By Paul Piazza
Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” has been a staple at major sporting events for years. Vivid local memories remain of former Sacramento Kings owner Gavin Maloof pumping his fists to the song’s recognizably huge, three-bar riff during crunch time at Arco Arena. To this day, it’s used at some point in every stadium during practically every NFL game.
Maybe that’s why the legendary Bay Area band took such offense to the fact that they weren’t invited to play the halftime show at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara. So did their legions of fans. An Ohio man started an online petition, which received almost 64,000 signatures. The logic, the petition stated, was that since the game is in the Bay Area and they are one the biggest acts in the world and have called the Bay Area their home for over 30 years, that they should be asked to perform at halftime.
The NFL ignored the petition and stuck with Coldplay, their first choice, but later added heavy hitters Beyonce and Bruno Mars. The result was an extremely well-choreographed show that had people dancing in their living rooms; Beyonce gave a nod to the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers and Coldplay’s Chris Martin sang a verse of “Uptown Funk.” This all might have left Metallica fans groaning, had they not been able to see the band perform the previous night in San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
Rather than enjoy the 15 minutes or so of additional fame they would have received at halftime (and possibly cause viewers to seek safe haven by flipping to the Puppy Bowl), the band played a full-blown 150 minute stadium show. They called the show “The Night Before,” though it was also referred to as “Too Heavy For Halftime.”
The Bay Area metal band, which has been in existence for 34 years and has sold around 100 million albums worldwide, unveiled a massive stage production that included towering flames and stage-length LED back screens that showed each member individually shredding away. The setlist drew from a wide array of material spanning from “Seek and Destroy” off their debut to “Fuel” from 1998's Reload.
James Hetfield (left) and Kirk Hammett // Paul Piazza
Frontman James Hetfield is one of the few performers who can make a stadium venue feel intimate. He jokes, cajoles and commands attention. He has a natural healthy aggression that gets a good response from the masses. Hetfield has been a great facilitator since the days of the early Stone and Kabuki shows in San Francisco. He used to be a little wild for the vodka back in the day, leading the band to bill themselves as Alcoholica for a spell.
Now years later, Hetfield is a family man residing in Marin who happens to front the world’s biggest metal band for a living. Bandmates Lars Ulrich (drums), Robert Trujillo (bass) and Kirk Hammett (lead guitar) go about their business with high energy. Hammett in particular was very sharp during solos on the oldies-but-goodies “Ride the Lightning” and “Battery.” The most conspicuous musical note for the night was that the band skipped playing anything from their return to form thrash album “Death Magnetic,” which came out in 2008. They haven’t put out new material since. But that didn’t seem to matter to the fans.
It was indeed a giddy mood that swayed those inside AT&T Park. It was also interesting to observe such a well-behaved crowd at a Metallica show, which was a study in contrasts from the mostly male and extremely sweaty shows from back in the day. There were far more female fans in attendance than I’ve seen at previous outings. One 40-something woman crashed into me (and quickly apologized) while doing a solo mosh dance during the band’s “Wherever I May Roam.” Other fans brought their children to experience the band for the first time. The closest thing my parents did to that was bringing me to see “The Godfather” at the drive-in. Lucky kids.
While Metallica didn’t do any shameful plugs for Budweiser like quarterback Peyton Manning at shows end, they showed the crowd that they can bring it like Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. Naturally, they closed it with “Enter Sandman.”