Metallica at Highmark Stadium, PNC Park

This past week, I was able to fit in a pair of Metallica shows that were among the best I’ve ever seen. The shows in Buffalo, NY and Pittsburgh, PA were my 34th and 35th time seeing them, dating back to 1996. These shows were different, though. 

The weekend started off with a hometown show at Highmark Stadium here in Buffalo and ended at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA. As you can imagine, after seeing the same band a few dozen times, I’ve managed to meet countless friends from around the world, so having them come here, to my town, made this a really special event. That was just the start of it all. For the first time, I was able to bring my 12-year-old son along with me. We got to the venue early, tailgated like no other city does and headed in to secure a spot on the rail along the left side of the stage.

Make no mistake, Metallica aren’t a bunch of twenty-somethings hell-bent on world domination anymore. This band has grown up right in front of our eyes. Conversely, so too have countless fans the band recognizes from the front-row. A Metallica concert is no longer a profanity-ridden beer-fest full of mosh pits and danger (I’d give anything to go back and see a show in the 80’s). It’s evolved into a rock show for the whole family. Sure, any crowd still has its risks, but this is not the same crowd I grew up in, where I always had to push back on the front rail to try and breathe every time the crowd surged forward.

Some fans may take that as a sign that his scene isn’t for them anymore, and that’s fine. What I saw this week proved that there are countless youth ready to take their place in the crowd.

Ice Nine Kills' Spencer Charnas in Pittsburgh

The show began with horror-metal act Ice Nine Kills. I’ve heard about these guys over the years, but this was my first opportunity to catch them live. This act was a ton of fun. Vocalist Spencer Charnas commanded the stage as he used every inch of the semi-circle Snake Pit ramp to get out into the crowd with their unique brand of metal. For the uninitiated, Ice Nine Kills, commonly referred to as “INK,” writes all of their music around horror movie themes. With that, they bring some wild theatrics to their live show, mostly consisting of masks, props and blood. It was a ton of fun and I’m looking forward to catching them in a darker setting as soon as I can. They’re heading back on tour this fall with Motionless in White and Black Veil Brides for the “Trinity of Terror” tour.

Greta Van Fleet in Pittsburgh

Next up was Greta Van Fleet. This band shot to fame back in 2018 with nothing but an EP out. Largely, the appeal is due to the uncanny vocal similarities of singer Josh Kiskza to Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. That’s a tough comparison to handle, but the band has managed to navigate that challenge well. It’s true, the similarities are real and it’s fair to point them out, but this isn’t a one-dimensional band. They’re not out there playing Zeppelin covers night after night. Greta Van Fleet took the stage and performed an hour of original material, in a stadium full of people who were largely there for heavy metal. What could go wrong, right?

“Classic rock gatekeepers create an impossible task for modern musicians, begging for music to be “like the golden age,” yet they complain that it’s derivative or unoriginal every time it does.” – Dewey Bass on Greta Van Fleet

Speaking of the two shows I just attended, nothing went wrong. The crowd response was mixed, to be sure. Within that mix, however, were tons of fans that seem to have come to the show specifically to see Greta Van Fleet. While we were on the rail in Buffalo, there was a large group of teenage girls off to our right, crammed into the corner where the Snake Pit ramp meets the front rail. I heard a group next to me suggest that, once these girls leave, they were going to move into their spot. As it turns out, those girls never left. They seemingly came for Greta Van Fleet, got there early, but stayed right up front for Metallica!

Their set consisted of eight songs, spanning their early career and include the smash hits “Black Smoke Rising” and “Highway Tune.” The crowd response was mixed, but as mentioned earlier, there were certainly fans that showed up with Greta Van Fleet at the top of their “must-see” list for the day. Currently, the band is just embarking on a North American tour that will run through mid-December, so there’s plenty of opportunity to catch them on the road still!

