Metallica Concert
25 October, 2011
Aaron Noah M.

Location: Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Having Metallica come to the UAE meant much more to me than simply reviewing a famous rock band making its debut concert for the region; I’m an old-school headbanger who has been waiting for decades to see these guys play.  With my short haircut I may not look like the stereotypical metalhead but, deep inside, this heart pulses to heavy metal and has been ever since the 1980s.  Around the world I’ve tumbled in hundreds of mosh pits throughout the years, including concerts here in the Middle East.  After the sad demise of the Dubai Desert Rock Festival several years ago, any metal band we get to the Gulf is a treat, but having the legendary Metallica show up was an unexpected gift, a dream come true.

But sometimes a dream should stay a dream.  After all, Metallica hit their peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  This is 2011 and, just like me, the band members are starting to look a bit worn.  Would this experience be like a trip to the museum, to catch a truncated glimpse of the ancient past?  Or could the gentlemen from the one of the world’s great bands still pack a metal punch?  There was only one way to find out.  A Gulf Vantage crew assembled for a trip to Yas Island.

General admission tickets went on sale for AED 295 and the “Fan Pit” tickets (the rocker’s equivalent to VIP) were a pricey AED 595 each.  I also found out that Yas Viceroy Hotel, which is located next to the concert venue, was offering a special for 2 Fan Pit Tickets and a double room; then we could beat the crowds by showing up early, relax with a meal at the hotel, and then stroll to and from the concert without the hassles of parking and driving all the way back to Dubai.  Sounded great to me; it was good as booked.

Well, almost.  The concert was still a month away, but when I rang the hotel, all of the regular double rooms were already booked.

“Sir, we do have a few Executive Suites available if you’d like,” chirped the reservation guy.

Executive.  This might hurt, but I had to know.  “How much?” I asked.

“AED 1,800 sir.”  That includes use of the Executive Lounge and complimentary drinks.”

Egad.  AED 900 for each one of us.  This is too much.  But this is Metallica.  A thunderous guitar rift and piercing lyrics were now playing in my head as I gripped the phone.  For whom the bell tolls…TIME MARCHES ON!  This is Metallica.  This is too much.  This is Metallica.

“Yes, I’ll take the Executive Suites!”

That was that, and by the afternoon of the concert we were on a leisurely one hour drive to Yas Island, well ahead of the crowds.  Upon arrival it was a snap to valet park and get settled in.  For more details regarding our stay at Yas Viceroy Hotel, please click here.

With great anticipation we boarded our hotel shuttle and off to the concert venue, a wide open space tucked behind Ferrari World.  Getting in followed standard concert procedure: ticket check, a pat down, a bag check, and then away you go.  There were signs telling us explicitly “no cameras allowed” but I don’t know why they bother with such nonsense when miniature cameras are attached to damn near everything these days.

Getting through the gates was easy enough, but the next part of our concert experience was not too pleasant.  We immediately queued up for the t-shirt stand…the only merchandise stand in the whole place.  I’m not sure if the promoter (Flash Entertainment) or the Metallica crew had organized this, but it was soon apparent that the folks running the stand had no idea what they were doing.  Shirts and bandanas were piled up in mixed-up stacks, so every time someone requested a certain style and size of t-shirt, the employees behind the counter had to look through the entire chaotic pile to try and locate the item.  It was a joke…a cruel joke for all of us in line that is.  We had wallowed in the hot sweaty mob for more than an hour, only to find out that the t-shirt I wanted to buy was long gone by the time we made it to the front.  I would have been much better off investing my time in the drinks line.

Aaron Noah M. Metallica Abu Dhabi

Heavy metal rules!

And luckily, that was less of a hassle.  There were plenty of food and beverages stands to supply the crowd, especially in the Fan Pit section, where there was much more elbow room than in the general admission area.  For some reason I had a twinge of guilt looking at all of the deprived faces packed in on the other side of that metal barrier.  Relaxing with my brew near the stage, plenty of room to stretch out, I felt like some kind of snobbish noble barricading myself from the peasants in general admission.  I am used to rock concerts bringing everyone together en masse, but here in the UAE, every event has to have a VIP section.

However, all notions of guilt were quickly forgotten once that first power cord was struck and Metallica blasted onto stage.  I didn’t even get a second to ponder their performance; Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, Robert Trujillo, and James Hetfield immediately took command of the arena and obliterated the audience with a scorching rendition of Creeping Death.  Jaws dropped; we were blown away, and all 30 thousand of us responded with a wild ecstatic roar.

James Hetfield

James Hetfield on the big screen

The band reacted to the crowd and attacked each new song with amazing intensity.  There were no elaborate props, no mechanical stage gimmicks, and no choreographed routines; there were just four guys playing with precision, heart, and energy.  The only extravagant element might have been the on-stage fire cannons every now and then, but the band certainly didn’t need those to entertain; there was fire around.  You could see it emanating from Lars’s drumkit, Kirk’s shredding guitar, Robert’s pounding bass, and James’s distinctive voice.

As the night progressed, I noticed that any crowd of Metallica fans must be slightly schizophrenic.  Metallica has been around since 1981, picking up several generations of listeners along the way.  Their oldest albums are my favorite (see Metallica 101 below); the band started to lose me after the album Load and I never listened to a single Metallica track after Reload.  Most other folks came in during the Black Album era and after, and when songs like Enter Sandman or Fuel came up, these younger eyes lit up and sung along.  When this group didn’t quite recognize a tune, such as Ride the Lightning, the older crowd took up the banner and kept the energy alive.

“Good singing you guys,” commented Hetfield approvingly.

