Review Summary: Blackened Friday.
Being on the wrong side of a Metallica concert is a strange feeling. Picture this: just yonder onstage, the band have set about trying to bring the house down, and are thundering away into the night as much as their mortality (and the host city's by-laws) will allow them to. Yet, from the perspective of one that is stuck in a hidden corner of the mosh pit, the visual range afforded by the show is nothing more than the rather unattractive sight of James Hetfield's rear end, as the vocalist has willfully fixated himself upon one hemispherical section of the arena - the one that isn't yours. It's a weird set of circumstances to find oneself in, particularly as the juxtaposition of mind-numbing delirium with moments of raw frustration will, in many countries, be seen as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
Yet, that's kind of how Metallica fans in North America feel at the moment, having watched their friends from Down Under be treated to not one, but two live EPs (Six Feet Down Under Part I
). But fret not North America, for the biggest of the Big Four hasn't entirely forgotten its home continent: the band's Black Friday release for this year is a nine-track EP entitled Live at Grimey's
, and is sold exclusively on both CD and double 10-inch vinyl at participating independent retail outlets in North America. As its name suggests, the EP documents a tiny pre-Bonnaroo gig that Metallica played in 2008 underneath Grimey's New & Preloved Music store in Nashville - and what a recording it is.
In many ways, the uniqueness of this live release lies in the incredibly small size of the venue in which Metallica was playing (around 150 people, tops). As Peter Standish (Warnor Bros. senior VP of marketing, and one of the 150 hardy souls that attended the show) explained, "It was very hot and sweaty. I remember turning around at one point and seeing at least a half-dozen Nashville police officers at the back of the room-definitely a moment of, 'Uh-oh, what's going on?' But then I realized they were there as fans, not as security. They did whatever it took to get inside." And honestly, who can fault them? Indeed, once the band starts proceedings with "No Remorse" - a cut from their 1983 debut album Kill 'Em All
- there's no turning back. The pace is furious and intense - even despite Hetfield throwing the crowd off ever so slightly by introducing the song as one off the "new album". The momentum seamlessly transitions into a blistering rendition of the band's 1998 hit, "Fuel", which itself is met head-on by the popular Ernest Hemingway-inspired number "For Whom The Bell Tolls". On the latter, bassist Rob Trujillo coaxes a deep electric rumble from the depths of his bass guitar, producing a stellar moment of technical ability that acts as a shining example of how fresh and unprocessed some of the band's older tunes sound on this record.
Although there are many criticisms that can be made about Metallica, the fact that they are born entertainers is hardly ever in question; on this EP, it is easy to see why. Ever the seasoned group of performers, the band grab every opportunity to interact with their audience with both hands. Take, for instance, the fact that one of the EP's most memorable moments comes early in its second half when the band allows for a fan-based rendition of "The Frayed Ends of Sanity". The sing-a-long runs for a good two and a half minutes, and is probably the closest one can get to a live performance of the song (Metallica have never played it live). There's also something terribly endearing about the version of "Master of Puppets" which can be found on this release. Claustrophobic and constrained it may be, yet it somehow manages to lack the the theatrical panache that sullies the song's many other live performances; I would not hesitate in dubbing this particular rendition of "Master of Puppets" as the best live recording of the song that one can find.
Like many other Black Friday releases, Live At Grimey's
is intended to be nothing more than a novelty item and a sharply designed treat for the band's fans. Yet, in a year that has been chock-full of live releases (Metallica themselves have released four), this EP stands out, simply because it is that rare thing: a recording which captures the dynamic energy and intimacy of a gig which was initially reserved for only the most ardent of fans. By putting together this EP and releasing it to the public sphere, Metallica and Warner Bros. have extended the area of confluence to a wider circle of fans, if only for them to do with it what they will.
And it is thus that North America pulls one back from Oceania - in style.