with MACHINE HEAD and THE SWORD
O2 Arena, London
28th March 2009
Live review by HannTu
Live pics courtesy of Enda Madden
Metallica return to the O2 Arena in London for the third time in a matter of months, their last visit a mere three weeks ago. The DEATH MAGNETIC tour has taken them around the world, but London must be pretty special to get two dates to itself.
The O2 itself is a magnificent arena, and the concept of having the stage in the centre surrounded by the fans is brilliant, allowing the band to wander all around and for the fans to get a good look at everyone.
First time seeing Metallica. Excited? You bet!!!
With London’s public transport system taking the proverbial piss with the erstwhile O2 going fan, getting to the venue was a bit of a trek. Nonetheless we arrived well in time for The Sword, the highly rated ‘doom’ band (I say ‘doom’ although I hear nothing much resembling doom in their music – perhaps ‘traditional doom’ might be more accurate?) play their half hour set.
Although the four-piece never looked in the slightest bit intimidated at the sparse crowd or the huge stage, their performance left me distinctly underwhelmed. They are not the most active of bands on stage, and I soon lost interest in their Black Sabbath-y riffs and uninspired drumming.
Another reason for my lack of interest (shared by most of the crowd) was the horrendously weak sound. The drums and vocals were absolutely inaudible, especially the snares, while the cymbal crashes were overly loud and annoying. I’ve heard better sound at a pub performance.
I reckon that The Sword would sound much better in a smaller enclosed environment, where the low end power of their music would be allowed to envelop and wash over you – it would be more ‘tactile’ in a sense. As a purely visual/aural experience, I was dead bored.
With ex-Vio-Lence, ex-Sacred Reich and ex-Forbidden personnel in Machine Head’s lineup, I was interested to hear what they were all about, never having the opportunity (nor, I must confess, much desire) to check them out, although they have opened for Metallica in London more than few times before already.
Well, they certainly put on a better show than The Sword. Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel constantly stalked the massive stage, enticing roars from the crowd wherever they were. With crazy whammy bar solos and some muscular chug riffing, there was a distinct headbangability about them.
Unfortunately, they were still plagued by the sound problems that The Sword encountered. There was still an appalling lack of volume in the three-quarter full arena, and the downtuned guitars sounded muddy and rumbly through a very poor mix. Vocals? Hah! Nothing would cut through that fudge mix.
As with The Sword, I’d like to see Machine Head in a different setting , just to get a more balanced opinion on their live performance. The highlight of their set was a surprise performance of Iron Maiden’s ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ (only their second performance of the song in the UK), and it was a great warm-up for my vocal cords! Robb is no Bruce Dickinson, but I rather think that he acquitted himself well.
After the awful sound of the previous two bands, I was cursing the sound team and/or my position in the crowd. However as soon as ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ had finished, and as the band kicked into ‘That Was Just Your Life’ (accompanied by an awesome laser show), I was surprised. The sound was unbelievable, beautifully crystal clear and supremely balanced. Yeah O2, slack off for the openers, why don’t you.
James Hetfield seemed especially pumped up, smiling and engaging with various members of the front row. Rob Trujillo was only slightly less subdued, geeing up the crowd whenever he could. Kirk looked the most disinterested of them all, while Lars’ face, plastered with his gremlin grin, looked genuinely happy to be there.
I couldn’t say the same though for some of the people around me (Warning: Rant imminent). The atmosphere in my section of the crowd was disgraceful. I can’t understand why you would pay £60 to sit on your arse, drinking the expensive flat beer and eating the expensive crap food. That’s right, some were more busy stuffing their faces with pizza. Pizza! That said, the hardcore standing section did London proud with pits opening up and singalongs, but a big fuck off to the seated section (Entrance H, Block 112), you useless wankers.
The new songs didn’t measure up too well to the old ones, but that’s to be expected, and most of the crowd knew some of the words to the new stuff. Talk about damning with faint praise though. After ‘…And Justice For All’ – a totally kickass performance from James by the way – I was sure they were going to skip ‘One’ for tonight, having already played ‘Harvester of Sorrow’. No problem, said Metallica, we’ll play three …AND JUSTICE songs back to back. Fuck yeah!!!
After two new stormers in the form of ‘Broken, Beat and Scarred’ and ‘My Apocalyse’, they played their two weakest songs of the night: ‘Sad But True’ and ‘The Outlaw Torn’. ‘Sad But True’ was prefaced by the familiar James patter – “Anyone want heavy? We’ll give you heavy!” – but ‘Outlaw Torn’ is just a weak song, boring and drawn out. Awful choice, I would rather it had been replaced by ‘Fade to Black’, ‘Sanitarium’, or if they HAD to play something from LOAD, play ‘Hero of the Day’, which only stretches to four minutes plus.
‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ took us back to their glory days. James’ voice has never sounded this good in the last five or six years, but I noticed a certain lack of zip from Kirk. His solos were sloppy, hardly surprising in itself, but it definitely looked like he was tired or like he didn’t give a toss. A brief acoustic bit before ‘Nothing Else Matters’ only highlighted this further. ‘Enter Sandman’ closed the official set to cheers and cries for more.
Taking to the stage once more, they kicked into Motorhead’s ‘Overkill’, and to say I was surprised would be an understatement. Ending the night with two absolute thrash classics from KILL ’EM ALL in ‘Hit The Lights’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’ was epic. The crowd roared their appreciation and the band tried to get us to leave, throwing hundreds of picks into the crowd. Lars got a massive cheer when he said “You’d better go home now, I hear the Jubilee line’s fucked!” referring to the travel complications.
It was a workmanlike performance by Metallica, and the old classics flow as easily as they have done for the past twenty thirty years. The new songs will probably never gain the affection that we hold for the original Metallica songs, but they held up well in the overall setlist. Six DEATH MAGNETIC songs was probably stretching it, but with songs like ‘Harvester of Sorrow’, ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ and ‘Overkill’, how can you complain?
SetlistThat Was Just Your Life
The End of the Line
Harvester of Sorrow
…And Justice for All
Broken, Beat and Scarred
Sad But True
The Outlaw Torn
The Judas Kiss
The Day That Never Comes
Master of Puppets
Fight Fire with Fire
Nothing Else Matters
Hit The Lights
Seek and Destroy
Thanks so much to Paul Piggott from LA Digit for the tickets and infinite patience, and thanks too to Enda Madden for his photos.