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4 stars Metallica's career can be divided into two parts: Before the Black Album and after the Black Album. Before 1991 they were a band known by many, loved by many, expanding their fan base to the point where they would pack arenas around the world despite their very uncommercial music. After the release of their self titled album they became the band known by everyone everywhere, loved by even more people but also hated by many. Old fans who thought they had sold out and new people from the MTV and radio audience who couldn't tolerate their heavy sounds unknown in their mediums up to that point. Metallica moved towards the mainstream with their streamlined sound and songs, and mainstream moved towards Metallica, with another noisy phenomenon called Grunge appearing from the underground at the same time.

This massive package of live material documents the both sides of that transition, moments before and moments after. Originally packed into a colossal box containing three VHS cassettes, three CD's and a mass of miscellaneous crap for fans, it is now available in a much smaller form of two DVD's and three CD's ready to slip into your DVD shelf. The first of the three shows is compiled from two filmed concerts at the Seattle Coliseum on AUgust 29th and 30th 1989. The band was promoting their most complex work yet, the ...And Justice for All album and on the top of their game. They had already gathered a huge following among the metalheads of the world but despite the big surroundings they hadn't yet fallen to the traps of arena rock extravaganzas. They were tight, hungry and aggressive. They play like they're still in the small clubs of their early days, only with the charisma to fill an arena. Before the Justice album the band had lost an important member, the respected bass monster Cliff Burton in a car accident, and subsequently hired Jason Newkid Newsted to try and fill the gap. Newkid was a tag he could never shake, being a victim of different sorts of hazing and disrespect from his bandmembers, but what the band lost in team spirit and Burton's powerful live sound, they gained in fierce stage presence and backing vocals. Jason Newsted brought a huge new kick to their live show. They perform a devastating string of classics from their first four albums with a couple of cover songs thrown in. Every single song they play here are still staples of their ever-changing setlist now twenty years later, except for the Budgie cover Breadfan which is a rare treat nowadays. Lars plays as tight as he ever would, Kirk nails every solo, Jason is the crazy headbanger he always would be and James's voice is powerful, menacing and plain ruthless. Absolutely fantastic performances by the entire band.

The next show we get is from San Diego Sports Arena, filmed during the supporting tour for the Black Album on January 13th and 14th 1992. The album had been released a few months before this date, so they had had time to adapt to their newfound mass popularity and even bigger venues. Bigger venues mean more people and more people mean more noise, and attraction to crowd noise leads to crowd-pleasing showmanship. That's why Seek & Destroy lasts ten minutes longer than three years previously and that's why there's the seemingly endless drum solo / duet that just makes me yawn. But there's some drama in trying to figure out who is the best drummer of the band, James or Lars. I'll call it undecided. These things aside, the set list is a very good combination of the more thrashy pieces of the earlier years and their lighter new stuff.

The three cd's from the Mexico City concerts from the early 1993 are essentially the same show as San Diego, with slight changes in setlist. Black Album material combined with earlier more fierce stuff. There's a particularly explosive version of Creeping Death and especially the best Whiplash recording ever is a total killer, but there's also the god-awful 20 minute bass and guitar solo show, the worst waste of space ever to appear on any Metallica record, the rare occasion when I press the skip button. Apart from this sad example of stadium show-offiness and the same singalong version of Seek & Destroy than in San Diego, the band is in fine form. They deliver the goods in a tight package to a rapturous audience and just have a lot of fun.

This is an important document of a band at the turning point of their career, and mostly a very very enjoyable one. Recommended for every lover of their early output because of the Seattle show alone, and on top of that you get two other very fine performances.

Seattle '89 *****½ San Diego '92 **** Mexico City '93 ***½

Report this review (#206682)
Posted Thursday, March 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is an excellent package of live content for Metallica. For a long time Metallica was well known for not releasing live videos or recordings, so they certainly made up for it with this package. I have the original box set which came with 3 CDs and 3 VHS Video cassettes in a well designed box. It also included a large book with lots of letters, photos, posters, etc from the recording of the Black album and the following tour, all displayed in a scrapbook type format. It certainly can be interesting to flip through the book and see some of the miscellaneous items they included. Back when I was younger, my friends and I would go back and forth between watching the videos for this, and the video of "A Year and a Half in the Life of...". I am not a huge fan of listening to live performances with audio only, so I have barely listened to the CDs, but the videos make up for that in a big way. The production value on the concert videos is nothing less than perfect and Metallica are certainly able to put on a good show. If you are a fan of Metallica then you cannot go wrong with this box set. I can only give a review on the VHS version I have, but I'm certain the DVD version must be just as good. (although I don't know if the DVD comes with the scrapbook in full-size, as a smaller version, or if it is included at all)
Report this review (#224361)
Posted Friday, July 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Oh me oh my, I really like this album. As I'm guessing has been the case with many other Metallica fans, I put off hearing this for a long time due to it being part of a larger, very expensive set; in addition to this 3-CD live album, the set also includes 2 DVD's (originally 3 VHS tapes) featuring two more complete Metallica concerts (one from the Black Album tour, one from the ...And Justice tour). Eventually, though, full-time employment found me in a position to be able to blow gobs of money on sets like this (and not hate myself afterwards), and man am I glad I did.

