Death Magnetic: Metallica / Machine Head / Volbeat @ The Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, 12/5/09

It was through the kindness of someone who I met through my NIN pieces that allowed me to follow one more tour before the year is up: first NIN, then Mayhem Fest, then Masto/klok, Rob Zombie, and now Metallica/Machine Head.

I was eleven years old when Metallica’s Black Album came out. It was one of the first CDs I ever owned, sharing the stack with GNR’s Use Your Illusions, The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and unfortunately probably something like C & C Music Factory. I would come home from ballet class, crank up that album, and skip through the popular tracks like ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘The Unforgiven’ in favor of the tougher sounding ‘Sad But True’, ‘Don’t Tread on Me’, ‘Through the Never’, and ‘Of Wolf and Man’. Imagine an 85 pound girl with hair down to her waist headbanging with a closed door in her Pepto Bismol pink room- and that would be me. I even remember gazing at the cover thinking that snake would make a great tattoo someday. Never got it.

At around 15 or 16 I delved into Metallica’s back catalog a little, discovering ‘One’. I’ve always had mostly guy friends, and I can remember one day after school my friend James and I went to my house, put ‘One’ on repeat, loud, and each laid in front of a speaker in my room with a pillow over our faces trying to ‘get’ the song. It was one of those moments where I got up and discussed my thoughts with my friend, looked at my guitar sitting in the corner, and thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to play like that….’

And then I kinda forgot about them.

Until I moved to San Francisco, that is. This is Metallica’s homeland, and the hometown pride for them is contagious. I never had a chance to see them living in Texas, so I’ve caught them as much as I could around here. I also have a friend who Metallica is ‘his’ band like NIN is ‘mine’, so I always get a contact high off of that.

It just turned out that I had to be in Las Vegas the same time as this Metallica show. My parents were receiving an award in their industry, and I was going there to support them. So after a day of being around their colleagues for the first time in three years since I quit working for them, getting questions like:
-“When are you moving back to Texas?”
-“Why aren’t you married yet?”
-“Do you have any tattoos now that you live in California?” <-5 times I got this one....WTF? -"Is San Francisco really as gay as I've heard?" ...I was ready for a metal show. However, I had been a bit under the weather, so I entered the premises operating at about 75% normal HRC capacity.

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Mom and Dad dropped me off at Mandalay Bay (no family whistle necessary at my age), where I caught a glimpse of a guy holding some weird sign talking about Hetfield’s promises but I couldn’t read it or snag a pic. I meandered through the innards of Mandalay Bay; the Russian ice bar, the wine angels of Aureole, the ceramic boobies on the wall, and into a sea of black vintage Metallica shirts. As if on cue, a wave of ‘METALLICA’ shouts starts throughout the crowd. It’s obvious that people are excited.

I had to walk through metal detectors to get in. I untucked my shirt to cover my studded belt since one of the last shows I was in Vegas for – NIN – confiscated my bracelet and I never got it back. Me and the belt made it in fine. I’m observing the crowd, and it seems well populated with metal dudes….but the chicks are all the heels wearing variety. Metallica date night. GREAT. I snatch my GA wristband and make my way down to the floor, where Volbeat is already on stage. Since I was familiar with the in-the-round setup this time, I chose to stand near the walkway where the bands run out to the stage because I find that exciting. I was second from the rail.

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I found Volbeat to be kinda confusing. At one point they were country rock, the next, almost Danzig-esque. Then they pulled out about the first minute of ‘Raining Blood’, which perked up the crowd and then irked them when it wasn’t finished.

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I’ll have to admit a large part of seeing these final Metallica dates was because I wanted to see Machine Head. I ‘saw’ Machine Head at Ozzfest in 1997, but they’ve evaded me post-The Blackening somehow. And since I keep seeing Robb Flynn at shows around here, it was really starting to bug me.

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While Metallica fully use the stage so that no matter where you stand, you’ll get some face time, the opening bands aren’t exactly set up that way. So instead, it was kind of like watching this set from backstage. From watching the wives/girlfriends do a mini photo shoot with their men in the background, to watching the guys stomp over and yell at their techs about the sound, it was more of a behind the scenes show than I would have liked. That said, I could tell that these guys are as great of performers as I’ve read (since I don’t remember 1997 very well). The crowd seemed only mildly more into it….honestly, Vegas was kinda letting me down in that regard. “LAS VEGAS!” Robb says, “you are special because this is the first place that Machine Head played”. Starting off with ‘Imperium’, and ending with ‘Halo’ and ‘Davidian’, I enjoyed it but am determined to have a different spot this Saturday.