Kirk Hammett

Kirk Hammett shredding it up

Metalheads in this region have been starving for too long.  We were delirious with joy.  Even the band seemed shocked and moved by the crowd’s response.  James struck his chest with a fist and asked, “Do you feel it?  Do you feel what I do inside?”

We answered back with deafening pandemonium and then Metallica continued to nail it on song after song.  A few favorite moments for me: Hetfield commenting, “we’re just four guys from California and now here we are in Abu Dhabi!”, also James pointing to himself and emphasizing “still alive” in a line from For Whom The Bell Tolls, and then the epic rendition of One and Master of Puppets played back-to-back bringing the night to a frenzied peak.  I am hard pressed to find anything of fault.  Even their latest music, such as the song Cyanide, sounded great live.  I can’t believe I might even consider checking out their last album, Death Magnetic.

Well before the concert had ended, any doubts that I may harbored about Metallica still being able to cut it were quickly dashed.  From the heart, these guys delivered.  They may be just four guys from California, but they just cranked out one of the best rock performances the Middle East has ever witnessed.  If you missed it, you missed a special night.

Update!  Metallica returns to the UAE on Friday, 19 April 2013.
Try to buy from retail outlets (such as Virgin) if you can, as it has been reported the online tickets vendor has addded “handling fees” for the privilege of getting your tickets emailed to you…uh, which makes perfect sense, right?  If you don’t mind paying the extra AED40, then buy online at from thinkflash.ae

Metallica Abu Dhabi

Thank you Abu Dhabi, good night!

Official setlist: 25 October, 2011
Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Main Set
Creeping Death
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Fuel
Ride The Lightning
Fade To Black
Cyanide
The Memory Remains
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Sad But True
All Nightmare Long
One
Master of Puppets
Blackened
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

Encore
Am I Evil? (Tribute to Diamond Head)
Motorbreath
Seek & Destroy

 

Metallica 101

In 1981 drummer Lars Ulrich put together a heavy metal band in Los Angeles California.  He teamed up with James Hetfield (rhythm guitar, vocals), Dave Mustaine (lead guitar), and Cliff Burton (bass).  The band moved to San Francisco and quickly created a buzz via demos and live performances.  Unlike the glam hard rock bands prevalent in Los Angeles at the time, Metallica established themselves on the other end of the spectrum: just no-nonsense guys in jeans and plain t-shirts playing incredibly fast and powerful metal.

Kill ‘Em All (1983): their first studio album release marked the firing of Dave Mustaine and the hiring of Kirk Hammett in his place.  The rest of the band felt that Mustaine was just too wild and intoxicated for them to handle, and the subsequent rift spawned a legendary rivalry, as Dave went on to form his own band Megadeth.  The blistering guitar riffs on Kill ‘Em All already confirmed Metallica as one of the pillars of thrash metal.

Ride the Lighting (1984): Much in the same style, but tracks like For Whom The Bell Tolls and Creeping Death elevated their songwriting to a higher level.  Mustaine’s influence is still felt in the music and he is officially credited on a couple of the tracks.

Master of Puppets (1986): Metallica’s popular underground following gets the attention of Elektra Records and they support the release of a third studio album and corresponding tours.  Master of Puppets reaches 29 on the Billboard 200 and it marks their first gold certified album.  They start opening for more famous acts such as Bon Jovi (yeah, can you believe that?), Ratt, and Ozzy.

Garage Days Revisted (1987): In 1986 tragedy struck and Cliff Burton was killed when Metallica’s tour bus lost control and flipped over in Sweden.  The band was devastated, but with the Burton family’s blessings they decided to carry on.  They sign up Jason Newsted and put out a compilation album of cover songs to test out the talents of their new bass player.

…And Justice For All (1988): This was the last of the great Metallica albums for old school fans, and it made it to number six on the Billboard 200, earning it platinum recognition.  The band also received its first Grammy Award Nomination in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category but, rather mysteriously, lost out to Jethro Tull.  Mainstream music wasn’t quite ready for Metallica…yet.

Metallica, aka The Black Album (1991): With this album the band struck gold, or actually platinum: it debuted at number one in ten different countries and still ranks as the best selling of all of Metallica’s albums.  Many old school thrash metal fans, like myself, enjoyed the record, but most of us began to sense that this was the beginning of the end.  For everyone else, Metallica was the suddenly the latest craze, and second only to Nirvana.  While on tour, Hetfield was severely burned after stepping over a pyrotechnic device on stage, possibly a bizarre omen for the path that lay ahead.

Load (1996): Metallica was still on top of the world, although now the guys were sporting short haircuts.  The musical direction of the band was also changing.  This was the last Metallica album I ever purchased.

Reload (1997):  A bunch of songs that were being developed for Load but didn’t make the cut.  Many folks reckoned the leftovers should have stayed cut.

Garage Inc (1998): A double CD set with a remastered version of Garage Days Revisted along with some new cover tunes.  Shortly after this Metallica got wrapped up in a legal battle with Napster for freely distributing their music on MP3s.  With the help of Dr. Dre, Metallica successively killed off Napster but also pissed off millions of music lovers.  Fans wondered if things could get any worse.

St. Anger (2003): It did.  Newsted left the band for personal reasons and Robert Trujillo replaced him during tense times.  A documentary called Some Kind of Monster captured the entire excruciating recording process of St. Anger on film.  The movie was difficult to watch, and most fans, old or young, agreed that the finished album was even more difficult to listen to.

Death Magnetic (2008): Redemption at last?   It seems so, although the band’s popularity never really wavered; they have been packing venues for years.  They just lost touch with many of the old metalheads, but if the Abu Dhabi concert is anything to go by, I think they’ll win many of them back, including myself.  Metallica even teamed up with Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax for a concert in 2010.  Things are looking better for the heavy metal world…and Metallica.