The four members of Metallica made their entrance by running like boxing champs through the crowd to a square stage in the middle of the Times Union Center floor while Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti Western theme “The Ecstasy of Gold” – the band’s intro music since 1983 – played.
The San Francisco metal giants were making their first trip back to Albany since 2009. Despite going on nearly 40 years as a band, they looked like a lean, professional, well-honed and highly produced machine as they showcased career-spanning tunes and selections from their well-received 2016 album “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.”
Dressed all in black, frontman James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo opened with a pair from the latest album: the hard-driving opening tracks “Hardwired” and “Atlas, Rise!”
Metallica has toured rather relentlessly around for the latest album for the last two years, centering their production around a 360-degree stage that gives the spectacle of their show a sense of intimacy. But there was good and bad to the stage format, which featured eight microphones along the stage, with band members rotating from one to the next.
It was the perfect set-up for gadfly drummer Lars Ulrich, seated at his kit on a rotating circular drum riser, giving him the freedom to get up after nearly every song and slap hands with fans. It also lent itself to some eye-popping visuals, with cubes that descended and rose to the ceiling on cables.
The cubes looked like old television sets but were deceptively high-tech, flashing visuals during classic 1980s songs “Seek & Destroy” and “Creeping Death” as fans pumped their fists. For “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” it looked like disembodied heads were submerged in murky water inside the cubes.
“At the end of the show, we let those people out of the boxes,” Hetfield joked after the song, before ripping into newer tunes “Now that We’re Dead” (which featured a not very-metal moment when the four band members beat out a drum solo together on percussive boxes) and “Confusion” followed by old-school favorite “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
The downside to the stage set up was the same as at any show with a rotating stage – for a significant portion of the show, the singer faces away from you, making you feel less engaged. But Hammett and Trujillo working the stage as hard as Hetfield mitigated that factor some.
The pair teamed up alone in the spotlight for a tribute to Ronnie James Dio on the legendary metal singer’s “Stand Up and Shout,” which devolved into a somewhat bizarre distortion-heavy bass solo by Trujillo.