Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Philadelphia, PA 3/7/97: 20 Years Later....

Growing up, I really had no idea how one went about getting tickets to concerts.  Sure, I'd seen tons of movies and even went to see Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden once.  Now that I think about it, I suppose I probably did see people lined up outside of a ticket broker in any local mall I went to.  The only concerts I'd been to had been at Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ [Starship, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night - ED.] when I'd go with my mom; incidentally, as I got older, I'd go off into the park on my own while she hit the concerts!  So yeah, other than that, I'd never been to a concert and really no idea as to how one purchased tickets to do so.

In the early 90s with the success of Metallica's "Black Album", I immediately became hooked and those dudes quickly became my all-time favorite band.  Since this was before the internet, I'd scour MTV for any and all live clips of the band, which I'd record to VHS.  The only live Metallica I owned was their 1993 boxset Live Shit:  Binge & Purge.  Their posters covered my bedroom walls (next to the Horror posters and collectibles of course).  Their t-shirts hung in my closet like suits of armor, ready to help me navigate the life of a pre-teen and, eventually, a teenager.  Friends of mine were lucky enough to catch Metallica on their 1992 co-headlining jaunt with Guns N' Roses, their 1993 stadium/arena tour, and even their 1994 summer sheds tour.  But, alas, I missed the boat every time.

Flash-forward to 1996 and Metallica releases their Load album in June, with a headlining stint on the Lollapalooza tour soon after, carrying on through the Summer.  With hindsight being 20/20, I probably could have caught that tour, though the closest dates were at Randall's Island in NY.  For all I knew, it could have been on the other side of the country!  So, once again, I missed Metallica coming "near" my small New Jersey town.  It's also worth nothing that I turned 14yrs old that August.  That Fall, I started high school, so my thoughts gravitated towards girls, making new friends, looking cool in front of both, and schoolwork (all in that order).

1997 rolls around and, by then, I was knee-deep into high school.  Pretty much every day, I had a different Metallica shirt to wear and was thereby deemed "Metallica Bob" by many a classmate.  People liked me and some chicks dug me.  Somewhere around this time, a good friend told me how he was going to go see Metallica in Philadelphia very soon . . . this is a buddy who had seen White Zombie (a band I still kinda regret missing) the year before and, mustering all the teenage angst I had in me, I was NOT to be outdone.  I would go see Metallica, dammit!  Hell, I'd go before this dude got the chance . . . after-all, I was "Metallica Bob" and I had a rep to maintain now!  Still . . . I had zero clue how to go about getting tickets.  There was talk of Philadelphia radio station 94.1 WYSP giving away tickets, so I tuned in and figured that was my, er . . . ticket.

Those first few minutes of listening to the radio seemed like hours, as I anxiously waited -- phone in hand -- for any announcement to be "the XX-number caller" for a chance to score tickets.  Looking back, I probably wouldn't have been able to win anyway since I wasn't 18yrs old!  All of a sudden, during a break, I heard a commercial for a ticket broker agency that specialized in getting the best seats in town!  Naturally, they mentioned Metallica's upcoming shows in Philadelphia, so I begged and pleaded with my parents to make it happen....

A deal was struck that, perhaps my older cousin Tim would be able to take me to the show.  Sure, why not?  Dude is like the older brother I never had, so it only made sense that he'd take me to my first "real" concert, let alone my first Metallica show!  Alright then!  After a quick call to Tim to see if he was down, Mom and Dad wound up buying three tickets for 3/7/97 show at Philadelphia's CoreStates Center (whatever it's called now...it'll ALWAYS be the CoreStates Center to me), as Tim's friend and bandmate Ed was gonna come with.

