Wednesday, August 31, 2016

American International Pictures: The House That Arkoff Built

Many years ago, I was home sick on a Sunday afternoon and, for whatever reason, lying wrapped up in a blanket on my parents' bed watching their TV seemed like a better idea than the couch.  It was on this nauseously napping afternoon that I first discovered what would become one of my favorite films as well as one of my favorite film studios; the film was Scream Blacula, Scream and the studio was, of course, American International Pictures!

That opening studio logo completely set my expectations for the film I was about to see!  And, little did I know then, AIP had a virtual vault of stuff that I'd dig! 

AIP was cool because they did all kindsa pictures:  Action, Blaxploitation, Comedies, Biker movies, Beach movies, Sci-Fi, and of course, Horror movies.  In the 50s, they even had their hand in Teenage pictures like High School Hellcats and Female Jungle!  While I can't say that I'm too well versed on their Biker and Beach movies (or the Teenage variety) so much, I can definitely kick my feet up with any of their Blaxploitation, Sci-Fi, or Horror titles though!

For me, I first encountered some of the their earlier Horror/Sci-Fi titles when I was 6 or 7yrs old...thank to Elvira:  Mistress of the Dark, I first caught a glimpse of It Conquered The World and the titular Venusian monster (aka: Beulah) at the start of that film!  Around the same time, as Tim Burton's Batman was blowing up the box office, I remember grabbing a copy of Model & Toy Collector magazine that had Batman & Robin on its cover; within its pages, I recall seeing a model kit of the titular monster from War of the Colossal Beast.  Also worth noting, in that same issue of Model & Toy Collector, I came across a photo of a certain heavy metal guitar player holding up his own copy of Detective Comics #1 . . . Metallica's Kirk Hammett.  Funny how there are always elements of the person you'll eventually become criss-crossing throughout life, eh?
AIP, the brainchild of James H. Nicholson and entertainment lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff, released its first picture The Fast & The Furious in 1955.  The studio later teamed up with Roger Corman throughout the 1960s to mine a series films based on the works of Edgar Alan Poe!  Over the course of eight films, this series cast Horror greats like Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre in lurid Poe adaptations!  I'll admit, in my younger days, I kinda turned my nose to these films (and the others with Vincent Price), but I've grown to quite fond of them and learned to appreciate them . . . and their trailers were always awesome!

My main AIP love, though, goes to their work throughout the 1970s -- the early 70s to be exact -- with so many awesome, schlocky titles filling up my DVD shelves!  Everything from Count Yorga:  Vampire (and its awesome sequel) to The Vampire Lovers to the two Dr. Phibes films to "crap" like Frogs and Empire of the Ants -- I love it all!  The two Count Yorga films being some of the earliest 70s entries in the AIP roster, have some genuinely creepy moments and both pack endings that are definite shockers!  The Vincent Price-starring Dr. Phibes films are also all sorts of fun with their proto-Saw murder, of course, their main star, who headlined a number of fantastic films for AIP.  Hell, I could write an entire blog entry based on just Vincent Price's AIP films!

 MGM may have had John Shaft and Warners had Super Fly, but AIP had Hammer, Slaughter, Black Caesar, Coffy, Foxy Brown, and even Truck Turner (all with some of the wittiest dialogue/insults ever committed to film)!  Speaking of Pam Grier, who doesn't want to cheer when, in Coffy, as she levels a shotgun at a drug kingpin's face, point-blank, she declares "This is the end of your rotten life, you muthafuckin' dope pusher!" Come ON!  So awesome!  I'd be a fool to not also mention Blacula in the same breath here; as that original film (its sequel, too) has some awesomely creepy moments and make-up effects - along with a fine script and solid acting from William Marshall and Thalmus Rasulala, which make it easily rank high above in the subgenre!  Let's also not forget about their other Blaxploitation/Horror hybrids like Abby, JD's Revenge, and of course Sugar Hill! 

Straight up Horror-wise though, AIP did it all . . . they imported the Italian trio of Mario Bava titles:  Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, and Baron Blood (again, those trailers!!!) . . . released their share of giant monster movies like Tentacles and, of course, Food of the Gods.  They even had a hand in pseudo-Slasher films as well like the criminally underrated Blood & Lace (for my money, it predates both Black Christmas and Halloween while laying out the basics for the subgenre) and a personal favorite in Deranged -- a film, I've already covered here on Constriction Pictures!

