Metallica Light Up the Apollo: Concert Review

Metallica Apollo marquee 2013 P
Theo Wargo
Vowing "Never Before and Never Again," the metal band makes its presence known on Harlem's famous boulevard. There goes the neighborhood!

There is something incongruous about Metallica playing The Apollo, a landmark theater described as "the bastion of African-American culture and achievement." Singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Patti LaBelle and James Brown made their names at the venue that's synonymous with soul, gospel, rhythm and blues, so it was positively baffling at first glance why a band that cemented its status as one of “The Big Four” of thrash metal (with Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth) would elect to perform there.

Truth be told, anyone who's ventured north of 110th street recently would have noticed that the Harlem Renaissance is in high gear throughout the neighborhood. The Apollo, too, has featured plenty of diverse acts recently, from Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen to Morrissey, Paul Weller and now, Metallica. Perhaps when one considers that Jimi Hendrix won a talent contest at the theater in 1964, it kind of makes sense. The legacy was driven home halfway through the set when guitarist Kirk Hammet stepped into the spotlight to play a few lines from Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” Still, given their penchant for covers, it would have been cool if the band had worked up a metal version of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy.’

The show was a private concert for SiriusXM contest winners and a promotion for a new, limited-run channel “Mandatory Metallica” which ran a simulcast of the show (with an estimated 20 million-plus listeners tuning in). It was also an opportunity to promote the new 3-D concert movie, Through the Never, opening Friday. Contest winners stood and cheered alongside comedian Jim Norton, Howard Stern and SiriusXM president Scott Greenstein, while T-shirts were handed out at the entrance bearing the words, “Metallica: Live At The Apollo – Never Before and Never Again.”

VIDEO: Comic-Con: James Hetfield on 'Metallica Through the Never'

If seeing the band’s name on the Apollo marquee wasn’t shocking enough, inside Metallica and SiriusXM treated fans to an open bar while servers brought hors d’ouevres (chicken satay; buffalo chicken egg rolls). Let's face it: allowing 1,500 Metallica fans access to an open bar is like handing dynamite to children. In spite of the risk, those in attendance were extremely well behaved -- until the beer ran out.

Fortunately, as soon as the clock struck 8:30 p.m., Metallica took the stage and order was restored to the universe. James Hetfield, singer and rhythm guitarist, drummer Lars Ulrich, bassist Rob Trujillo and Hammett appeared as Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstacy of Gold” played over the PA. The stage was bare, save for a few amplifiers and cabinets; behind them was a banner with the new logo promoting the concert film. With not a word spoken, the band went right to it, opening with “Hit The Lights” from their debut album, Kill ‘Em All, which celebrates its 30th anniversary his year. Feeding off the energy of the crowd, the band segued right into “Master of Puppets." 

“I can’t believe they let us play this place," Hetfield barked into his custom designed red and black Shure Super 55 microphone. "This place is so rich with music history and we’re going to come in here and mess it all up!” Cue: “Harvester of Sorrow” from …And Justice For All.

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But just when it seemed like the band would be sticking with selections from its heavier, classic albums, Metallica pulled out three forgettable songs from two of its duller albums: “The Day That Never Comes” and "Broken, Beat & Scarred" from Death Magnetic and “The Memory Remains,” from ReLoad. The set list choices left some baffled -- but it was only temporary.

There's no denying the band brought it and rocked hard. Hetfield's voice was in fine form all night and Hammett barely broke a sweat, shredding under the lights. For his part, Ulrich played as if his life depended on it, but the hero of the evening was Trujillo. His bass playing may be remarkable, but even if it were not, he is the everyman of the group. The last to join the band, his joy forever captured on film in Some Kind of Monster, Trujillo exuded accessibility and a realness and, most importantly, looked like a true fan -- just as excited to be up there playing and jumping around as any devotee was simply watching from the crowd.

Certainly, all loved seeing Howard Stern in the house, nodding along with the faithful. The band maintained their energy all night, stopping briefly to let each member deliver a solo here and there, and taking a short break after “Enter Sandman” before a three-song encore that included “Creeping Death” and “Seek And Destroy.” (Sadly, the band did not mention Howard “Sandman” Sims, the late tap dancer whose function was to escort booed performers offstage at the theater's famed amateur nights.)

Worth noting: the last time Metallica played New York, it was at Yankee Stadium. How do you top a headlining gig for 50,000? By rocking a Saturday night set at the Apollo.

Set List:

Hit The Lights
Master of Puppets
Ride the Lightning
Harvester of Sorrow
The Day That Never Comes
The Memory Remains
Broken, Beat & Scarred
(Welcome Home) Sanitarium
Sad But True
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman


Creeping Death
Seek And Destroy

Twitter: @mickstingley