Before Metallica went mainstream, before their need to explore their artistic sides, before Napster, before the orchestra, before the documentary, before the movie, and before Metallica became a business, they were the ultimate, working class metal band. They were the best metal band in the world and they were the living embodiment of all that is metal, both in the studio and on the stage. It was 1989, Metallica were the best live band in the industry, and they did it by just being themselves. There were no choreographed stage moves, no stunts, no Jumbovision screens, no rotating stages, just pure energy and intensity. At this time, all Metallica were concerned with was the music, the road, the brotherhood, the party, and nothing else mattered. Metallica were in their prime.
The stage is set. It’s August 29, 1989 at the sold out Seattle Center Coliseum and the biggest and baddest metal band in the world are about to take the stage. Without even realizing it, they are about to put on one of the best metal shows ever recorded on film. They’ve overcome a tremendous amount of adversity to be where they are. Not even tragedy was enough to stop the momentum of this larger than life metal band. Metallica are on tour to support their fourth studio album, …And Justice for All. During this 2:20:57, the crowd at the coliseum and eventually the rest of the world will get to see the musical juggernaut that was Metallica.
They make their way through the hallway that leads to the stage. Newsted is literally bouncing off the walls, Lars is so pumped that he jumps on Kirk’s back, and James chugs a beer and walks out with a look on his face like he owns the night. They were young and they were passionate. The set starts off with “Blackened”. The crowd is in a frenzy before they even start, and once the song starts, it’s all pure, intense, organic energy. The crowd erupts and just watching it on a T.V screen 27 years later, it gives you the feeling that if their energy weren’t harnessed into the music, it would literally blow the roof off of the coliseum. Throughout the show, James is like a man possessed. He commands the audience, he’s intense, he’s vulgar (there’s no “Metallica family” nonsense), he has total swagger and bravado. James has the look of a metal god who rules his world with total authority. Lars plays with furious energy (remember when Lars’ main concern was kicking ass behind the kit instead of walking around it?) with the awesome combination of finesse and power that made him such a unique and special talent at that time. Back then, Kirk wasn’t the wah peddle guy, he was “The Ripper”, and on this night, he lives up to his name and plays with intense speed and flawless precision. He makes the solos look easy, he’s confident and has it all under control while running around on stage like the quintessential lead guitar player. Jason is almost like having another frontman on stage. His backup vocals are brutal, his bass playing is powerful, he engages the crowd and has a commanding and charismatic stage presence.
The set list was perfect. It contained all of Metallica’s best songs up until that point and let’s face it, even up until now. Their performance, musicianship and energy were unparalleled. In my opinion, on this night and on this tour, Metallica were on top of the game and there wasn’t even any real competition. They were untouchable. They were fueled by the kind of confidence, aggression and attitude that comes only with youth and being concerned with nothing more than the music and the fans. No promotions, no families, no charity work, no egos, no drama, and no distractions. Just the burning desire to be the best while staying true to who they were, and nobody did it better than Metallica.
Nowadays, to say that Metallica aren’t the same band they once were on stage is an understatement. They can’t put a set list together, rely on their prowess and just go out there and wing it anymore. It’s still a good show, but it’s predictable. They’re going to start off with “Creeping Death”, Robert and James are going to do that weird caveman walk, James is going to get down on his knees during “Nothing Else Matters”, Lars is going to get up and walk around his drum kit, and there’s going to be huge Jumbovision screens that show images related to whatever album they’re touring to support.
I believe that not only did Metallica burn themselves out, but fame and money just changed who they were. They were on top and toured with so much intensity for so long that they just couldn’t maintain that energy anymore, so they had to explore other options as far as writing music and touring. They had to push themselves creatively and I commend them for that. Are they still a great band? I think so, and so do millions of people all over the world, but do they compare to who they once were? Do they compare to who they were on August 29, 1989 in Seattle, Washington? I believe the answer is a resounding NO.