Review Metallica brings heavy-metal thunder to Petco Park

Talk about an act of heavy-metal thunder! Although  Metallica features four musicians - not magicians - the intensely hard-rocking band still executed an eye-popping, sleight-of-hand feat during its explosive Sunday night concert at Petco Park. There, before an exuberantly cheering audience, Metallica handily blew the roof off the place. Never mind that the stadium, the home of the San Diego Padres since 2004,  doesn't have a roof, retractable or otherwise. Performing with pulverizing force and pinpoint precision, Metallica ignited with such incendiary power and frequency no stadium or arena roof would have stood a chance in the band's wake. Never mind that Metallica sometimes seemed to employ more scorching pyrotechnics in a single song than Kiss might in an entire concert. Because the sheer impact of the band's best songs - which on Sunday included "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Master of Puppets," "Seek & Destroy" and the show-closing "Enter Sandman" - packed plenty of roof-eviscerating punch. (The full set list appears below). Yet, for all the fist-pumping fury of its 18-song, nearly 2½-hour performance, one of the most memorable moments came when the group shifted gears and performed "Nothing Else Matters." A tender love ballad from 1991's self-titled "Metallica" album, it provided a welcome moment of understated introspection. Like "Fade to Black," also performed Sunday, "Nothing Else Matters" reaffirmed that Metallica can soothe the same anxious, troubled soul so many of its songs chronicle with lacerating, head-banging intensity. Formed in 1981 - "That's the same year I was born!" said the excited Escondido special-education teacher seated next to me - Metallica is now embarked on its "WorldWired" tour in support of its potent new album, "Hardwired ... To Self-Destruct." Released last fall, it's one of the band's most focused and accomplished works in years. Accordingly, Metallica played five selections from it, beginning with the concert-opening "Hardwired." A red-hot number with hyper-kinetic drumming, take-no-prisoners guitar riffs and rip-roaring vocals from guitarist and lead singer James Hetfield, the song served as a searing statement of purpose from a group that clearly is not about to rest on its laurels. That point was reinforced by the fact Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo included four more songs from "Hardwired ... To Self-Destruct": "Now That We're Dead," "Moth Into Flame," "Halo on Fire" and "Atlas, Rise!" (the first Metallica song in memory to employ a modified "Bo Diddley" beat.) That's several new songs  more than most bands do on stage from their latest albums in concert venues of any size. The ratio of new-to-old songs drops even lower for superstar bands performing this year in stadiums, of which U2 and Coldplay appear to be the only other two now on the road. (U2 performs in San Diego on Sept. 22, followed by Coldplay on Oct. 8, both at Qualcomm Stadium.) Metallica's decision to devote nearly one-third of its current concerts to new material speaks volumes about the band's commitment and confidence. Given the sizable number of fans who sang along to the new songs, it's clear the gamble has paid off. Appearing on a massive stage that stretched across Petco Park's lawn from left field to right field, the band performed with vigor throughout. The five enormous LED screens at the rear of the stage were several stories high, giving even the fans at the very highest reaches of the stadium a clear view. The multi-generational audience seemed almost evenly divided between new and veteran fans, as Hetfield confirmed when he asked for a show-of-hands from fans who had never attended a Metallica concert before, then from those who had. After noting the 50/50 split, Hetfield said: "Welcome Metalla-virgins!" Following the first two songs, "Hardwired" and "Atlas, Rise!", Hetfield gave a "We are all one" welcome to the near-capacity audience, which a band representative estimated at nearly 40,000. "It's not about the differences, it's about the similarities," he said. "We don't give a s-t what color you are, who you voted for, what sex you are, who you want to marry ... "You are  all part of the Metallica family. Are you with us?" The deafening ovation left no doubt about the answer. Hetfield, who sang with impressive velocity throughout, also displayed a disarming sense of humor. After tossing a guitar pick to a fan, he quipped: "Ah, just like the Padres, you dropped it!" And, prior to launching into "Moth Into Flame," Hetfield asked the audience: "Hey, is this microphone working? We're going to try a song with the microphone  working!" It was a sly dig at the technical problems that marred his performance of the same song when Metallica duetted with Lady Gaga at the Grammy Awards in February. During "Now That We're Dead," all four band members pounded on giant Japanese taiko drums to create a tribal stomp that was delivered with infectious exuberance. That celebratory nature infused nearly every number performed Sunday. This held true whether it was the mass crowd sing-along on "Wherever I May Roam," the high-octane propulsion of the very aptly named "Whiplash," or the climactic "Enter Sandman," which concluded the concert with a burst of musical and literal fireworks. Metallica's members then took an extended victory lap on the stage, mugging for fans, thanking them and basking in cheers that were audible from several blocks away. After 36 years and counting, this is clearly a band that is happy to keep the party going.;  Twitter @georgevarga Aug. 6, 2017 WorldWired set list
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