Towards the end of the 1970s, AIP started to branch out from Horror (although, they still released drive-in fare like The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Squirm, The Incredible Melting Man, and even an early entry in the Italian Cannibal sub-genre like Lost Cannibal World), shifting their attention to more "mainstream" and serious releases such as the two sequels to Walking Tall, the excellent revenge thriller Rolling Thunder, and of course, Force 10 From Navarone (yet another AIP title I'd seen as a kid and didn't know it!).  In fact, one of their last, notable Horror releases was The Amityville Horror in 1979.

Before the studio closed its doors in 1980 (after being bought up by Filmways, Inc. in '79 -- itself later renamed Orion Pictures Corporation in '82), it introduced US audiences to a little Australian film called Mad Max, which it picked up for distribution and redubbed with "American" accents.  Personally, I think that's a great final note for a studio like AIP; they made their mark in decades of drive-in schlock, dabbled in other genres and then, with one last push, released a film that is still widely discussed today even by mainstream audiences -- no thanks to the Academy Award-winning Mad Max:  Fury Road!  Seriously, it's pretty impressive for a company that churned out with drive-in trash and schlocky camp material throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s! 
One of the benefits of AIP being bought out and falling under the Orion Pictures banner was its eventual relationship with MGM.  Today the AIP library (save for a few titles that remain unavailable due to copious amounts of legal red tape -- It Conquered The World, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, The Amazing Colossal Man, and War of the Colossal Beast in particular) is owned by Orion Pictures, which is a subsidiary of MGM.  A good deal of the catalog was released in the late 90s/early 00s under MGM's Midnite Movies banner on VHS and DVD (both in single formats and even, cool double feature sets) . . . most of these titles are technically OOP, but they still pop up on the secondary market at affordable prices.  Also, Kino Lorber and Shout! Factory (thanks for The Incredible Melting Man on Blu-ray, yo!) have been steadily releasing several of these titles to Blu-ray, which has worked in driving down the asking prices of some of the old Midnite Movie sets.

In the early 00s, man . . . it was a glorious time to be a Horror fan and one of the best reasons was because of MGM's Midnite Movies series!  I remember anxiously waiting for annual "Halloween Movies" lists at the video store I worked at and immediately getting excited for impending Midnite Movies titles that would be listed usually for release either late Summer or early September.  Naturally, a good deal of these titles were of the AIP library and fairly easy to track down, though I didn't grab 'em all if I wasn't familiar with the films themselves.  Today, I keep a list in my phone of the entire collection (deleting ones I already have) just in case I come across any while I'm and about! 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

2016 will be remembered for a lot of things; the insane amount of entertainment deaths that we've had to endure will probably be at the top, the Rio Olympics and the Z-virus (not be confused with the T-Virus of the Resident Evil franchise) and, of course, the great Neckbeard Vs. Girl Power Internet War Over The Ghostbusters Reboot and the debates it spurred . . . okay, maybe not so much that last bit, but I bet $2 that it'll receive a decent blurb in the year-in-review special edition of Entertainment Weekly.

There's a line in Ghostbusters II, as the Titanic arrives and countless ghostly zombies exit from an ice berg-sized hole in the hull, where one dock worker says to the other with a shrug, "Better late than never".  That line resonated with me as I finally caught Paul Feig's 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters yesterday for a couple of reasons; namely because I was finally seeing it more than a month and a half after its release, as it's now been deemed a failure with its $124 million + box office haul (on a budget of $144 million) and is rapidly leaving theaters -- there was only one somewhat local theater still showing it by me.  And, of course, the fact that, after 27 years, we're finally getting another Ghostbusters film -- be it a reboot, remake, somewhat sequel. 

Be warned:  There will be spoilers here.  Since the film has been out long enough and those of you who care to see it, probably already, yeah...SPOILERS.

The film starts off familiar enough with a quick haunting at a historic museum, thereby setting the plot into motion.  From there, the focus shifts to Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) on the campus of Columbia University, where she's aiming for tenure and to be taken seriously -- despite trying to distance herself from a book about the paranormal which she co-authored with childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) many moons ago.  It's this book that brings the two estranged friends back together as the manager of the museum reaches out to Erin for help with his haunting problem.  New to the team is Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), who is now Abby's quirky assistant in paranormal research and a Jane of All Trades when it comes building equipment.  Again, things take a familiar turn as the trio see their first ghost and the seeds are planted for them to go into business for themselves. 

