Metallica’s evening in Lubbock is a metal lovefest

The public relations skills of metal rock band Metallica are surpassed only by the consistency of its musicianship and thrilling imagination during delivery. All play a role.

Who else would have conceived of playing “Moth Into Flame” on Saturday, for example, while two dozen brightly lit, computer-choreographed drones (mechanical moths/fireflies?) were released from the bowels of a diamond-shaped stage centered on the floor of the United Supermarkets Arena?

And especially special for Lubbock was the band’s salute to Buddy Holly by playing a heavy-metal version of “Peggy Sue.”

Consider that opening act Jim Breuer, equal parts comedian and rock ’n’ roll cheerleader, took the stage at 7:30 p.m. and, in fewer than 30 minutes, had the audience primed to rock with the best.

The stage already was dressed, with percussionist Lars Ulrich’s drum kit attached to a circular, spinning platform. I guesstimated we would see Metallica by 8:20 p.m.

The band did not arrive on stage until an additional half hour had passed. Not that long in the scheme of things.  Even so, Breuer may deserve a bonus for the skillful manner in which he filled dead time, leaving the stage to interact with fans of all ages, as well as unsuspecting backstage personnel.

Then again, it had been far too long since the USA had hosted any hard rock show at all, much less superstars Metallica.

Just how important was this show?

How important was this show? … tickets had been scalped for as much as $800.

Ralph DeWitt, founder of Ralph’s Records, indicated tickets had been scalped for as much as $800. Ninety minutes before the announced show time, the line of ticket holders draped all the way down the sidewalk across the street from the arena, soon to mix with lines filling stairways at building entry points.

KFMX-FM radio personality Wes Nessman took advantage of his few minutes on stage to point out to prospective concert promoters the enthusiasm with which Lubbock listeners filled the United Supermarkets Arena to the rafters in support of a good rock show.

As for that 80-minute gap between the arrivals of the opener and headliner, fans no doubt concluded they already had waited this long for a big rock show – and in fact, 15 years since Metallica’s prior Lubbock visit at the smaller Municipal Coliseum. So what were a few extra minutes when Metallica was on the horizon?

After all, it’s not like the band would delete any of its show lasting two hours and 20 minutes.

Metallica arrived on stage with a spring in its collective step and youthful enthusiasm. All four band members – Ulrich; James Hetfield, lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Kirk Hammett, lead guitar and backing vocals; and Robert Trujillo, bass guitar and backing vocals – are in their mid-50s. But they are in shape.

Hetfield and Ulrich founded this band as teens in 1981. Thirty-eight years later, its influence continues to spread.

By 2009, Metallica had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Those at the USA may not have been able to recite exact figures. Yet they no doubt sensed the band they were about to see and hear had won nine Grammy Awards and released 10 studio albums, four live albums, a cover recording, five EPs (extended plays), 37 singles and 29 music videos – all without turning their backs on fans who, worldwide, purchased 125 million Metallica albums.

Saturday’s was an incredibly important booking, with fans no doubt visiting Lubbock from other Texas sites and surrounding states just to catch up with Metallica.

Killing time in amusing fashion, Breuer conducted an impromptu search for the oldest Metallica fans present. He left the stage and, with the help of the audience, located Terry, 69, and Bill, 73. Later,  Hetfield had a conversation from the stage with 11-year-old Gavin, sitting with his dad in a lower section.

Breuer meanwhile joked that a fan in his 50s may not have given enough thought to the demand on his legs before purchasing a ticket to stand in one of the show’s mosh areas.

For more than 38 years, the band’s audience continues to grow because it delivers the goods, again and again.

The point being that, for more than 38 years, the band’s audience continues to grow because it delivers the goods, again and again.

Which happened again Saturday.

Early tours found Metallica, as headliner, granting opening slots to promising young bands. Some things have changed. Breuer even led the thousands present in a karaoke match, singing songs by other hard rock bands, with lyrics on the screens hanging over the stage. Metallica would only approve this after accepting its own metal royalty.

Confidence is surpassed only by talent.

There is a synchronicity and tempo demanded by playing in-the-round, which Metallica has perfected.

Opening Saturday with “Hardwired,” “Atlas, Rise!” and “Seek and Destroy,” still a fan favorite, the heart rates of fans may have been affected by Hammett’s speed thrash licks. There are times when Ulrich appears to be pounding drums with a wild abandon, yet he and bassist Robert Trujillo stay near the same page as guides.

An early highlight, though, turned out to be “Now That We’re Dead,” in which the song was expanded via a thoroughly unpredictable drum showcase.

Four colorful cabinets had been stored beneath the stage. What else is down there with those drones? Each cabinet carried an electronic drum pad, and all four Metallica veterans had fun pounding on the pads at the four corners of the stage, before returning to their instruments and the original tune.

Mind you, at many concerts, fans are able to follow musicians’ straightforward stage action via screens adjacent to the stage. Showcasing something new, Metallica opted instead to use more than 50 four-foot square video cubes that seemed to switch from colors to video imprisonments, band portraits sent by fans, various creative visuals and only a small amount of live footage.

Imaginative, yes, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it overall.

Along with the band’s original use of cubes and drones, it never disappointed by linking hard rock to high towers of hot pyro flames that could be felt in the lower balcony.

“One” led into show-closer “Master of Puppets” – but there was no question the musicians would return to deliver an encore opening with “Battery” and closing with thousands of fans cheering and singing along to “Nothing Else Matters” and, finally, “Enter Sandman.”

Even then, Metallica was not finished, setting itself apart from the industry standard.

There was no blackout, with a final power chord accompanied by someone shouting, “Goodbye, Lubbock. We’ll see you next time.”

While Metallica had kicked figurative butt all night, the band alluded to the inspiration found in so many thousands of diehard fans doing the same. Hammett, Hetfield and Trujillo circled the stage for more than 10 minutes tossing out hundreds of guitar picks which appeared to have the band’s name on one side and the word Lubbock on the other. Ulrich did the same, but also gave away drumsticks. Picks and sticks.

Each of the … musicians … would not depart before expressing an individual thank you …

Each of the exhausted musicians, leaving everything they had on stage, would not depart before expressing an individual thank you to everyone who listens to their music, requests their songs on the radio and then comes out to venues to rock in person with the band.

There were no quick goodbyes, Metallica appreciates its fans’ support – and those fans, in turn, appreciate a gift of sincerity rarely seen or heard at other concerts.

Metallica and its fans all consider themselves loved and lucky. That bond does not appear likely to change.

Set list

From website setlist.fm. The band played:
  1. “Hardwired.”
  2. “Atlas, Rise!”
  3. “Seek & Destroy.”
  4. “Ride the Lightning.”
  5. “The Unforgiven.”
  6. “Now That We’re Dead.”
  7. “Creeping Death.”
  8. “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
  9. “Here Comes Revenge.”
  10. “Hit the Lights.”
  11. “Fuel.”
  12. “Moth Into Flame.”
  13. “Sad But True.”
  14. “One.”
  15. “Master of Puppets.”
Encore:
  1. “Battery.”
  2. “Nothing Else Matters.”
  3. “Enter, Sandman.”