Typically, when the Kohl Center is filled to the brim, one expects to be surrounded by a sea of red and white, teeming with the sounds of cheers and buzzers.
That was not the case Sunday night, however. Metallica’s performance at the Kohl Center was filled with individuals in black clothing, fervent headbanging and sounds of screeching guitars.
In their first visit to the Isthmus in 14 years, guitarist Kirk Hammett, vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield, bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich, Metallica continued to entertain audiences of all ages like they have for the past 37 years.
I decided to enter the Kohl Center around 7:00 p.m., leaving time to watch the entire pre-show featuring former Saturday Night Live actor and comedian James Breuer. While Breuer clearly tried his best to appease the eager crowd, bringing out special guests Alex Hornibrook and Johnathan Taylor in the process, it was evident by 8:30 the audience didn’t want to listen to Breuer any longer and requested Metallica’s presence through a variety of not-fit-for-print chants.
After Breuer taught the crowd which sections would chant certain parts of the band’s most popular song, “Enter Sandman,” the lights dimmed and the storytelling began. The video projections, that featured old TV and movie clips, used throughout the concert created new storylines for each song. The juxtaposition of these images with the heavy metal sound Metallica is known for providing a sensory overload to the point where I often did not know where to look.
The crowd contributed to this overload as well, as I sometimes pulled myself away from the music to notice how in sync each crowd member was with each other’s headbangs, fist-pumps and screams. Breuer repeatedly noted in the pre-show that everyone who attends a Metallica concert becomes a member of the “Metallica Family” and the eerily similar actions of every metalhead at the Kohl Center supported Breuer’s sentiments.
The setlist primarily came from the band’s 10th and latest album, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, but selections spanned the band’s entire 35-year catalog.
What separated Metallica’s setlist from the many acts I’ve encountered before was the rhythmic and unabashed passion that went into every chord and drum tap. This drive, which ebbed and flowed with more melodic segments of music, kept my attention throughout the two-hour long concert.
All songs featured stellar riffs and a crowd-pleasing air, but some media presentations created unforgettable experiences that made those particular songs stick out. Various boxes above the stage raised and lowered throughout the evening to broadcast these presentations. While toward the beginning of the concert the images were fairly standard, the mood changed after the band took a couple of these boxes for percussive instruments in the song “Now That We’re Dead.”
After taking a brief respite from sensory overload with relatively unplugged solos from Hammett and Trujillo, the band piled on immersive experiences in the second half of the set. Personal favorites included the swarm of illuminated drones flying around the band in the song “Moth Into Flames,” the blast of flames to begin “Fuel” and the lines of portraits of World War I soldiers during “One.” This dedication to new technology in their shows contributed to the band’s longevity, creating new, exciting experiences for fans with every tour.
After a rousing, lengthy rendition of “Master of Puppets,” Metallica capped off the evening with a three-song encore, ending with the classic “Enter Sandman” and keeping fans roused the entire time.
While this may have been the first time Metallica came to the Isthmus since 2004, the fervor of their fans and new songs from Hardwired…To Self-Destruct made this visit well-worth the wait.