Meanwhile, across town, MTA booth operator Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) encounters one subway weirdo too many and winds up seeing a ghost of her own.  This leads her to contact the Erin and Abby for help and, in the spirit of the original, Patty ends up joining the group before they get their first call to action. 

From here, the film follows some of the basic story beats of the 1984 original; the team gets their "home" (above a Chinese restaurant) and their own Ecto-1 vehicle, catches their first ghost, gains notoriety...and then is immediately debunked and silenced by the Mayor of New York and his team.  Here's where the film starts to veer off into its own being which, honestly, works to its advantage in that it's not merely retreading familiar ground with the story.  Sure, there are some very remake-like beats that occur -- such as the film's villain becoming the size of the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man and destroying the city -- but it's all in fun. 

One interesting angle on the story that I picked up on is that, well, for this team of Ghostbusters, business isn't exactly booming.  They catch one ghost, are immediately silenced and debunked in the media, and wind up letting the bastard go in error!  All the while, a standard Hollywood Blockbuster villain plot forms between the lines; Rowan, a down-trodden nerdy misfit with a huge interest in the paranormal, hatches a devious plot to basically cleanse all humanity of its filth by opening a portal to the Afterlife and unleashing the undead to wreak havoc.  Sounds like fun, doesn't it?  Although, this is probably the film's weakest piece, as it veers so much from what the original two films were about and feels too much like every other Summer Blockbuster with a Scooby-Doo villain and scheme.  However:  here, it works fine. 

Okay my fellow thirty-somethings, let me say this:  I enjoyed Ghostbusters (2016) and -- *gasp* -- my childhood is STILL intact.  (read that last bit with the same intonation as Bill Murray saying "...and the flowers are still standing!")  I was born in 1982 and, while I wouldn't immediately say that I grew up on Ghostbusters, I definitely grew up on the The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series and the toys . . . my God, the endless amount of toys that I had!  Falling in love with the original movie was merely an extension of my love for all things Ghostbusters in the late 80s and early 90s.

For long-time fans who have been clamoring for a "proper" sequel, there are many, many shout-outs and nods to the stuff we grew up with . . . allow me to list some:  a statue bust of the late Harold Ramis -- which, I'll say, is definitely supposed to be Egon Spengler, given its location -- in the halls of Columbia University, the PKE Meter that Abby uses early in the film is clearly modeled after the one from The Real Ghostbusters and so much like the role-playing toy that came with the Proton Pack accessory we all had, the familiar sound effect when the team starts up their Proton Packs, various winking lines of dialogue that hardcore fans would instantly pick up on, and of course, the cameos! 

Again:  Here Be Spoilers...

Bill Murray shows up first as Martin Heiss, a noted skeptic and "debunker", who appears as though he raided Jon Pertwee's wardrobe from The House That Dripped Blood.  Murray, as Heiss, has more than just a mere cameo though, which was surprising and it was great to see him in another Ghostbusters film!  And no, despite what the film portrays, Heiss does not die . . . he's revealed to have live and even writes a forward to the film's tie-in version of Erin and Abby's book "Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal", where he mentions the medical bills he received at the hands of the team.  The next cameo starts with a voice and, as soon as you hear it, you know it's Annie Potts; she appears as Vanessa, the front desk clerk at the Mercado Hotel who snaps Janine Melnitz's classic line, "What do you want...".   Next, Dan Aykroyd shows up as a gruff, NYC cabbie who drops a clear Ray Stanz line and then caps his bit with a "I afraid of no ghosts!"  In the film's final moments, Ernie Hudson shows up as Patty's Uncle Bill, the undertaker whom she borrowed the hearse to use as the Ecto-1.  And, finally, during a mid-credits sequence, Sigourney Weaver shows up as Dr. Rebecca Gorin, mentor to Holtzmann, while discussing a rough prototype for a containment unit. 

I'm sorry, but I loved these cameos and had an ear-to-ear grin the entire time they were on-screen!  With each cameo, the actors appear to be having a blast in their scenes and I, for one, was grateful that they weren't presented as their original characters training/hiring a new team of 'busters and literally passing the baton -- which would likely have been as forced and painful as it was to write that!  Seriously though, how can even the most jaded Ghostbusters fan not enjoy these cameos?

