By Brian Ives
“Metallica is still alive and well!” James Hetfield announced, as Metallica took the stage at New York City’s Webster Hall last night (September 27). It was their first Manhattan club gig in decades, and despite being an arena and stadium headlining act for over a quarter of a century, they easily adapted their larger than life show to a much more intimate setting.
The gig, of course, was to promote their upcoming album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, due out in November. However, during the two hour show, they only played two new songs: “Hardwired,” which was part of the encore, and which went over like a long-lost classic, and “Moth Into Flame,” which they’d premiered the day before. Hetfield noted that this was the first time they were performing it live, but predictably, it sounded flawless.
The rest of the show featured hits, classics and a few rarities. For one, they opened with their cover of the Budgie classic “Breadfan,” a b-side from the …and Justice for All era, which they dusted off for the first time since 2013.
Probably the most moving moment of the show, though, was the performance of “Orion,” the epic instrumental from Master of Puppets; for that song, bassist Robert Trujillo took the spotlight at the front of the stage, which guitarists Hetfield and Kirk Hammett hung back. Trujillo has been in the band for 13 years now; the fans pretty much accepted him from the moment he joined. But “Orion” was co-written by Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and the band’s late bass player, Cliff Burton. The bass line on that song is classic Cliff, and he probably played it on a few club stages (or, at least theater stages) before his tragic 1986 death. After the song, Hetfield noted, “It’s been thirty years, we miss you Cliff!” The audience chanted “Cliff! Cliff! Cliff!” Metallica may miss him—and so do the fans—but they honor him every time they hit the stage.
The band never let up their intensity all night (notably, they didn’t mellow out at all; there was no “Nothing Else Matters” or even “Turn the Page”). It was almost as if they’re pointing out that they can play as furiously now as they did in the ’80s, and that seems to fit in with the two songs that we’ve heard so far: they sound more inspired by their fellow big four thrash bands (Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) as well as some of their earlier influences, notably Motorhead. If the songs from their last album, 2008’s Death Magnetic, seemed informed by Master of Puppets, this one feels more along the lines of their debut full length, 1983’s Kill ‘Em All.
That intensity is pretty impressive given the fact that they’ve been making records and touring for thirty-three years. No one would begrudge them for trying to play more in the style of “The Black Album,” or even Load; instead, they’ve gone in the opposite direction, which must be physically demanding, especially on Ulrich. Whom, by the way, played flawlessly, with precision and power all night.
Webster Hall has a capacity of about 1500, so it goes without saying that many fans didn’t make it into the show, giving sad new meaning to the “S— out of luck” line in “Hardwired.” However, fans will likely get the chance to see them again in the next few months (albeit not in such an intimate setting). Ulrich has said that the band will tour next year, and last night he hinted at where, saying they might play outdoors across the river (most likely alluding to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey).
Metallica’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is due out November 18.
Watch Metallica’s club performance of “Moth Into Flame” here: