Review and photos by Thom Jennings
It was Metallica’s third time performing at Highmark Stadium, dating back to 1988 when they performed with Van Halen, and 1992 when they were part of a double bill with Guns N’ Roses. Thursday night’s performance was the first time Metallica was at the top of the bill, and they proved they were worthy.
Metallica has a long history in the region, dating back to their first album, “Kill 'Em All,” which they recorded in Rochester in 1983. The group bookended its set with cuts from the record, opening with “Whiplash” and finishing with “Seek & Destroy” before their encores.
There are any number of things that could adversely impact a stadium show, but Thursday’s show was flawlessly executed on a night with perfect weather for an outdoor show. The band played with youthful intensity, even though members are fast approaching the fortieth anniversary of the release of the aforementioned debut album.
The band appeared well rested, which is likely due to the limited number of shows it’s performing this year. There were fans in attendance from hundreds of miles away, most of whom shared the number of times they had seen Metallica over the years.
It was also a family affair, as it was clear many parents were attending the show with young children. James Hetfield addressed the crowd as the “Metallica Family,” reinforcing the unique relationship the band has with its fans at this stage of its career.
The production and pacing of the two-hour set were perfect. “Enter Sandman” was an early gem, appearing third in the set, causing Hetfield to quip that they had played “the good one” already.
The visuals behind the band were stunning, which added to the intensity of the performance. The band also utilized the entire stage, interacting with fans up front and providing different angles for fans on both sides of the stadium.
At the end of the evening, the individual band members took time to personally thank the fans. This emphasized how, even after years of craziness, the band seems to have found a peace that has resulted in an even higher level of performance in the latter years of its storied career.
Metallica fans were locked into the band’s performance.
As for the fans in attendance, you will be hard-pressed to find a group that is more laser-focused on the music, especially in a stadium setting. Metal fans may look intimidating, but they are probably the best-behaved concert attendees of any genre.
There was no shortage of Greta Van Fleet shirts in the crowd, even though the clear majority of the crowd was Metallica fans. Greta Van Fleet performed for about an hour, and received a warm reception from the crowd.
Musically, Greta Van Fleet was less compatible with Metallica than the opening act, Ice Nine Kills, but Greta Van Fleet added value to the bill. They play with a lot of confidence for a group that doesn’t have a single member that was born the last time Metallica performed at the Orchard Park stadium.
And while Ice Nine Kills and Greta Van Fleet both performed solid sets, they simply couldn’t compare in intensity to Metallica.