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Metallica rule over Target Center as merch lords … and metal gods

Metallica in the round at Target Center.

Metallica in the round at Target Center. Tony Nelson

When it comes to merchandising, Metallica has become the Disney of thrash metal.

Last week, within the span of three days, the L.A. icons announced that they were teaming up with the premium watch brand Nixon to release a line of nine wrist pieces ($125 to $750) and debuting a liquor called Blackened—a bourbon, rye, and whiskey blend somehow made better by subwoofers blasting the band’s songs throughout the aging process.

Not a hard-rockin’ drinker with places to be? Not a problem! No metal outfit since Dethklok has marketed itself as successfully as Metallica. The accessories section of their web store alone boasts more than 120 items; they’ve lent their likenesses to collectible Funko Pop! Figures and plastered their logo on everything from soccer balls to car mats to faux-leather fanny packs.

All of which is fine. This is 2018, bands are brands, and no one buys records. Gotta make that money somewhere.

Still, taking James Hetfield seriously when he sings “We’re so fucked / Shit out of luck / Hardwired to self-destruct” while fully aware that he’s shilling $499 Orion coolers online requires a borderline delusional suspension of disbelief—the live music equivalent of rooting for the hobbits in Lord of the Rings.

And yet, on Tuesday night at Target Center, the metal monoliths had everyone rapt, proving that even 37 years after their debut, even after embarrassing, too-revealing documentaries—yes, even after Lu lu—they’re still capable of inspiring such glassy-eyed self-delusion.

And Metallica still know how to tear fans to fucking shreds.

They took the stage (placed mid-arena) to the theme from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, which is just badass. The second the opening notes of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct’s title track rang out, it didn’t matter if you were a fan of the 2016 record, whether that thrashy return-to-form for the four-piece (right down to the gratuitous ellipses) had you ready to rock or rolling your eyes.

Metallica was in command. After a pair from Hardwired (the title track, then “Atlas, Rise!”) they ripped through decades with ease, trotting out both Ride the Lightning classics (“Creeping Death”) and Kill ‘Em All favorites (“Seek and Destroy”). We got to hear “No Leaf Clover.” We got to hear “Breadfan.” This is the 12th leg of the band’s WorldWired tour, but just the second night of this U.S. stretch, following a September 2 show in Madison. And the band seemed correspondingly spry, even quippy.

Their now-requisite Twin Cities Prince tribute wasn’t a few half-assed bars of “Purple Rain” but instead a (perhaps three-quarters-assed) take on “When Doves Cry,” a searing, distorted version that lent new angst to “Maybe I'm just too demanding /Maybe I'm just like my father / Too bold.”

They made playing drums atop the cubes that dropped from the ceiling like this was a heavy-metal version of Stomp look… well, not cool, but not entirely awful, either. A drone fleet launched during “Moth Into Flame”; flames finally shot out of the stage later in the set. Robert Trujillo is a force, planted like a tree or whipping in circles, braids flying, a human hurricane uprooting one. Even if you’ve cooed over his vinyl Pop! Figure, it’s hard not to be in awe. Lars was as staid as ever behind the drums. Kirk Hammett still charms and shreds simultaneously. Hetfield’s manic laughter still sends shivers down your spine.

You’ll hear Metallica referred to as gods constantly—we’ve done it here at CP. But tell me: Where else but church does the ringing of bells call as many to worship as it did at Target Center last night, where thousands threw up devil horns and recited incantations with only the slightest urging from their heroes? I don’t think it’s a mistake that at one point in my note-taking my phone autocorrected “Hetfield” to “Hercules.”

Was the sound great? It was a metal show at Target Center. Was it all calculated? This is a stadium tour, and this is Metallica. They’ve been in the game for going on 40 years. They know how this shit works.

Besides, if it ain’t Metallica, it’s capitalism that’s our god these days. It only makes sense that these merch lords spit metal sermons as well as they market themselves.

Click here to see photos of Metallica rocking Target Center

Setlist

Hardwired
Atlas, Rise!
Seek & Destroy
Harvester of Sorrow
No Leaf Clover
Now That We're Dead
Creeping Death
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Halo on Fire
Breadfan (Budgie cover)
The Memory Remains
Moth Into Flame
Sad but True
One
Master of Puppets

Encore
Spit Out the Bone
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

On the opener: Jim Breuer—you may know him as “that guy from Half Baked”—started the evening with what you might technically call a “comedy” set. He was mostly a hype man (and not a very good one), launching t-shirts via cannon and occasionally making fun of the olds in the crowd. It was a lot like watching a minor league baseball game, except with no baseball or even mascot races breaking it up. (It did not matter. As my wise friend noted: “Who can come before Metallica? Nobody opened for Kanye West. We all just sat there for an hour and a half waiting, and then he went on.”)

Random notepad dump: “I hope I have legs like James Hetfield when I’m 55.”

The crowd: Well, Breuer wasn’t wrong… it was graying. So’s Metallica. It was also overwhelmingly male, and the whitest I’ve seen in a long time. A 93X DJ on stage during Breuer’s “set” encouraged the crowd to “reach down like you got a pair” before yelling. (I don’t got one!) And after “Four Leaf Clover,” Hetfield joked, “The last time we played that, Lars was a little girl.” (That last line felt more like a loving, if ill-advised, comment your dad makes than an overt WE ARE SO MASCULINE statement.)

Also, maybe not a super-literary bunch. In the most middle-school moment of my life since, well, middle school, two people (separately, a half-hour apart) poked fun at me for reading at the nearby 508 Bar before the show.

Critic’s bias: Owns one (1) Master of Puppets banner, voluntarily sat through Some Kind of Monster three (3) times in the last year.