Metallica, Lamb of God, and the Sword @ Key Arena

In this week’s music section I argued for the Sword’s move to major metal opening act. After seeing them play three excellent club shows over the last few years, here’s how my first experience seeing them in an arena went down: First there is the pouring rain and inevitable traffic between Capitol Hill and Queen Anne at rush hour. After a quick stop at the Metro Market for a sandwich, my brother and I make our way to the front of Key Arena promptly at 7:00, assuming there is still a little time before the band will go on. There is a giant line, and the Sword has already begun playing. We scarf our food, and after one employee has no idea where will call is, a second explains that we are on the west side of the building and that our tickets on the southeast side. We jog briskly, descending and climbing pointless stairs, able to hear only a murmur of the band playing inside. At the will call booth a couple of past-prime lady groupies are trying, and failing, to talk their way into the concert. When it is finally our turn a couple appears out of nowhere and cuts in front of us. The dude looks at us smugly and mumbles, “Man, this never happens to us.” There is nothing to do but stare at him blankly. We get our tickets and enter the building, only to find that our seats are all the way back around on the other side. When we finally get to our row there are some hesher kids sitting in our seats, so we just plop down next to them in time for the band to start playing “Iron Swan.” It’s a great song, but the mix is overwhelmingly muddy and rumbly with no treble definition. The band does their best to meander around the monstrous stage while they are playing - at least they’re not just “standing there.” After “Iron Swan,” J.D. Cronise announces, “Thank you, this will be our last song.” Halfway through “Freya” the usher comes up and asks us for our tickets. We hand them to him and motion that there are some long-hairs sitting in our seats. It takes him a very long time to realize that we are not sitting in our assigned spots because other people are. He just keeps shining his flashlight on us, then on our tickets, then back on us confusedly, unable to communicate over the volume of the band. Eventually he asks for the hesher kids’ tickets and they take off. When the usher finally leaves us alone, the song - and set - are over, and it’s not even 7:30. Minutes later somebody sits down behind me and asks, “Did somebody already play?”

Lamb of God announce that they are there specifically to “Fuck. Shit. Up.” The singer keeps throwing open bottles of water into the crowd, which I don’t find particularly strange until my brother asks, “Does that crowd look thirsty?” No one is moshing or building up a sweat. I am wearing a jacket and am still chilly. No one in the crowd needs that water because they’re parched, but if they smell anything like the guy sitting behind me then they’re probably pretty dehydrated. Other things I smelled: cologne, fried thing with ketchup, and weed. At the end of the set the singer tosses a red keg cup full of beer into the audience. It spills all over the guy who tries to catch it.

Some dude from KISW comes on stage to pump up the crowd and says that he’s been backstage “drinking bull semen with Lars.” It strikes me as a particularly stupid thing to say to a stadium full of people. When Metallica take the stage they are accompanied by a little thing called LASERS! Lasers and pot smoke everywhere.

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When the band plays “One” the stage erupts in fire balls, then different color fire streams shooting out from behind the amps. The lighting rigs are giant silver coffins that move in unison. The crowd is deafening, and the band eats it up. After every song Lars gets up from behind his drum kit to point at a single person in the audience, scream at them, then make a pistol motion with his hand as if he just shot that song dead. The bass player makes it his personal goal to get as low as he possibly can while performing. Thankfully, they don’t play a single song written between the Black Album and Death Magnetic, opting only for new material and the classics. Some highlights: “Creeping Death,” “One,” “Sanitarium,” and “Blackened.” My brother grew up idolizing Metallica; it was blasting in his room for most of my elementary and middle school years. The last time he saw them was 14 years ago with Suicidal Tendencies, when he was 14 years old. This is my first Metallica experience - my parents wouldn’t let me go with him all those years ago. I can’t imagine there was another Metallica show over that 14 year span that I would have actually wanted to go to, but now that I’m here and they’re playing the songs I like I am glad that I came, and glad to be sharing it with my brother: the guy responsible for getting me into metal as a kid.

We sit down for their new single, “The Day That Never Comes,” but have no choice but to stand up again for “Master of Puppets.” Our diligence does not go unrewarded – in return the band showers us with MORE LASERS! For an encore they cover the Misfits “Die, Die My Darling,” play “Motorbreath,” and cap it all off by turning on all the house lights, dropping black balloons over the audience and ripping into “Seek and Destroy.” As far as arena rock shows go, I couldn’t have asked for much more, especially since I was expecting much, much less. So thank you, Metallica. I was ready to go the rest of my life begrudging your every move, but you slightly redeemed yourselves tonight. Not completely, but enough that I probably won’t curse you to my grave as I was so sure I would.