I remember, three months prior to this concert, walking away from Star Green box office just off Oxford Street with a pair of tickets (purchased for the princely sum of ₤7.95 each , plus booking fee) knowing that I was on the edge of something big, but I really was totally unprepared for what Metallica were about to do to me. This was to be my first ever concert of any description. I’d never even seen a band in a pub before this. I’m not altogether sure I’d even seen any live music other than on Top Of The Pops, so, I really had no idea what to expect.
Those three months took forever to pass. Metallica was my absolute favourite band at the time, so the anticipation on arriving at Hammersmith Tube was pretty much unbearable. I’d never been to this part of London before, but the hordes of metal fans swarming Odeon-wards made my mum’s worries that I might get lost (thanks Mum, really metal) seem a trifle unnecessary. I felt an immense sense of comradeship with these hairy strangers, and before I’d even set foot inside the venue, I felt I was part of a some awesome and exclusive club.
Although then I had nothing which which to compare, the Hammersmith Odeon, if you want a sit-down venue, is probably the best in town.
Seats were upstairs, quite far back and way out to the side, but the stage looked really close and intimate, I was expecting to feel a lot further away from the action. I think, in my eagerness and green-ness, I probably arrived even before the doors opened, in order not to miss a single thing, so sat for an hour watching the roadies do their thing while all the adults (I was only 16) were in the bar.
At long last, the lights went down and it was time for Danzig. As I keep pointing out, I was new to this game, so I wasn’t aware of the social order on a rock tour like this – even though The Misfits were a great influence on Metallica, Glen Danzig was allowed a third of the stage, a third of the PA and virtually none of the lights. The rear two thirds of the stage was shrouded in black.
Danzig were quite possibly OK, but this was the first time I’d seen a live band, and not being a fan of The Misfits I remember being distinctly underwhelmed. They just sounded muddy and not what I wanted to hear. I think at that stage, there was absolutely nothing I wanted to hear that wasn’t Metallica. They were fairly well received but I was glad to see them leave the stage. Cue another 30mins of watching the roadies dismantle Danzig’s gear, tune guitars, test mics and all the other cool stuff roadies get to do. There was a period in my life, before I got a bass and became a ‘musician’, when my dream career was roadie for a metal band, and I’m certain that dream would have been born at this gig. Sure it involved lifting a lot of heavy stuff, but you got to almost be in a band.
Anyway, finally, the pivotal moment in my life was about to begin. The lights went down again, but way down this time. The place was properly dark. The anticipatory whistles and cheers from the three and a half thousand Metallica fans were deafening, as the band’s intro music (some Ennio Morricone cowboy theme) started up. Even louder cheers started from near the stage, where I guess the people in the front few rows could see the band walking out – it was just blackness to us up in the gods. Then Lars’s glow-in-the-dark drumsticks waved over the top of the black shroud hiding his kit, so I knew my heroes were actually on the stage, they were in the same room as me. The intro music stopped. OMFG this was it. The melodic whining intro to Blackened started up, growing louder and louder, building and building, the Hammy-O still pitch black. I wasn’t yet a massive fan of …And Justice For All, but this intro was just awesome – it seemed to go on twice as long as the album’s intro, but that could just have been the anticipation dragging it out to torturous proportions. With a blinding flash of pyro, the stage was instantly flooded in light as the drums and heavy riffing kicked in. Fucking hell this was in-fucking-credible. There, not a hundred feet from me, were Lars, James, Kirk and Jason, in the flesh, surrounded by fallen pillars and towered over by a thirty foot Lady Justice. Every head was banging, every fist was pumping. This was so much better than Danzig. The sound was incredible – I didn’t realize at the time, but the acoustics in the Hammy-O are probably the best of any large venue in London. It was like listening to the album, but with my head jammed inside the speakers. James Hetfield was, at the time, the coolest person on the planet, dressed entirely in black, with the low-slung white Gibson Explorer. The exact set list eludes me, more than two decades on, but I remember coming away entirely satisfied, they played everything I wanted to hear, including a couple off Garage Days Re-Revisited and even Am I Evil. It was all over in a couple of hours, but it made such an impression on me that I was transformed there and then into a professional gig-goer. I knew I had to do that again, and soon. My ears were ringing for two days after that, and that would have been the start of the tinnitus that plagues me now. Oh well, it was worth it…