Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fire, Smoke, Ear Splitting: Metallica's Death Magnetic Tour

The genre: metal. The style: metal. Lead singer James Hetfield’s vocals were deep, masculine shouting or power singing over the rest of his band’s guitar, bass, and drum. It was another concert at John Paul Jones Arena, but this one was metallic even in name: it was Metallica.

This was a night when the self-proclaimed freaks came out of Charlottesville—and, surprisingly enough, many of them brought their parents. The parents tried to rock through the opening act, which was Lamb of God, but it was difficult. A Metallica fan, I enjoy some metal recreationally but stay far from Lamb of God, At the concert, it was pushed right into my face—more specifically, into my ears. Lamb of God shouted that the audience should “scream along till your lungs come out,” but if the audience was doing their best to scream along, no one could hear it over Lamb of God’s noise.

After Lamb of God, enter Metallica.

Metal heads and punk rock lovers alike have a tightly interwoven community with an emphasis on their bands; the audience was very dependent on Metallica. They were completely enveloped by the music: jumping, standing, pumping their fists and reacting raucously to whatever lead singer James Hetfield shouted (for instance, his kindly yell, “Sure hope you like the old stuff!”). They responded to whatever drummer Lars Ulrich’s beats; they screamed at any of guitarist Kirk Hammett solos, and they jumped to bassist Robert Trujillo’s rhythm. There was a desperation in their screaming and fist-pumping, and at times, I think it shook up the grandpa seated in front of me.

The entire concert was hypermasculine; most of the audience was white men, and the deep yelling, head thrashing, and utter disregard for traditional beauty was central to the masculine themes of rock. Even the women at the concert had their hair cut in awkward and sharp styles, and piercings obscured their faces. It was a sea of white skin color and black clothing—the friend I went to the concert with was African American, and noted, “the only other black person here works at JPJ.”

The songs were loud. I heard a boy behind me say, half-jokingly (hopefully), “My ears are bleeding.” However, the crowd loved every bass-heavy, scream-laden second of it. The audience pulsed crazily to “Fuel,” which proclaims, “Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire.” It was a strange shout-out to proper grammar that no one else seemed to think out of context. People had been sitting down a little tiredly (those parents were getting worn out), but everyone leapt to their feet at that chorus. Of course, “Enter Sandman” was played right before the encore. Compared to the U2 concert, there were a lot more lighters waved than cell phones—Metallica seems to attract more smokers than the more palatable mainstream bands.

Because this was Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” tour, there were giant coffins suspended from the ceiling of the John Paul Jones arena. These coffins ascended, descended, and came close to the stage. The stage itself looked ratty and low-budget, but it wasn’t until the fire show that I realized why. Metalheads have a fondness for fire that verges on pyromania, and the crowd’s energy shot up with the colorful towers of flames emitting from the stage.

The audience’s energy began to wither halfway through the show, and the deafening music continued. It didn’t seem as successful of a concert because the music outlasted the crowd’s energy. The encore excited the diehard fans, but much of the audience filtered out through the doors, and many UVA students went back home to wash off their eyeliner and continue their Saturday nights. Still, the stream of people leaving the arena seemed to be revved up—not every metal band is as popular as Metallica while still retaining authenticity, and so everyone, from the most authentic rocker to the mainstream Metallica enjoyer, left the concert talking about the show.

PICTURE: Fire shoots out of the Death Magnetic stage.

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