The ghosts themselves are actually kinda cool and, again, reminiscent of something from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon.  Most notably, when Rowan takes the form of the ghost from the Ghostbusters logo in the film's climax (yeah, I rolled my eyes when I saw the action figure of Rowan and said "That's stupid that he's the ghost from the logo!"); it works here and is also a nice wink to fans of the cartoon series, where we saw this character walking down the street, be-bopping and dancing to the theme song during the opening credits.  Of course, Slimer shows up, too and again, I had the biggest smile on my face!   Early on, when I read that Slimer has a girlfriend, female version of himself in this movie, my eyes rolled so far into the back of my head, it's a wonder I can still see.  However, it works . . . Slimer steals the Ecto-1 from the team and proceeds on a joyride through the city, picking up a crew of ghosts and his love interest, who looks suspiciously like Mandy Pepperidge from Animal House -- perhaps a subtle wink and nod to John Belushi as well?  Again, only the stoniest of hearts wouldn't be able to at least chuckle or smirk at this.

The main cast itself is great; Wiig is perfect as Erin, portraying her with a bit of a stick up her butt, though still displaying that trademark humor and comic-timing she's known for.  McCarthy is great, too, and not as typical "Melissa McCarthy" as the audience would expect; there was only really one scene that felt like it could have been out of any other one of her films, as she tries out some new equipment and winds up being thrown all over an alleyway.  Also, at her most "McCarthy", there's a running gag with the Chinese food delivery guy where she rants and raves at him about her order in a fashion and improve tone you'd expect from her.  All in all, though, she was actually pretty level-headed and anchored the estranged friendship between Abby and Erin.  McKinnon steals the entire movie though; seriously...every single time she's on-screen or says something, it made me smirk, chuckle, grin, and laugh.  Her enthusiasm for the role and the material is so infectious that she just brings so much joy to the film.  If anything, the trailers and promotional material sort of do McKinnon a disservice, almost portraying Holtzmann as someone who's trying to be cool, when in the film's reality, she IS cool as hell and one of the most likable characters! 

Jones is great as well as Patty; the trailers also doing her a disservice by portraying her character as "the black girl", that ramps up a few stereotypes and, honestly, hurts the film.  Patty is a great character and Jones brought her all to the role.  Much like Winston Zeddemore in the previous films, Patty is the civilian of the group, who the non-scholar audience can identify with.  Her dialogue and reactions to several sequences seemed pretty plausible for someone like you or me!  And, I'd be doing Jones a disservice as well if I didn't comment on the recent rash of online attacks she's been facing because of this film;  that shit is completely uncalled for and nothing more than the sentiment of a few, narrow-minded individuals who are upset that someone made another Ghostbusters movie and it wasn't "right" to their hopeless fanboy specifications.  To prove how narrow-minded they are (and their hopes for a "true" sequel), they resorted racial hatred and disgusting online attacks.  Stay classy nerds...

Also along for the ride and flexing his comedic muscles is Chris Hemsworth.  Known to most audiences as the Asgardian god of thunder himself, Thor, in the Avengers films, he can come off as a serious, beefcake action hero.  Here, Hemsworth very nearly steals the show out from under McKinnon as he displays hilarious comic-timing and some great physical comedy bits!  In the role of the villainous Rowan, Neil Casey is good, if not a little Scooby-Dooish and cartoonish, but I think it works here just fine.

For me though, Ghostbusters (2016) wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, as I had a few problems with the film . . .

  • the pointless cover of Ray Parker Jr's "Ghostbusters" by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot.  Not only does the original song actually play at the start of the film, this cover only pops up during a brief montage and, I think, over the credits.  In a world where compilation albums akin to Now That's What I Call Music are disguised as movie soundtracks bent on wringing every last dollar from the audience, this is a song that feels so completely forced and full of set-up failure.  Missy Elliot's rapping over the track pales in comparison to the similarly forced version of the theme by Run-DMC from Ghostbusters II.  At its best, the song will be a hit with "the kids" today (for those of them who still know who Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot are) and, at its worst, it'll perfectly cement Ghostbusters (2016) to this time period.