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Between sets, my adrenaline was already starting to waver. It’s as if the guys around me could sense that- like lions picking off the sickly one in the pack of prey. The guy in front of me on the rail randomly turns around and asks me as Machine Head runs by us on their way out, ‘HEY! Can you act like a groupie and get me backstage?’ This is without knowing anything about me or my site (which often inspires unwarranted labeling of the G-word)…I have no idea why this happened. I honestly don’t even know what I said because I was so shocked.

It was getting close to time for The Band to come out. A boy- I’m guessing 9 or 10 years old- walks out with a father type and goes up on stage and sits behind the drum set as the father type takes a picture. Everyone cheers. And then he walks back out by us and we all stick our hands out to high-five him…future rock star!

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Then the lights dim and everyone around me swoops in to try to see the guys run out on stage. I got one dark pic of Kirk I think. It’s funny how the guys are trailed by a tribe of wives/girlfriends and small children. Metallica have a lot of kiddos…like enough for a soccer team. They begin with a couple of tracks from Death Magnetic, which is an album that hasn’t gotten much attention from me since it’s release because the sound bothers me so much. And I’m not even an audiophile. So the set really begins with ‘Ride the Lightning’->’The Memory Remains’->’Fade to Black’…mostly for that last one. Why do I always forget about that song? It’s one of the best.

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I had noticed two goth chicks come up between sets. They were obviously very fucked up. One of them had offered me a sip of her drink, which I respectfully declined. These two had decided to create their own mosh pit in the mellow crowd. Imagine this: have you ever seen two cats play fight? You know, where they lock up and bite each other on the neck and scratch with their claws? Well, that’s essentially what these two were doing. It was brutal looking but obviously kind of turning on a few guys as well. Some of those guys got involved, and this unnecessary mosh pit during all the wrong songs was really annoying everyone around them. I really didn’t care; I pushed back and brandished my secret weapon: HRC’s bony elbow. This incited more than a few smiles and raised eyebrows from the dudes around me. The guy who called me a groupie offered to give me his rail spot, but I told him I could take care of myself. Eventually, someone noticed that those two didn’t have wristbands, and got security to kick them out. And everyone clapped.

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“How do you feel, Las Vegas?!” says Hetfield. Maybe he always says this, but it struck a chord with me this evening because I was going downhill fast. I had run out of the cough drop and gum stash that was keeping me alive, and security wasn’t passing out any water. But I maintained.

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Tonight was all about Kirk Hammett for me. I guess that in comparison to a lot of the other guitarists I’ve been into lately, Kirk makes things look so effortless and graceful. He also comes off as if he’s almost unsure of himself- astonishing in this world of cocky guitarists- as he looks out into the crowd in search of validation in our faces.

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I made it through ‘Sad But True’ and ‘One’ before I realized it was either go get something to drink now, or faint and cause a commotion. So I walked back upstairs and got a soda and a gift at merch during ‘All Nightmare Long’ (not an HRC favorite). It was good timing, as the goth girls were being dragged out by the cops, makeup smeared across their faces and pupils ablaze. I waved goodbye. You can probably catch them at The Girls of Glitter Gulch….which I don’t recommend. At all.

I went back downstairs, where security didn’t even glance at my wristband. I stood in the back, where the crowd provided a lot of entertainment value. Did you know normal guys are wearing black nail polish now? Yeah- scary. ‘The Day That Never Comes’->’Master of Puppets’ was great, followed by ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ to which Hetfield closed by saying, ‘Did you like that? We just started doing it with the acoustic guitar opening again’. It’s funny, at this stage of their career I don’t think of them tinkering with their formula much, but it’s good to hear they do.

Pyro!

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‘Nothing Else Matters’->’Enter Sandman’. I close my eyes and within my stuffy head I think of being eleven years old again and hearing this. I can remember going up to the DJs at middle school dances and requesting songs like these…to which they would pretend to write them down and then they’d never get played.

‘Whiplash’->’Seek and Destroy’ finished the 2 hour plus set, where the guys showered the crowd with picks and drumsticks and Lars took over the mic and said, “Vegas!!! We love you and let’s not make it 5 years before we play here again”. They all ran off stage, Hetfield being the only one to stop and high-five everyone.

It was near the end of the set, when I was running on fumes to get through it, when a guy started chatting with me and I let my guard down. This eventually led me to make a very dumb decision, which could have very well ended up with HRC becoming another missing Metallica fan. Even though I joked about that, and he retaliated by calling me ‘The Black Widow‘, I am printing this because I want to remind myself to not do that again. Bitch mode force field now reactivated.

Thanks again to Tony for making this show happen for me. He was the same one who made this epic picture happen for me last month as well!

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See you in San Jose! Hopefully I’ll be back to operating at 110%.

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