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Metallica Goes Down, Live

Metallica, live. New Orleans’ super group Down, live. The Sword, also live.

This on election night – a live concert with two of the eldest and most respected bands in metal history, a perfectly timed prescription for mules predisposed to refreshing screens a thousand times to see which interchangeable new candidate will lead the country to ruin.

The mules last went to a concert quite some time ago. An embarrassingly long time ago. Lawrence Welk was the MC. No, that’s not right. Well it was a good long time ago, at any rate. Master of Puppets may have been out… maybe.

And given the fifteen years of a very dry spell in Metallica’s quality, the dismantling of nearly ever other “old” metal band in the interim, the rise of rap and nu metal (with dots over it, because it’s cooler that way)… well, the mules were prepared to be disappointed.

Sadly, The Sword was muddy, and the opening riffs from Down were little better. Given that Down contains former and present members of Pantera, Crowbar, and Corrosion of Conformity, this seemed to point to sound stage issues. “Stone the Crow” was a decent riff buried in sludge – and not the good kind that comes with Crowbar.

The mules groaned inside, and endured an hour of whispering “love that Pepper Keenan, wish we could see him – is he the one with a baby guitar?” and “hey, Kirk Windstein either lost weight, or some herbal fumes from a few rows down are kicking in!” – all the while attempting to match CD versions of favorite songs to the mush exuding from the monitors near the stage, a rectangle far, far away.

When (Morricone’s) “Ecstasy of Gold” lilted through the arena after a long intermission, it was clear and crisp. The sound systems had been tweaked; a volume knob turned; or Down had merely had a down night. The mules tried to contain themselves… perhaps it was clean because it was pre-recorded… perhaps concerts were something better “listened to” on computer-scrubbed “live” albums.

In the darkness, a guitar throbbed. Probably a roadie… but it was crystal – and loud.

A few minutes later, Metallica was on the stage, the crowd was suddenly forced from the prelude lull, and a two hour set began, slowly growing, the ground-floor audience rising, then throwing horns, and by the end, moshing and banging away.

The Metallica set reaffirmed the mules’ belief that somewhere behind the open-aired alcoholism, near dismemberment, and whining therapy sessions on a sad and angry (but misdirected) DVD, Metallica had shaken its rust and, against every hope – gotten even better with age. The oldest songs, such as “Seek and Destroy” sounded better than their remastered counterparts on CD. Honestly, they did.

Old gray mares – err, mules – should beware of gushing, so it gets left there. Almost.

Hammett was unforgettable and often note-perfect on finger-flaying solos. Hetfield is surely the most gracious “host” among legendary musicians; a cracking warble in his voice a trademark – trying past ability, refusing to remain in his safety zone. Much-maligned Ulrich spoke through his drum kit, and was powerful and precise in the process; the addition of Trujillo is a step backwards, a good step, reminiscent of Burton and not Newstead.

With a clatter of hooves and a special nod of “better next time” thanks to Kirk Windstein and Pepper Keenan, the mules can’t think of a better value for their money (and it wasn’t inexpensive, even in the deeper pastures).

Go see the spectacle of smoke and lasers, but listen, feel the music run through your tousled mane like craggy fingers. The only token of the troubled era played was the rather ironic “The Memory Remains” – and so it does – not of the lost years, but a wonderful one that skips from the early 80’s through today.

And now, it’s time the mules fade to black.

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