  • The trailers really, truly hurt this film in every way imaginable.  They made the film look like a stereotypical Paul Feig directed, Melissa McCarthy starring, Kristen Wiig written (yes, I know she didn't write this) zany comedy with pseudo gross-out humor and ridiculous CGI-physical comedy gags...but with ghosts and under the Ghostbusters brand.  They failed to garner much interest for me initially because, well, I've already seen Bridesmaids, Spy, and The Heat and I've seen Melissa McCarthy get thrown around the living room by a hide-a-bed in a couch in The Boss and hit by a car in Tammy.  Surprisingly, there was very little of Feig's trademark style/humor in Ghostbusters (2016), but when it cropped up -- such a the scenes where the team is confronted by a community college Dean and the Mayor of New York and it feels like Feig let the cast improvise their dialogue -- it worked. 

  • The whole villain plot with Rowan felt forced and too gimmicky and, although I hate to use this analogy again, it felt way too Scooby Doo-ish.  The original film didn't need to have a central villain orchestrating the entire plot, with Gozer only showing up in the last reel an no one complained.  This one didn't need Rowan acting like the sort of antagonist you'd find in a cheapo comic book film.
Something else that really sets this film apart from its 1984 original is that it's funny at its core.  The original Ghostbusters is a genre film with funny moments.  At its heart, it's a special effects film with comedic moments.  There are some genuinely terrifying moments in the original film that, I think, get overshadowed by its comedic all-star cast who were at the top of their game in 1984.  For the record, Ghostbusters II is a funnier film!  Ghostbusters (2016) feels like a modern Saturday Night Live sketch crafted by some of today's funniest comedic talents and it delivers in laughs.  Now, don't take this paragraph the wrong way...I'm not saying I don't like the original film and that's unfunny. 

Another fun element to this film was the various gadgets and weapons that Holtzmann came up with throughout;  I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical in the trailers, seeing her with two handgun versions of the proton packs . . . but, within the film and knowing her character, they worked and were a refreshing bit of "wow factor".  In fact, if this had been a traditional sequel with the original cast or if these weapons had been introduced in a video game based on the original movies, fans would be raving about them.

All in all, Ghostbusters (2016) worked for me.  It invested me in its characters and made me want to see more of them, so it's a shame that, as of now, the planned sequel has been scrapped -- especially since the film more than sets things up for a proper sequel.  Is it the third, proper Ghostbusters film that fans have been clamoring for for decades?  Of course not, because those impossible expectations are difficult to meet.  Did I have a good time with it?  Absolutely.  Hey, it could have been worse . . . Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jonah Hill could have been involved, with the team being stoners and cracking dick jokes for 2hrs. 


Oh wait, there's one other elephant in the room that I forgot to address:  female Ghostbusters.  Holy Hell did the internet lose its collective mind over this small, seemingly insignificant factor in Ghostbusters (2016)!  I went into the film with a completely 100% open mind and enjoyed it.  Lots of headlines and articles paint the film as some sort of Girl Power reboot, making the gender swap one of the key points to the film . . . sure, yes, this is a film with a Ghostbusters team that happens to be all female, but I don't think it's quite as on the nose and over the head as naysayers and critics would lead one to believe.  It'd be one thing if the characters were female versions of the original film's heroes -- Patricia Venkman, Rayanne Stanz, Egon (er, what IS the female equivalent to the name Egon?) Spengler, and Winnie Zeddemore -- than I could understand the term "gender swap".  However, this film is more or less a sequel (though it's not really clear if it's set in the same universe as the original movies and the cartoon) that just happens to be a different team of 'busters...who happen to be of the female persuasion. 

Guys . . . big deal!  Really, it wasn't worth getting all worked up about.  Again, with an open mind, I had a lot of fun with this film.  was it "perfect"?  No, of course not...but when is a film "perfect"?  Was does that even mean?  When is a film "done"?  Nevermind...  Come on boys, where is this vehement hatred for all things of the opposite sex coming from?  Your childhoods are not ruined because there are suddenly female Ghostbusters -- hell, I'll bet you even had one of the Janine Melnitz figures from The Real Ghostbusters, didn't you?  Seriously though, of all the things to get worked up over and dedicate time and energy to, we chose to be upset about a movie and down-voting its trailer on Youtube?  From the moment I sat down to watch the film, I didn't see any gender barriers or identifiers . . . they were just simply Ghostbusters.  FFS man!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Metallica @ Lollapalooza 8/1/15: A Retrospective

photo credit: Jeff Yeager
(most photo credits to Sandee, best Wife ever!)

