When Metallica first steamrolled into Boise for a concert in 1989, this was a band that frightened your mom. Angered your pastor. Made your dog scurry under the porch when the neighborhood stoner cruised past in his Camaro blasting “Kill ’Em All.”
Fast forward to Wednesday night in Taco Bell Arena. Where Grandma’s needlepoint-worn fingers are forming the sign of the horns as she happily headbangs to “Seek & Destroy.”
To quote a Metallica song title, this is The Thing That Should Not Be.
Or maybe in 2018, it’s exactly as things should be.
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“We have all age groups here absolutely represented, and it is beautiful,” Metallica singer-guitarist James Hetfield proclaimed during a break in the thrash-metal onslaught. “We have old people here!”
I’ll bet you one of those $8 beers that even great grandmas were in the crowd. (Remember, heshers are capable of reproducing at a remarkably early age.) There most definitely were 10-year-olds, millennials, baby boomers and bazillions of middle-aged Gen-Xers.
Metallica’s sixth visit to Idaho was a family reunion. Hetfield, 55 — once a grimacing, booze-swilling hellion — is now your proud, sober, super-friendly uncle. He couldn’t wrap his tattooed arms around the 11,868 beaming concertgoers, but he gave out endless heavy-metal hugs in spirit.
“Everyone is included in the Metallica family,” Hetfield trumpeted. “Always and forever!”
Even the mosh pits — which began percolating early in the show during the sledgehammer riff of “The Memory Remains” — ended with dudes embracing each other.
Bro! It might have seemed rather mortifying if Metallica wasn’t still so tight, ferocious and relentless. This really is the greatest metal band on the planet. Magically over time, the volume has been inched down enough so that you can survive without earplugs. And songs that once seemed dangerous have become celebratory. When did “Enter Sandman” become a clap-along? And how was it not freaky seeing every person scream “Die! Die! Die!” with a gigantic grin on their face during “Creeping Death”? Especially with Hetfield urging them on by waving his arms like a death-chant orchestra conductor?
Performing in the round — on a stage in the middle of the arena floor — Metallica’s members rotated between eight microphones, entertaining every adoring fan. Deceptively bluesy lead guitarist Kirk Hammett just kept shredding faster and faster, smiling contentedly. Little drummer man Lars Ulrich battered his kit, somehow looking cool wearing a backwards cap. (Also, how do four guys in their mid-50s pull off black skinny jeans? Metallica does it.) And let’s not forget bassist Robert Trujillo. The stud paid tribute to Boise by singing Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”
Metallica’s intimate, personable performance style was juxtaposed against a humongous, supremely high-tech stage show. Dozens of gigantic LED cubes were raised and lowered from the ceiling during the entire set. And pyro? Yes, of course — huge blasts of fire that instantly warmed even the cheap seats. But the night’s visual highlight was a dazzling flock of glowing drones. Like robot fireflies, they danced and weaved before descending below the stage during “Moth into Flame.”
It almost made you forget it was a new song. Yes, Metallica probably played one too many songs released after 1991. “Is that OK?” Hetfield asked before they started it, almost apologetically. Of course. Diehard fans definitely couldn’t complain about the freight train of dusty, cranium-crushing favorites: “The Unforgiven,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “The Four Horsemen,” “Sad But True,” “One,” “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters.”
Even when the two-hour-plus show was over, it wasn’t really over. After the house lights went up, Metallica walked the stage for several minutes, interacting with concertgoers. Hammett and Trujillo showered the remaining audience with handfuls of guitar picks pulled from red Solo cups. Ulrich spat a stream of water onto delighted fans.
Then Ulrich grabbed a microphone. He reminded everyone that Metallica first visited Boise State’s arena 29 years ago. And he made an enthusiastic threat that finally might have scared Grandma and her aching neck just a little. “Metallica is just getting ****ing started!” Ulrich warned. “We will see you very ****ing soon!”