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April 24, 2014

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Metallica at Mandalay: Band back as a rock heavyweight

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, left, and guitarist James Hetfield perform during their sold-out show at the Mandalay Bay Events Center Saturday, December 5, 2009.

Metallica at Mandalay Bay

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, left, and guitarist James Hetfield perform during their sold-out show at the Mandalay Bay Events Center Saturday, December 5, 2009. Launch slideshow »

SET LIST

  • That Was Just Your Life
  • The End Of The Line
  • Ride The Lightning
  • The Memory Remains
  • Fade to Black
  • Broken, Beat & Scarred
  • Cyanide
  • Sad But True
  • One
  • All Nightmare Long
  • The Day That Never Comes
  • Master of Puppets
  • Fight Fire With Fire
  • Nothing Else Matters
  • Enter Sandman

ENCORE

  • Die, Die My Darling
  • Whiplash
  • Seek & Destroy

Sweat, spit, fire and lasers.

Metallica - Fade to Black

Metallica brought heavy metal's four key elements to Las Vegas Saturday night in an ear-splitting shredfest that left the sold-out crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center deaf and hoarse. Their two-hour performance made one thing perfectly clear: Metallica is back -- and they know how to bring the heavy.

The band's set list seemed to acknowledge a hard truth: The metal giants have been in an artistic rut since 1991's "Black" album, struggling to maintain relevance in a decade of cheap, sololess punk riffing before having a good cry about the nightmares their personal lives had become. How else do you explain the one-two sucker punch of "Load" and "Reload" and whatever "St. Anger" was supposed to be?

On Saturday, Metallica torched through epics, old and new, playing just one song from that bygone era, "The Memory Remains." Eager to showcase new material, the band leaned heavily on its latest offering, "Death Magnetic," performing six of the 10 songs. The tunes mark a return to form and fit comfortably among a catalog heavy on shredding and musical pyrotechnics. Guitarist Kirk Hammett's solo on "The Day That Never Comes" is pure "Ride The Lightning."

Six songs in, Metallica hit its stride with a hair-raising "Broken, Beat & Scarred." Frontman James Hetfield spat lyrics that seemed to be as much about his own battles with addiction as Metallica's struggles to be a band. "You rise/you fall/you're down, then you rise again/What don't kill ya make ya more strong."

Another revelation: Metallica actually has a bassist, something you would never know from the way the band is producing records these days. Robert Trujillo, wearing an athletic jersey, shorts and gym socks, came ready for a workout, his bass slung low between his legs. He locked eyes with a grinning Hammett during "Ride The Lightning," slipped five with Hetfield mid-solo on "All Nightmare Long" and faced down drummer Lars Ulrich atop a stack of speakers on "Cyanide." It was an all-star performance.

The intensity had matching theatrics, as flames burst from the floor -- and then the speakers -- during "One," giving the war epic an "Apocalypse Now" feel. "Master Of Puppets" featured a laser light show straight out of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" tour. Sometimes, simple spotlights enhanced slow-burn classics like "Nothing Else Matters," with Hetfield, on his knees, bleeding the song's last note into "Enter Sandman."

The crowd was calm by traditional Metallica standards. Not a mosh pit in sight. That's in stark contrast to my first Metallica experience in 1997, a free concert in a sports arena parking lot in Philadelphia. An unruly crowd waited in line for hours, tossing beer bottles and jugs of urine into the air. Eagles fans were better behaved.

At Mandalay Bay, Hetfield whipped the crowd into a sea of pumping fists and devil horns, chanting the obligatory "EH! EH! EH! EH!" He challenged them to compete with the PA system and they obliged, finishing whole verses. "Tonight, we're going to make each other feel good," Hetfield said at the set's opening. "We're going to trade energy."

Mission accomplished. Metallica finished with "Seek & Destroy," house lights up and black beach balls dropping from the ceiling. The crowd went nuts, grasping for souvenirs. I have mine: My ears are still ringing.

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