Lollapalooza . . . a gem of the 90s music scene, the touring festival that gave one indie credibility and some sort of bragging rights.  In its earliest years, to be honest, it never really caught my radar outside of the scant MTV News clip, as I really had no interest (or at least maybe a passing interest) in most of the bands that stacked those early lineups.  That all changed, of course, when Metallica headlined in 1996. 

Although I'm still kicking myself for not catching that tour -- it would have been my first Metallica show, but I really had no idea as to how to get tickets for concerts back then! -- all I can do now is look back and photos and the scant bootleg recordings I've seen from it.  Just recently, I got a DVD of Metallica's performance from the Randalls Island, NY 7/10/96 stop which, along with three proshot video clips and soundboard B-sides from the Irvine, CA 8/4/96 show, completes my Lollapalooza '96 experience.  One thing that I do remember quite fondly though, was the vehement animosity towards Metallica for headlining the festival that year.  As Load was just released, the band were already experiencing a bit of flack from their fans, but now the "Alternative" crowd was giving them shit for ruining their precious festival! 

Years would go by and different lineups would come to pass, but I'd always skip Lollapalooza (in its touring format) and, even after it found its permanent home in Chicago as a destination festival, I always opted to skip it -- and get the hell outta dodge, too!  However, I always secretly hoped that Metallica would one day return to the festival and headline it, thereby giving me an excuse to finally check it out . . . 2015 answered my prayers!

In recent years, as Lollapalooza would slowly announce its lineup, I'd say in my circles, there was always a rumor of Metallica playing it -- unless, of course, they had summer dates in Europe booked for whatever weekend the festival was scheduled for.  The rumors of their 2015 headlining slot crept up very quickly, with only my buddy Matt reminding me about it the day before the lineup was announced and one-day passes went on sale.  That day, of course, I was deep in jury duty (cue the dramatic music of doom!), but I was still able to access my phone and remained logged into the website all morning. 

Then, of course, I couldn't secure tickets for my wife, Sandee, and me!  Frustration abounded, but since I was still in jury duty, I had to keep a calm head and remain cool.  My persistence finally paid off and I was able to secure passes!   Then, of course, the talk about where we'd actually watch the show from came up . . . now, if you know me, I'm not one to simply watch from the back or the nosebleeds.  Especially if it's a band I love (like Metallica) and have seen many times from the rail, with band members in my face, etc....there's just no simply "let's watch from the back" in my vocabulary. 

"But it's a festival...arena shows are for the rail" was one retort I heard a lot of.  I silently agreed...but still, the wheels turned as to how me and Wife (and Matt and his wife Jackie) would make sure we had the best viewing spot for this show.  At that point, I really didn't care much for the rest of the festival or the lineup...this was Metalli-palooza '15 yo!  As the date drew closer, I hoped and prayed that the band would announce Snakepit passes or, even an on-stage contest which they had done the year prior in Europe to great success.  FINALLY, at the few US dates prior to Lolla, when they had on-stage winners, I knew we'd have it for our show . . . but then there was the contest itself.  Almost as exciting as entering for a Meet & Greet contest!  Low and behold, I won and although I couldn't really believe it myself, I was still of the mindset that, if you put your mind to something -- no matter how insane it may be -- it can happen!

As the days ticked down to the show itself, my anticipation grew and grew; I'd shown pictures to Wife and family of the previous shows that had fans on-stage and said "That's gonna be us!"  I started to plan out just where I wanted to be on the if I had the option of "Well, where would you like to be?" anyway!  But still...I never gave up. 

The morning of the show, the four of us hit up a fancy lunch with our friends Chris and Jenn (it was her first time seeing Metallica) . . . but before that, we had to take care of one important piece of the puzzle:  picking up our on-stage wristbands! 

Wristbands secured!
For me, it was Christmas Morning all day!  At this point in the day, I don't think any of us knew quite what to expect...

Once we got to the venue, it was a complete clusterfuck trying to get through security -- though, MAJOR props to those folks for making sure everyone is safe at Lolla.  After all six of us getting through the gates, we milled about and checked out the merch stands.  One cool benefit of the festival are the locker stations, so we were able to keep all of our merch and other supplies stashed for the duration of the day.  Not bad.  The Samsung Galaxy stage (or Main Stage) was at the far end of the festival area . . . honestly, it doesn't seem that large when there is no festival going on and it's just empty softball fields but man, what a hike from Buckingham Fountain (yes, the Married...With Children fountain) to the main stage! 