Finally, it was time for Metallica. They began their set between 8:45 and 9:00pm both nights, just as the sun had set and the darkness settled in. As with every show, fans have plenty of warning before they take the stage, as the PA begins to blast AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock and Roll),” prior to playing the intro video to Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” from Clint Eastwood’s film, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’

Metallica performing in Pittsburgh

The show began with the entire band walking to the edge of the Snake Pit, along with a pop-up drum kit as they performed the first three songs almost entirely from the edge of the stage, appearing to be right in the middle of the crowd. As the intro tape played, the band took their spots in darkness. The lights went up and they tore into “Whiplash” from their 1983 debut album, ‘Kill ‘Em All.’ They immediately segued into “Creeping Death” and then “Enter Sandman.”

As far as a show critique goes, I absolutely love that they’re performing “Enter Sandman” so early in the show now. It gives the song brand new energy, as it’s been one of the penultimate songs for ages, and served as a closer during their last arena tour in 2018/2019.

Given the nature of a stadium-sized show, I’ve come to expect a greatest hits package. For this pair of shows, they strayed from that formula just a bit, including a few lesser played tracks like 1984’s “Ride the Lightning” and “Dirty Window” from their 2003 album, ‘St. Anger.’

Metallica's James Hetfield firing up the crowd

One of the most impressive elements of a Metallica live show experience is how incredibly interactive it is. If you haven’t been, it’s understandable to wonder what that even means. After one show, it’s abundantly clear that this band feeds off the energy that comes back at them from the crowd night after night. The sing-a-longs to songs like “The Memory Remains” are the more obvious demonstrations of this, but it’s the more subtle moments that would catch a first-timer by surprise. When the crowd chants “Die, Die!” in unison during “Creeping Death,” or when James Hetfield recites the lines “I’m your dream, make you real.  I’m your eyes when you must steel.  I’m your pain when you can’t feel,” and the entire crowd responds with “Sad But True!” to intro the song.

Metallica's Lars Ulrich pauses for crowd reaction

This brings us to the show closer, “Master of Puppets.” The significance of this song and how it bridged the gap to the next generation overnight simply cannot be overstated. My twelve-year-old son has heard me playing Metallica around the house and in the car for his entire life. He knows I love it; he knows I play it loud, and he’s been looking forward to this concert since we bought tickets back in January. Despite all of that, Metallica, in his eyes, has still always been “dad’s music.” In one single, genius move, Metallica is now part of the next generation’s pop culture. As if to give validation to listening to your parents’ music, ‘Stranger Things’ have given this band an even further reach into the ears of modern youth. It’s with all of that in mind, that this performance was absolutely brilliant.

“James looked me right in the eye while he was playing some of the time and even noticed my “Hellfire Club” t-shirt.” – Alex Meister on this first Metallica experience.

Metallica's Kirk Hammett shredding in Pittsburgh
Metallica's Lars Ulrich riles up the crowd in Pittsburgh

Hetfield began directly in front of us, stage right with a giant video screen featuring footage of Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) shredding in the Upside Down during the season 4 finale of ‘Stranger Things.’ Later, there’s an absolutely chilling scene on the main video screen behind the stage of Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) navigating the Upside Down from an earlier episode in this season. The video usage was done masterfully, balanced with the standard live footage, but providing just enough reference to ‘Stranger Things’ for the new kids in the audience to claim this song as their own. This has been evident with my son for close to two months now. Seeing him sing along to every word was one of this fathers’ proudest moments of the summer! I can only imagine how many other parents were in the crowd and sharing in a similar experience that night.

Metallica's Kirk Hammett

When the show was over, the band did their traditional send-off, by spending close to ten minutes walking the stage, throwing guitar picks and reminding the crowd just how important they are, and that in the words of Lars Ulrich “We will see you, very soon!”

While the legendary artists of the 70’s and 80’s continue to age, Metallica has continued to play 2-hour sets night after night, and they’ve kept the show tight. Whether you’ve never seen them before or it’s been a few decades, go and see this show the next time you can! Bring your kids, nieces, nephews or whoever. This is an experience that everyone should have at least once!

Checkout our massive photo gallery from this show on Facebook HERE

The sold-out crowd in Pittsburgh eagerly awaiting Metallica to take the stage