For Toronto Metallica fans, November 29 was something of a makeshift holiday; once the clock struck midnight — marking the changing of calendar dates — an excited fan began his stay at the front of the line at Toronto's Opera House, skipping work and other responsibilities to ensure prime position in what would be the smallest venue the legendary band has ever played in the city. The line would stretch out endlessly behind him, and for good reason: It promised to be one of those legendary shows that people — even those who missed out but would claim they were there — would speak about with reverence for years to come.
For the patient squatter and straggler alike, the wait from the advertised 6 pm doors time until the 8:30 set (both pushed back) was especially agonizing, so much that cheers flowed when techs made the slightest noise. The dam really broke when the cover was pulled off the double-bass drum kit that, mere minutes later, would be occupied by Lars Ulrich.
Yet even when he and the rest of the band — lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Rob Trujillo and co-founding vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield — took the stage, fans would have to wait for Metallica proper, as a cover of Budgie's "Breadfan" kicked off the night, the crowd singing every guitar riff.
The suspense subsided with a one-two punch of "Creeping Death" and "Battery" before the band informed the crowd that they were "in a really good mood," asking the crowd if they shared the feeling. Shortly thereafter, Hetfield illustrated what was so special about the night when he pointed out a smiling attendee — unlike their typical stadium shows, where interacting with the crowd on that level would be next to impossible.
Their promise that "Metallica gives you heavy" was kept with a slow version of "Sad But True" that felt even more vicious and viscous than its album version. A Hammett solo entertained the audience while crew set up an acoustic guitar for the intro to "Fade to Black," during which Hetfield effortlessly switched between it and the electric axe that hung around his neck.
The night wouldn't have even happened without new album Hardwired… to Self-Destruct and the accompanying press tour that brought them to Canada's largest city, so it was only appropriate that the band would pay the album some love. They did so with renditions of "Atlas, Rise!" and "Moth Into Flame" bisected by "Harvester of Sorrow" from fellow ellipsis-sporting album …And Justice for All.
A segueing bass solo by Trujillo ended by detuning the instrument before the wartime sounds that precede "One" kicked off the hits section of the set, as "Master of Puppets" (its guitar harmonies transforming into three-parters with the crowd once again mimicking the riffs), "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Enter Sandman" predictably closed the set in classic fashion.
Encore opener "Whiskey in the Jar" led to new track "Hardwired," with flashing lights bursting with each brief segment of rolling chugs. The legendary band finally threw it back to their debut LP, Kill 'Em All, with energetic set closer "Seek and Destroy."
Although the members took turns thanking the crowd from the front of the stage post-set, the most charming moment happened earlier in the night. Ahead of "One," an eager Hetfield accidentally launched into his opening guitar bit from "Fade to Black," with gunshots still going off in the background. In a larger setting, the false start would have seemed much worse, but the intimate setting (and spotlight illuminating him) revealed a hearty laugh.
The slight debacle — and show as a whole, really — humanized the men onstage; it just so happens that these four comprise the greatest metal/hard rock band of all time.
Post-set, Hetfield admitted, "Metallica loves you, Toronto." Evidently, the feeling is mutual.