While waiting for confirmation as to where we were all supposed to meet up to be lead on-stage, a small community of MetClubbers gathered in shaded hilltop area, stage-left.  This wasn't actually a bad view of the show, but come on...we're going on-stage!

One thing about Metallica shows, no matter where in the country or globe, is that they're always family reunions!  It was great seeing folks who I hadn't seen since the second Fillmore show in San Francisco on 12/7/11 (some of whom I'd known/talked to online for years before finally meeting at that show).  KISS has the KISS Army...the Grateful Dead have the Deadheads....Metallica has the MetClub (or Fifth Members as we're called now).  Still, at this point in the day, my anticipation was rising as I was sizing up the situation and trying to ensure we'd all have a good time. 

After what seemed like a few hours, we finally got the call to move down towards the stage . . . my heart sank as I saw a ton of people come through and head backstage.  My thoughts were that they'd get the primo spots on-stage...but nope, they were either just going back to the actual backstage area which was like a small village, as I didn't see too many of them once we got up there.

Waiting in line to go backstage.
Once we got back there, it seemed like the Lolla people or local crew had no idea where we were supposed to line up.  My heart again sank as it seemed like we were in the very back of the line as we moved to one spot....only find out that we were near the front of the line when we were told go back to another spot! 

You remember that scene in Jaws where Robert Shaw's Quint is recounting the Indianapolis story and their rescue from shark-infested waters and says "You know time when I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn"?  That's how I felt as they lead us in small groups up a small flight of stairs to the wings of the backstage area.  This was it.  Almost there.  White-knuckle with anticipation!  At that point, you could probably have blown me over with a feather!

Finally...this was our view:

Yeah...that's a lot of people.
Surprisingly, it wasn't as intimidating as it could have been or maybe was for other Clubbers up there!  Sure, there was a bit of knee-jerk reaction to want to hide as soon as I stepped out there, but then, I almost immediately felt comfortable . . . aside from the many utterances of "Wow!" and "Hoe-leeee Shit!"  We were met with cheers amidst a scant boos and middle fingers . . . of which both of my middle fingers were returned!  Everyone up on stage were polite and friendly...everyone had a great spot to see the action unfold . . .and then "The Ecstasy of Gold" started and we were ON . . . all of us on-stage singing along.

Before I knew it, Lars walks right past us to get to his drumkit and hands his drink to my friends Andrew and Tricia next to me. At this point, I was still holding out hope that they'd open with "Breadfan", but as soon as James Hetfield stepped up to the microphone with an announcement, I knew we're in for "Fuel" and with that, he demanded "Gimme Fuel, Gimme Fire, Gimme That Which I Desire!"  And, just like that, we were off to a kickass show . . .

Surprisingly -- or maybe not..I still haven't decided -- the crowd was into it from the very beginning.  I remember looking down at the kids in the front row and being glad I wasn't in their shoes as they were getting SMASHED against the rail by the 300,000 strong crowd.  Like the pros that they are, Metallica stormed onto the stage and had that crowd in the palm of their hands the instant they started playing! 
Not the view I'm used to!
(Pic lifted from WGN's website)

Kirk "The Ripper" Hammett melting faces!

Robert Trujillo thundering away!
After the next song, "For Whom The Bell Tolls", the band could have said "Thank you and good night" and the crowd would have been satisfied.  But no, they continued the show with "Wherever I May Roam" and "King Nothing" -- indicating that this was to be a "festival friendly" setlist without many deep cuts or rare gems.  However, without fail no matter how many times I see Metallica, they always seem to play about six or seven songs that I either haven't seen live ever or haven't seen live in forever . . . "King" had been absent for me since 2004, so it was a nice surprise.  Following that cut, Hetfield introduced some old stuff in "Disposable Heroes" which, from what I could tell, pretty much smashed the kids down in the crowd into dust. 

