Metallica at Verizon Center

James Hetfield and company meted out a punishing set of heavy metal at Verizon Center on Thursday, and fans happily accepted it.
James Hetfield and company meted out a punishing set of heavy metal at Verizon Center on Thursday, and fans happily accepted it. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Dave McKenna
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 17, 2009

The members of Metallica learned this week they'll be in this year's class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. No act this heavy has ever received that honor.

On durability and CD sales alone, the induction is deserved. Metallica is huge, after all, and has seemingly been huge forever: After the release of its latest record, "Death Magnetic," the band was cited by Billboard as the first group ever to have five CDs debut at No. 1. (The Beatles, U2 and Dave Matthews, none of whom ever detuned an E string to add crunch, are the only others with four.)

But for Metallica, which put the wrecking ball to the wall between fringe and mainstream long before there was a Nirvana, these latest recognitions aren't as righteous as, say, having its logo ironed onto Beavis's T-shirt all those years ago.

So at Verizon Center on Thursday, a building packed with 20,000 real-life Beavises of varying ages and genders, no one in the band even mentioned the induction or the chart-topping status.

Instead, they delivered a punishing, cathartic set heavy with new songs -- among them "That Was Just Your Life" and "The End of the Line," which each clocked in at more than seven minutes -- that were as fast and furious as the stuff that broke the band out of Southern California 25 years ago.

Metallica's bond with its audience remains staggering. Guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield, who of all the band's veterans has retained the most edge, gets whatever he wants from the flock. Hetfield asked the fans to scream "Obey your master!" during "Master of Puppets," and everybody in the building complied with every decibel they could muster.

In return, Hetfield gave his all, whether while shrieking angry-man lyrics with astonishing amounts of menace or down-stroking the bass strings on his guitar at warp speed to provide a rhythm for lead ax man Kirk Hammett.

Bassist Robert Trujillo, the newest member, enthralled the crowd by stomping across the stage during the lead-heavy "Harvester of Sorrow."

Drummer Lars Ulrich, who ranks as Denmark's most popular artistic export since Hamlet, has alienated fans with his anti-metal behavior in the past: No musician was more outspoken against file-sharing during the Napster debate in 2000, and Ulrich made the news recently by getting $14 million at auction for a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. But on this night, Ulrich only enthralled the followers by keeping his mouth shut and his kick pedal busy.

If Metallica showed its age at all, it was in the gimmicky flourishes that have been added to the live show over the years. During a reprise of Metallica's heavy 1989 gem, "One," huge coffin-shaped lighting rigs dropped slowly from the roof and dangled over Hetfield's head. That war-tale song is horrifying enough without any special effects, and the impact of the hovering coffins was scary only to those who remember Hetfield's previous run-ins with wayward props -- he was badly burned when a flash pot blew up on him during a 1992 tour.

Corniest of all were the hundreds of large black beach balls that descended from the rafters during the night-ending "Seek and Destroy," a tune so heavy it could get John Tesh to head-bang and flash the devil's horns with both hands. The ball drop created a very un-Metallica scene that one might have found at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Well, if 20,000 Beavises showed up at a Jimmy Buffett concert.

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