Now, granted, I tend to look upon metal live albums favorably in general, which might cause some to shrug their shoulders a bit at the notion that I would rate this so highly (this is actually almost a ***** grade). However, there are a lot of things about this set, which captures Metallica at the point in time where they made the leap from Metal Gods to bonafide Rock Stars, and when they were arguably one of the biggest bands in the entire world, that make me want to come back to it again and again, and they're enough to guarantee this a very high grade. The first of these is that, to my ears, there is no difference in the band's intensity between when they're playing material from TBA and from when they're playing in their "classic" style. In the end, faster or slower, it's all just rock music, and the band is in all-out attack mode the whole time.

The second (related to the first) is the way the band just seems so full of glee at the idea of being able to present its back catalogue to a giant audience for the first time. They were now Rock Stars, yes, but this position was still relatively fresh and novel for the band, and the band seems to relish the chance to have huge numbers of people cheering at hearing "Creeping Death." I've read comments by a few people suggesting that the band named the album Metallica in order to try and fool the populace into thinking they were a brand new band and to make a break with its past; it's difficult for me to give this idea much creedence when hearing the band rip through the aforementioned "Creeping Death," or through 18 minutes of "Seek and Destroy" or "For Whom the Bell Tolls" or "Whiplash." This is what the band had waited for its whole professional life, and they do all they can to make the most of the opportunity.

The third is the way the band is so eager to throw in relative rarities and to goof around with the audience. I love the idea that a band as huge as Metallica was in the early 90's would not only include 4 tracks from Kill 'Em All, but also performances of "Am I Evil?," "Last Caress," "So What?" and (as the final encore, no less) "Stone Cold Crazy." I also love how at one point Hammett starts playing "Third Stone from the Sun," how during the lengthy guitar and bass soloing section the band does a minute or so of "Dazed and Confused," and how at another point the band starts into "Smoke on the Water," with Hetfield joking, "I bet you didn't know we wrote that." I love how the band starts playing "Ride the Lightning," and how after they stop Hetfield says, "You don't know this."

Fourth, I love how much Hetfield relishes the chance to be the biggest redneck he can possibly be as the frontman of a mega-popular rock band. All his swearing is kinda pathetic, but it's quite hilarious, and it ends up giving a goofy levity to the whole set. Plus, some of Hetfield's interludes, even when he's not using every version of f**k that he can, are pretty funny; the introduction to the "Justice Medley," where Hetfield states that, "We took all our favorite parts and threw them into one big pile of [&*!#]," has to deserve some sort of award for truth in track introductions.

Fifth, it's fun to hear a young, enthusiastic Jason Newsted having so much fun on stage. The treatment of Newsted by the rest of the band during his tenure with them was pretty shameful, and won't be recounted here, but at this point he was still largely in the honeymoon stage with the band, eager to be on stage with his idols. He's all too eager to make his mark by doing whatever's asked of him; playing a bass solo while the rest of the band takes a rest, singing some verses of "Creeping Death," "Seek and Destroy" and "Whiplash" to give James' voice a rest, and just generally being the band's kid brother. Good times for all.

In the end, then, it doesn't matter tremendously to me that the actual performances don't vary a lot from their studio counterparts. They're all done well enough for my liking, and the amount of live energy and other intangibles is through the roof, so I feel totally justified in giving this a very high grade.

By the way, the two DVD's are also extremely enjoyable, and it's very interesting to see the subtle transformations in the band's stage presence between the ...Justice and TBA tours. It's also extremely interesting to me to hear a remark Hetfield makes in introducing the "Justice Medley" on the DVD that really drives home the point to me that the band didn't change approaches to sell out, but rather because they weren't really enjoying themselves as much as they once had in playing this kind of material. "Rhythm guitar solo," indeed.

Report this review (#572134)
Posted Sunday, November 20, 2011 | Review Permalink

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