Over the course of his band’s two-hour set to close out the Big 4 show at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, Metallica frontman James Hetfield repeatedly asked the assembled crowd of over 41,000 headbangers, “Can you feel it?”
He didn’t have to worry; the collective had no trouble feeling it. Or hearing it. In perhaps a grandiose feat of overcompensation for the outdoor venue and the noise from the adjacent subway line, everything was cranked up to 11 from the first note to the last bellow.
Of course, this is metal, which means the louder the better, and while everybody brought their best noise, Metallica reigned supreme above them all. The bands populating the under-card all fared well, with Anthrax picking up points for sheer enthusiasm — most of the members are from New York, they were celebrating the release of their new album, and there was a spry joie de vivre that infiltrated even their thrashiest material, especially on the set-closing “I Am the Law.”
Megadeth primed the crowd for the headliner with some early shout-alongs (the one-two punch of “Symphony of Destruction” and “Peace Sells” was surprisingly anthemic), and Slayer bowling over everybody with a solid hour of ritual eardrum destruction (“Mandatory Suicide” was especially savage).
But then Metallica emerged, and everybody was reminded exactly why they remain one of the biggest bands in the world. Aided by some well-orchestrated pyrotechnics, a healthy dose of theatricality, and a bucketload of massive songs, the members of Metallica spryly navigated the huge stage parked in the outfield and held heavy court.
Fans actually sung along with “The Ecstasy of Gold,” the Ennio Morricone orchestration that scored the band’s entrance, and they didn’t have to do very much to sell themselves from there on out. Despite that, they still went the extra mile, sticking to mostly old favorites (“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “Ride the Lightning”), modern classics (“Master of Puppets,” “Sad But True,” “One”), and the songs from their latter-day albums that don’t entirely suck (“Fuel,” “Cyanide”).
But really, everything was just an amuse bouche for “Enter Sandman,” a song that has quite a bit of history for the copious number of New York Yankees fans in the audience, as future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera uses it as his entrance music.
Like “Iron Man,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Enter Sandman” is an elevated classic, bigger than just a simple song. Its hook is so big, its riffs so powerful, its response so completely maddening, that it instantly becomes a near-historical moment every time it gets played.
Twenty years ago, when Metallica’s self-titled album (also known as The Black Album) came out, “Enter Sandman” wasn’t considered heavy enough. But it’s too good to be denied, and remains a definitive statement not only for the enduring nature of the music the Big 4 play but also the importance of Metallica on the rock landscape.
Though members of all four bands traded off lead duties on Metallica’s encore performance of Motorhead’s “Overkill,” this show belonged to James Hetfield, Kirk Hammet, Lars Ulrich, and Robert Trujillo. Many moments during the earlier sets were better, but none of them were “Enter Sandman.”
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