"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" was up next and the beautiful Chicago skyline and cool, summer breeze all combined for a surreal mood during it. The band continued to blaze through a set of songs that easily could have been encores or show-stoppers almost one right after the other.  Finally, Hetfield addressed the crowd about how he had come the night before to see "Sir Paul Something...", which of course elicited many cheers.  He further explained how Paul McCartney (the previous night's headliner) had gotten some incredible crowd participation and that now it was Metallica's turn. As soon as they started "Cyanide", it seemed like the entire city of Chicago was chanting "Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!"  In all my years, THIS must be what a European festival crowd looks like.  Simply amazing.  And, today, listening to the recording of this show, I still get goosebumps at this part because the crowd is so monstrously LOUD!

A short while later, "Creeping Death" reared its ugly head to wring some more crowd participation -- there's nothing quite like a few hundred thousand "hippies" chanting "Die! Die! Die! Die! Die!"  Hetfield broke a string on his white Flying V guitar because, well, the mood was way too metal for all six strings!   Kirk Hammett blasted through an extended/improvised solo at the end of the song... even Hetfield and Trujillo were stunned by how maniacal "The Ripper" was!
Throwin' out a double-barreled finger-point during "Creeping Death"

Matt throwing out his own finger-point during "Creeping Death"
Somewhere around this point, my buddy Andrew asked me about the banner that I had on me.  Earlier in the day, I said I had a banner proclaiming "Happy Birthday Papa Het" under the assumption that, given Hetfield's birthday was 2 days away, the band and crew would pie him in on-stage celebration!  "All in good time," I replied back, tapping my cargo pocket where the banner was folded up.  "All in good time." 

Up next was a song that I needed to hear once again, "Fade To Black".  Just like the last time I saw it played live -- MSG 11/15/09 -- I pretty much lost my mind during the intro.  After the vocals were done, I figured it was the opportune time to break out the banner . . . and the rest is history.  During Kirk's closing solo, James like to get the crowd to sing the rhythm melody that he's playing, and started his way down the line of kids on-stage, getting in everyone's faces and singing along with us.

Mind pretty much blown.
To say I was on Cloud 9 for the rest of the show would be an understatement!  Remember what I said about hearing songs that I either hadn't seen live yet or hadn't heard in a long while?  This was solidified by the one-two punch of covers "Whiskey In The Jar" (a Stateside rarity, btw) and "Am I Evil?" . . . I hadn't seen the latter since my first show in '97 and it was the first time I heard the intro for it.  Bonus!

The night ended with the usual "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman", which literally blew the place up with energy and excitement.  Seriously...they've played that song 1,183 times since its live debut literally 25yrs ago today in Petaluma, CA!  If I were in a band, I'd kill for that just that one song that continues to have such an effect on large crowds (of course, Metallica have an entire catalog of tracks that do just that!). 
Kirk, waiting for James to start "Enter Sandman"

As the band was leaving the stage/handing out guitar picks and drumsticks, Kirk made his way down the on-stage backdrop, uttering a "share the picks" as he dropped a handful into my cupped hands.  Thanks Kirk!  The curfew must have been looming as the band didn't get to do their usual signing off bits before leaving the stage (I believe the Lolla people cut the power on the stage mics).  As Hetfield was leaving the stage, I still had my banner out, hoping he'd notice it and maybe trade me a wristband for it (I know...NERD) . . . just as he walked by, he gave me a point, a "Thank you" and a wink.

As we were all ushered off the stage, we were directed to a large cooler filled with bottled waters and sodas . . . when I noticed a clear Solo cup with raspberry pink lemonade in it and a Red Bull next to it.  "That's Lars'!" I exclaimed to Sandee.  We grabbed 'em both and a setlist -- which someone must have lifted from her back pocket!   The ice-cold, refreshing drinks were a nice capper to an incredible night!

During the show and immediately after it, I kept thinking "HOW is this gonna be topped the next time I see Metallica?"  It very likely can't and probably won't be!  It was a once in a lifetime moment -- though, if I'd gone to multiple shows last summer, I could have experienced it again -- that I'll NEVER forget and is a story I'll probably be telling in the nursing home someday!

Full setlist was:

For Whom The Bell Tolls
Wherever I May Roam
King Nothing
Disposable Heroes
(Kirk Solo #1)
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
The Unforgiven
Sad But True
(Bass Solo)
Master of Puppets
Creeping Death
(Kirk Solo #2)
Fade To Black
Seek & Destroy
Whiskey In The Jar
Am I Evil?
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

Check out the live recording of the show available over at on CD and multiple digital formats!