LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - There are a few things you can expect from any Metallica concert.
You’ll hear “Enter Sandman.” Lars Ulrich will take every opportunity he can to get up from his drum kit and goad the audience. Whoever’s running the pyrotechnics will get plenty of chances to set the stage on fire.
All of that happened during the band’s two-hour set in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the first of two nights at the venerable Forum arena. But there was plenty of new stuff to get excited about too. Tracks from the band’s recent chart-topper “Death Magnetic” figured heavily in the set list, and several of them were highlights. Watching singer/guitarist James Hetfield as he threw himself into the deep grooves of “Broken, Beat & Scarred” and “Cyanide” brought out their visceral qualities, not so apparent from the studio versions.
Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo marauded around the Forum’s huge stage -- smack dab in the center of the venue, theater-in-the-round style -- with boundless energy, banging out decades-old favorites like “Master of Puppets” and “Harvester of Sorrow” with the vigor of a group playing them for the first time.
And oh, the spectacle! There was the light show, projected onto the stage via a set of gigantic coffin-shaped rigs, suspended high above the band, and the black beach balls that poured from the ceiling during the final encore, “Seek and Destroy.” Surely Ulrich’s revolving drum riser by itself justified the need to charge $30 for a beanie and $40 for a t-shirt. There were multi-colored flames shooting out of the stage during the climactic machine-gun section of “One.” But the real pyrotechnics came from Hammett, who peeled off recklessly whammy-full solos on “The End of the Line” and “Sad But True,” and took the spotlight for a bluesy solo interlude that introduced “Nothing Else Matters.”
Absent from Metallica’s set was material from its last three original studio albums, “Load” (1996), “Reload” (1997) and “St. Anger” (2003), which spoke volumes about where the band is right now. Early on, Hetfield announced, “Metallica is alive and well and ready to kick some ass!” It was as much a rallying cry as a sideways acknowledgement that the band had lost its way, and was looking to find it again.
Naturally, opinions will differ over whether “Death Magnetic” represents a return to form for Metallica, or whether a return to form is possible or even necessary. Based on the fan response to its live show, Metallica’s got nothing to worry about. The capacity crowd sang along to nearly every word, taking over the choruses of “Master of Puppets” and “Creeping Death” entirely. Adults and children of all ethnicities, bonding together to chant “Die! Die!” in fist-pumping unison? Such is the power of Metallica.