goers were walking around wide-eyed, with a combination of awe and a touch of confusion, trying to figure out where they were headed. There were lines, oh yes, there were long lines, but it’s to be expected for a brand-new venue. Kinks will be worked out, and to their credit, the U.S. Bank Stadium staff were incredibly accommodating and patient in dealing with many confused (and at times, inebriated) fans.
The show opened with sets by Volbeat (how can Volbeat not play the one Volbeat song I know?) and Avenged Sevenfold (at least Avenged Sevenfold played the one Avenged Sevenfold song I know). They did what they could, given the unenviable task of opening for one of metal’s biggest bands, but it felt like three-plus hours of killing time until Metallica showed up. Finally, around 9:20, Robert Trujillo, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield took the stage — a predictably barebones stage, with nothing but a short drum riser and mic stands. They kicked off the set with two classics off of 1984’s Ride the Lightning — “Creeping Death” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
And it was loud. The type of loud that makes you feel like your ribs are about to shake loose, the type of loud that makes you feel like your ears may, in fact, bleed. According to social media, the show (the indoor show) could be heard as far away as 38th Street in south Minneapolis. As far as the acoustics, well … U.S. Bank Stadium will be a great place to see a football game. It’s not near as bad as the Metrodome was, and not as bad as Target Center can be. But there were times that the music was semi-unrecognizable, thundering sludge. I’ve read that it makes a difference where you are seated (apparently main-floor concertgoers had a much better experience), and there may be slight tweaks that can be made to improve the sound for future concerts. But again … it’s a football stadium first. (See my interview with Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition from MPR News for more about U.S. Bank Stadium acoustics.)
Back to the music itself. The band rocked hard for more than two straight hours, with very few missteps along the way (some of the Black Album tunes came off as a bit stale). But they really hit their stride in the final stretch leading up to the encore, focusing on classic shredders from their first four albums: “One,” “Master of Puppets,” “Battery,” “Fade to Black,” and “Seek and Destroy.” Their ferocious rendition of “One” was the evening’s highlight for me. On the original …And Justice For All album version, the song is introduced with sounds of war, with machine guns firing and helicopters flying overhead. The live version was accompanied by a laser show used to mimic the gunfire, and a bit of coincidental realism occurred as a medical helicopter simultaneously passed over the stadium as we heard helicopter sounds in the song’s live intro.
The surprise of the night came in the encore, which was kicked off with a new song that had never before been performed live. Often times, veteran bands will serve up the tired cliché of “we’re trying to get back to our roots on this new album,” only to disappoint with a tired attempt at their original sound. But in this case, “Hardwired” (from their recently announced, forthcoming album Hardwired to Self Destruct) truly harks back to the feel of their early thrash-metal beginnings. Next was their cover of “Whiskey in the Jar,” leading with a tribute to former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton (who died in a 1986 bus accident). “Nothing Else Matters” followed, and then it was time for the show’s obvious closer, “Enter Sandman” — complete with a hundred or so beach balls dropped from the ceiling (not so metal if you ask me … although the beach balls were black).
According to a pre-concert interview with Hetfield, the band have definite plans to return to the Twin Cities on their upcoming tour.
I wonder if my ears will stop ringing by then?
Awkward: As he introduced their hit “Hail to the King,” Avenged Sevenfold lead vocalist M. Shadows — underestimating how many fans had flown in from outside of Minnesota for the show — proposed that they change the title to “Hail to the Vikings,” just for this special occasion. He was met with a chorus of (mostly) boos.
Unexpected fans: As I was picking up my tickets, someone behind me mentioned they were picking up tickets for country singer Wynonna Judd. This was confirmed later by sightings reported on social media.
Minnesota love: Bassist Robert Trujillo wore a #16 Vikings jersey for a portion of the evening, and even worked a bit of Prince’s “Erotic City” into his bass solo.
Painfully un-metal: In the 10 or so minutes leading up to when Metallica took the stage, bored and anxious fans (unsuccessfully) tried to start “The Wave.”
Adorable: At one point, I noticed the couple seated next to me were FaceTiming with their son for a few songs. The young boy had a giant smile on his face as he listened. I’m sure the sound coming through the phone was terrible, but it clearly didn’t matter, as his sign-off text to them read “thanks for showing me how COOL this was!”
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Memory Remains
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Sad But True
Wherever I May Roam
Master of Puppets
Fade to Black
Seek and Destroy
Hardwired (first time performed live)
Whiskey in the Jar (cover)
Nothing Else Matters
• Metallica still melt faces – just like Batman and Vivaldi — Mark Mallman, who knows a thing or two about high-voltage entertainment, pays tribute to Metallica — and shares a story about seeing Tim Burton’s “Batman” with Lars Ulrich.