Metallica, headlining Saturday night of the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, proved just about as huge and satisfying and powerful as Metallica can be in 2012. With a greatest-hits setlist, a small war's worth of explosives and pyrotechnics, and a huge meadow of fans shouting along, the biggest heavy metal band in the world showed that not only can it win over casual listeners and non-fans, but that it's at its best when trying to do so. Compared to Metallica's four intimate and indulgent 30th Anniversary shows at the Fillmore last year, the more than two hours of outright rampage last night felt like a well-edited tour de force.
It wasn't perfect: Hetfield played sloppily on "Master of Puppets," which may have been due to the cold; the lyrics to new song "Hell and Back" made us wish that Metallica was an instrumental band; "Ride the Lightning" sounded rickety and awkward, especially compared with contemporaneous songs like, "For Whom the Bell Tolls"; more than two hours of any artist is kind of lot; and Lars and James basked in the crowd's adoration maybe a bit too much at the end, and could have just said thank you three times and bowed and called it a night.
But those complaints are minuscule compared with the fiery spectacle Metallica put on in San Francisco last night. Here are our top five favorite parts of the show.
5. The classics-heavy setlist Opening with "Hit the Lights" -- Metallica's very first original song -- the band took us through the highlights of its older albums: "Master of Puppets" started rough, but "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" was magnificent -- at least until the band started playing "Orion," which defined the word "magnificent." We also got: "Sad But True," "Fade to Black," an absolutely brutal "Blackened," and a glassy, gorgeous "Nothing Else Matters." There were only three post-Black Album songs in the whole set (which, yesss). These guys were aiming to please last night, and please they did. (See full setlist below.)
4. The sprawling stage Every vertical surface on the back of the stage was also an LCD screen, with a huge display behind the band and on either side. The stage also included a long platform out into the crowd, which was pretty much the perfect place for Kirk Hammett to wind up into a blistering solo.
3. Fire! Explosions! It took three songs -- until Hetfield bellowed out the opening demand of "Fuel" -- for Metallica to turn on its flame jets, which were arrayed both behind the band onstage (inside the big tent, scary), and on lifts to either side. They shot towers of fire you could feel from 50 yards away. Later on, "One," began with gunfire sounds and smoke bombs detonating onstage, adding to the already eerie fog. And "Enter Sandman" will never be better than when its riffs are punctuated by rocket-like fireworks shooting up into the sky.
2. The massive, enthusiastic crowd After spending the first hour down in front, we decamped to the sidelines for a panoramic view of the crowd, which looked as if the population of a small European nation was gathered on Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadow. Look carefully and you could see circle moshpits -- some terrifyingly huge -- breaking out even far toward the back. Off to the side of the stage, the firefighters who'd gathered to keep an eye on things were rocking out, too. And watching this huge expanse of people sing and shout and generally lose their shit during "Enter Sandman" was awe-inducing.
1. Metallica's giddy enthusiasm for its hometown. Even after 30 years as a band, Metallica hadn't played Golden Gate Park, site of many S.F. concerts, until last night. It felt special. Hetfield took every chance to remind us how happy the band was to be before a hometown crowd. "San Francisco, your boys Metallica are here to entertain you!" he announced at the start. "We are extremely grateful to be playing in the backyard of the greatest city on Earth!" Most San Franciscans despise it when people call the city "Frisco," but Hetfield either doesn't know or doesn't care. He dropped the sobriquet several times last night: "Metallica loves you, 'Frisco!" "You make us feel good, 'Frisco!" We would complain, but last night Metallica earned the right to call this city whatever it wants.
Percentage of fans in the front row wearing Metallica T-shirts: Approximately 81.
Number of Metallica members wearing Metallica-branded clothing: Two. (Hetfield -- vest with huge Metallica patch on back; Trujillo -- "Metallica - San Francisco" basketball jersey.)
Number of minutes Metallica spent bowing and basking and sucking up love from the crowd long after the music had ended: We didn't count, and it was probably 10, but it felt like 35.
See setlist after the jump.
Setlist: 1. Hit the Lights 2. Master of Puppets 3. Fuel 4. Ride the Lightning 5. Fade to Black 6. The Memory Remains 7. Hell and Back 8. Sad But True 9. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) 10. Orion 11. One 12. For Whom the Bell Tolls 13. Blackened 14. Nothing Else Matters 15. Enter Sandman -- 16. Creeping Death 17. Battery 18. Seek and Destroy