Let me start this by saying: I don’t like Metallica. It’s nothing personal against the band, I just don’t like metal to begin with (be it speed, heavy, or thrash). And yet, when I was invited to Metallica’s show at AT&T Park on Saturday night (a.k.a. CBS Radio’s The Night Before), I figured why not? Could make for an interesting article.
My coworkers gave me warnings. They told me to bring ear plugs and to expect a lot of black clothing and men — particularly men with long hair who like motorcycles and beer. As a lone female who had to take two forms of public transportation (gasp!) to get to the show, the over-abundance of testosterone and close quarters sounded less than appealing, but such is the life of a journalist. Sometimes you’ve got to dive into the trenches and squish into narrow train cars and breathe the same air as bewildered tourists, Super Bowl fans, and drunk fuck boys to get your story.
I purposely decided to do no research before going to the show. I knew metal was loud and brash and full of thundering drum and guitar solos — and I think I stumbled upon a stage where it was playing at last year’s Electric Daisy Carnival (before quickly retreating) — but other than that, I knew little about the genre.
I didn’t even listen to Metallica beforehand (Why bother? I was about to be subjected to two and a half hours of their stuff.). But I vaguely recalled hearing them once in middle school because my basketball coach Dante, a super-quick point guard with a wicked three-pointer, loved them. Even back then I remember being a little shocked that he liked Metallica (and a little embarrassed for him, too).
In retrospect, Dante was the quintessential Metallica fan: A Gen X-er who came of age in the early ‘80s right around the time when the band started making waves. (He also drove a truck, which I’m inclined to believe is another commonality amongst Metallica fans.) Known as the lost and dissociated generation (or “America’s neglected middle child”), Generation X-ers were (and continue to be) metal’s target audience. The aggression, dissidence, and iconoclasm of metal spoke to the oft-overlooked and misunderstood generation, so it’s no wonder that the genre was “invented” in the ‘80s.
As I rode the bus to AT&T Park, I encountered my first Gen X Metallica fans. A couple wearing winter coats started chatting with a pair of bearded, possibly Russian dudes (carrying not-so-subtly-concealed cans of beer), swapping stories about past shows they’d attended.
“They’re one of the best live,” said Dude A.
“They’ve got fireworks,” added Dude B.
Behind them, a dad in sporty attire flirted with a blonde college girl, while his pre-teen son stood in the background, awkwardly fiddling with the zipper on his sweatshirt.
“How are you going to see them for free?” she asked the dad.
“Stand outside,” he said. “I’m hoping I can do that.”
I expected havoc and I was right. Hundreds of people dressed in hoodies and puffy jackets milled about on the sidewalk outside of the stadium, clumped together like schools of deranged fish that had no idea where they were going. Every few seconds someone (always a male) would pass by muttering, “Tickets, tickets.” A long-haired crustie shredded on an electric guitar at the corner of King and 3rd Streets, and a gaggle of Born Again Christians waving signs and carrying a megaphone berated the people waiting in line at one of the entrances. A guy in a flannel said to another guy, “Nice beard, brotha!” and a group of drunken misogynists yelled out comments to every blonde female who passed by them as they waited in line. (Fortunately, I’m a brunette.)
As expected, most people were between the ages of 35 and 50. There were a lot of couples and a lot of bros hanging with bros. Though the crowd was commendably diverse, it skewed more towards white and Hispanic. Everyone was wearing dark colors. A lot of people were wearing Metallica tee-shirts. The excitement and anticipation was palpable as I stood in line, and for a second there, I even succumbed to it.
Seeing a concert in a baseball stadium is an odd experience. Everything around you — from the trophy cases, to the food (i.e. hot dogs, peanuts, and beer), to the wall murals — screams baseball. And if you think about it, baseball games and concerts have a lot in common. Both take a long time and have staunchly loyal, cult-like fans that like to scream, fist pump, and wear clothing advertising either the band or the team.
The moment I sat down in my assigned seat (shout out to concerts where you get to sit!) I realized something: I’d forgotten to bring ear plugs. What. A. Bummer. Even though Metallica looked like adorable little Polly Pockets from my vantage point, it sounded as if I was sitting right next to the sub woofer. It. Hurt. But I soldiered on.
I hated the music from the get-go. It was everything I expected it to be — loud, chaotic, aggressive — at least instrumentally. I wasn’t prepared for the vocals. Or rather, James Hetfield’s voice. It was throaty and scratchy and unintelligible. It wasn’t singing, it was screaming. “Sounds like scary demon music,” I wrote in my notes. (I also wrote, “Now I get why they called the show “Too Heavy For Half-Time.”)
The guy next to me stood up for the entirety of the concert. People in the pit started moshing. Hands molded into devil horns waved in the air. The show’s theatricals — red lighting, strobe lights, fire, a five-paneled background screen that superimposed rivulets of blood, bullet holes, black crows, and barbed wire over footage of the band — only heightened the sinister vibe. Holy fuck, I thought to myself. I feel like I’m at a demon convention. How are people into this music? Not only does it suck, but it’s scary as fuck.
Eventually, I started noticing slight variations in the music. Although at first it had all sounded like one, long seance, there were some songs that sounded less terrifying than others (meaning, the guitar was a little more melodic and the screaming less intense). I learned that this is actually a point of contention amongst Metallica fans. Apparently their sound has changed over the years, and there are fans who love the new or miss the old. However, given that there were thousands of people at this show, I don’t think the change did any harm to Metallica’s numbers.
Hetfield barely talked, uttering a few sentences after every couple of songs. At one point, he told the audience that the band is working on a new record. “I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up,” he said, referring to them not having a definitive release date, “but it’s coming to an end alright.” A split second later he transitioned to his demon voice (no doubt doing irreparable damage to his vocal chords), yelling, “San Francisco, do you want heavy?” and scaring the shit out of me.
The show lasted from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and when I left with ringing ears and addled nerves, I realized I was more confused than when I arrived. Of course, the Born Again Christians waiting outside of the stadium now made total sense. But the thousands of fans (like the nice older gentleman in the accounting department of my office whose wife had bought tickets) were hard to account for. Before the show, I had chalked Metallica’s popularity up to the public’s passion for guitar-driven music and long-standing American staples (like baseball, another pastime that I don’t understand).
But the scary devil aspect to both the music and the live show have since thrown me off. Is Metallica a reflection of people’s deep-seated angry, violent alter egos? Does it attract people in the same way that Halloween and horror movies appeal to others? Is it a stress-reliever? Does it make one feel macho and empowered?
Whatever it is, I obviously couldn’t (and still can’t) put my finger on it. When I got home later that night, the first thing I did was Google search “Why do people like Metallica?” It turns out I’m not the only person who has had this thought, as evidenced by the preponderance of chatroom and Yahoo! Answers posts with the same query. I even found a Facebook group called “Who Likes Metallica?” (that only has 58 members).
But even though I did some research, I found no answers. I still have no idea why a gross percentage of our population likes Metallica or why you’d take a date to their show or subject your entire family to that ordeal.
Then again, maybe people are darker and more evil than I thought. Or maybe I’m just naive and live in a world full of rainbows and butterflies and unicorns. Maybe life actually sucks and scary devil music is one way to help you get through it.