1. Battery 2. Master of Puppets 3. Harvester of Sorrow 4. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) 5. For Whom The Bell Tolls 6. Frantic 7. Sad But True 8. St. Anger 9. No Remorse 10. Seek and Destroy 11. Blackened 12. Fuel 13. Nothing Else Matters 14. Creeping Death 15. One 16. Enter Sandman
The last time Metallica walked the UK festival boards was in the heady days of 1999, at the inaugural Big Day Out. To be honest, it was basically their show – they seemed to have a suspicious amount of control over the bill in general (Mercyful Fate? Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals? I can’t see the Warped Tour considering those chaps…) and the amount of time they were onstage allowed them at least three encores (and a lot of aimless improvisations).
Cut to 2003, and not a lot seems to have changed in the Metallica bandwagon. The widdly solo spots come thick and fast, as do the minimalist song introductions (“Oh YEAH? Oh YEAH?” “We’re here to kick your ass!” etc); even their new bass player, the prehistoric hulk Rob Trujillo, knows his place too well to try and rock the boat – it’s not really a Four Horsemen affair, more Three Horsemen and Travelling Jester. He’s fun to watch, but I doubt his strange Swamp Thing impressions will ever change James, Lars and Kirk’s solid way of doing things.
But three songs in, and it’s clear something is different. For a start, the menacing chug of ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ is rattling through thousands of skulls – how long has that one been kept away from the stage – and only one song off the band’s Load/Reload period gets an airing, the speed-boogie funbag ‘Fuel’. It’s official: Metallica love their past just as much as we do! It may be considered a cop-out by many, but sod it, it’s time to be honest. No-one’s missing ‘King Nothing’ tonight. ‘Seek and Destroy’, ‘No Remorse’, fucking ‘Blackened’, they all rip through the air with twice as much ferocity as today’s so-called metal anthems. ‘Nothing Else Matters’ is absolutely sumptuous, everyone’s lighter swaying in the evening breeze, large hairy men reduced to tears of heartbreak. Bless.
Their new album may be equally lauded and loathed, but tonight all the ‘kidz’ love the strange mix of nu-metal and Slayer that ‘Frantic’ and ‘St Anger’ bring to the mix. Hell, even Metallica’s attempts at comedy go down well (that’ll be the ‘Black Stripes’ tribute starring Lars on guitar and Kirk on drums…not the little funk jam twenty minutes beforehand). The biggest cheers of the night, naturally, are reserved for the pyro-heavy stadium fillers ‘One’ and ‘Enter Sandman’, a fantastic finale full of explosions both literal and musical. The emotional, complex build-up of the former perfectly complements the simple headbang-friendly latter, and it just brings home how timeless these songs are ten years down the line. Tonight’s setlist may have been shorter than usual, but the choice of songs and the newfound positivity that the ‘Tallica men display tonight completely hide the fact that these guys are 40, they’ve been around 20 years and they’ve survived everything from grunge to nu-metal.
But while there’s no doubting Metallica’s victory tonight, the group are at a very strange point in their career. They’ve opted (for Reading, at least) to become the nostalgia outfit they thought they’d never turn into, promoting their incredible past as the saviours of heavy metal alongside a couple of new offerings - songs which repeat what’s already been said in a slightly different way. This will be manna from heaven to many Metallifans who want nothing more than the thrash years played faithfully, but whether such an approach preserves these old warhorses’ status as Kings of Metal - or embalms them as relics of the past - remains to be seen. Sad but true.
Lionel Laurent is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.