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Metallica at the Paladium, Hollywood - live review

Metal overlords leap into (trans)action

A photograph of James Hetfield on stage

In retrospect, it’s surprising that Metallica have reigned comfortably atop the heavy metal food chain for well over two decades considering the missteps – Napster, Lulu, that St. Anger snare – they’ve made along the way. But then they go and do something cool and you forgive them… until their next slip-up, at least. Tonight’s show, which takes place a few hours after their awkward Grammy Awards duet with Lady Gaga, is a perfect example.

On one hand, it’s an exciting opportunity to see a stadium headliner up close and personal in a club they haven’t played in more than 30 years. The buzzkill comes via blatant corporate sponsorship. Tickets were made available only to holders of a certain brand of credit card, whose logo appears everywhere except for the stage itself – as well as a set that barely tops an hour. The latter sin can be forgiven – the group are less than a week removed from a health-related show cancellation in Copenhagen, and this is their second performance of the day – but the venue’s antiseptic atmosphere belies its intimacy, and tonight’s only rebellion comes from those who pay their bar tabs in cash.

When the band takes the stage, however, the slate is once again wiped clean. Opener Hardwired – the sole track from the last quarter-century aired tonight – is spunky and suitably grimy, and while its caveman philosophy won’t win any style points, it resonates nonetheless. The thunderous primal riffs of Creeping Death follow, a leather-vested James Hetfield – who seems in good spirits despite the evening’s earlier mishaps – egging on the crowd’s chants of “Die! Die!” The group sounds as locked in as ever during the speedier second half of Welcome Home (Sanitarium), causing most necks to reflexively bob in sync. Even more infectious is the stirring, strobe-punctuated coda of One, which sees most of the crowd with cellphones or devil horns raised high. It’s surprising to hear the iconic riff of normal closer Enter Sandman after only seven songs, although the band do return for a well-received encore of Blackened and Seek & Destroy.

Afterwards, Lars Ulrich greets the crowd and jokes about the mic issues during the Gaga duet before plugging the band’s local stadium date this summer – making tonight’s show not only a credit card advertisement, but a commercial for the band itself. Sad, but true.