Mastering Golden 1

Metallica frontman James Hetfield.

Metallica frontman James Hetfield.

Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone

As The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s spaghetti Western score haunts in, that scene of Eli Wallach skipping through a cemetery displays from dystopian cubes hanging over a phone-lit crowd.

The song peaks to an audio sample of gatling-gun drums, a pre-recorded drilling crescendo long enough to reach maximum crowd restlessness until, lights up: It’s that band who sued Napster, and they sound insane with real instruments.

Last Friday, Metallica played its first Sacramento show in seven years, and 17,281 fans broke Golden 1 Center’s attendance record for a concert. Touring behind its 2016 album Hardwired…to Self Destruct, could the 37-year-old heavy metal band still, oh I don’t know, ride the lightning?

Yes. The four—Lars Ulrich on drums, Kirk Hammett on lead guitar, Robert Trujillo on bass, and James Hetfield on rhythm guitar and vocals—have a rare way of connecting perpetually with the crowd. No plate-glass window vibe here, where the musicians feel distant, untouchable and surreal. They rocked in the round, with microphones circling the stage. Add in epicly cued concert lighting, ooo pretty pyrotechnics and those dynamic tube cubes that fit the motif of each song—projecting cryptic crosses, portraits of fallen soldiers and ticket stubs from old Sacramento Metallica shows—and that’s an awesome visual orchestra for a rock show.

Some highlights: A frightening crowd chorus chanted “Die!” during the interlude of “Creeping Death” to delightfully warm torch-fire spitting from the stage; and a three-song encore of the breathless thrasher “Battery,” the love song “Nothing Else Matters,” and “Enter Sandman” tucked the night in right. Kind of funny: A speckle of headbangers were caught in a mosh throughout most of the set, including during the doldrums-y ballad “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” which our photographer Ashley dubbed “the saddest mosh pit in the world.”

Metallica’s performance skipped a whole 26 years of music, from its 1994 album Load to 2008’s Death Magnetic, which meant the band only performed material from its garage days to the tail-end of its arena-flung careers, a track list that detoured around the four’s controversial alt-rock decade, its therapy-stricken experiment St. Anger, and that Lou Reed-Metallica mishmash Lulu. A greatest hits, minus the other stuff.

Less impressive was Jim Breuer, the former Saturday Night Live star who opened the show, offering light jokes and scanning the crowd for the youngest and oldest fans. He was doing God’s work trying to entertain an eager crowd, but maybe they ought to have an opening band next time?

At the end of Metallica’s set, Ulrich recounted past Sacramento shows, including an early gig where the band played in the parking lot of a Tower Records. If Metallica performs in Sacramento again, if you’re a fan or are curious about this style of music, and if you have a pretty penny to spend on a ticket, trust me: It’s one of the best live experiences out there.