Man, the months leading up to the show were intense.  I couldn't believe that I'd be FINALLY be seeing Metallica!  On a monthly basis, I'd scour the pages of Metal Edge magazine for any and all tour reports and interviews about the current trek dubbed Poor Touring Me.  MTV was also a bright source of info, as they'd aired several tour report video packages during MTV News (the first of which covered their New Year's Eve gig in San Jose).  I couldn't believe the massive, in-the-round stage or their "new" live sound.  Various interviews in Metal Edge gave setlist tidbits and hints -- rotating sets almost every night, with some gems thrown in, including then unreleased new songs "Devil's Dance" (or "Devil Dance") and "Fuel", due to be on the follow-up to Load sometime later that year.

At this point, my Metallica world had been opened up to bootleg recordings or, as record stores used to dub them, "Import" releases.  I'd had a few ridiculously overpriced CDs and a couple VHS tapes of shows from '94 and '95.  It appeared that setlist structure wasn't straying too far from the basic skeleton of what they played on the Lollapalooza dates.  I'd heard "Devil's Dance" via a bootleg from their Escape From The Studio '95 tour where they played a small handful of dates in England and the North Pole, so of course, I'd been down to hear it at my show.  "Fuel", however, was brand new and I was really stoked to possibly hear it -- again, potential bragging rights of hearing a brand new Metallica show before probably any in my high school seemed like a cool notch in my belt. 

Another couple cool things I knew to be on the lookout for were the fact that Metallica were jamming some other new material throughout the tour.  I distinctly remember a quote about how if we didn't recognize any of the jams that the band did throughout the tour, it was new material!  Of course the BIG surprise on the tour was the destruction scene that occurs at the end of the show during "Enter Sandman"...out of the three of us who were going, I was the only one who knew it was gonna happen.  Finally, Metallica's entrance on this tour was drastically different from what I'd been use to seeing in videos and hearing on live recordings; they had scrapped long-time intro music "The Ecstasy of Gold" by Ennio Morricone and making a dramatic entrance with the sort of fanfare one might expect from the biggest Heavy Metal band in the world.  Instead, they chose to simply walk out into the arena, one by one, with the houselights still on.  Once all four band members would meet in the workings of the tech pit within the bowels of the main stage, they'd start with a jam on previously unreleased material before ripping into either "So What" or "Last Caress" (depending on the city and whether they were doing two nights back to back in that city). 

FINALLY, the show date arrived.  School was hell that day, as I nervously watched the clocked.  Leading up to the show, I distinctly recall Mom asking if I wanted to get a haircut before the show and I replied "No Mom!  I need to have enough hair to headbang!"  My pseudo-skater cut, parted down the middle bowl-type would have to do.  Another curious thing about the day of the show is that I remember exactly what I was wearing . . . my black and white Adidas soccer-style low-tops, a pair of black Dickies chino pants, and my white Unforgiven shirt with a black, longsleeve under it.   Earlier in the day, I had been daydreaming and leaked a bit of black ink towards the bottom of the front of the shirt even!

Since the show was on a Friday night, I'd be spending the weekend at my cousin's house in Ewing, NJ and going to see his and Ed's own band, Hands Tied, the following night.  That second night wound up being the first Hardcore show I'd go to as well, but that's a story for another time....  Mom and Dad dropped me off at my aunt and uncle's and I was anxious to get going and get to the show.  Before we left, of course, I met Ed for the first time.  It's cool to look back now because, I've known the dude 20yrs and he's one of my best friends! 

We got down to Philadelphia in what seemed like no time and hurried to line up for security checks, as both Tim and Ed were stoked to see openers Corrosion of Conformity.  The moment we lined up outside the CoreStates Center, I'll never forget someone a few people in front of us getting searched . . . and the security guard pulling out a wooden handled screwdriver and tossing it onto the sidewalk.  This was indeed a METAL show! 
The CoreStates Center (pic from Metallica.com)
By the time we entered the venue, Corrosion of Conformity were already pretty deep into their 8-song set; in fact, they were just starting their closer "Clean My Wounds" as walked in and found our seats.  Immediately, the main riff to "Clean My Wounds" nestled into my brain and, to this day, has never left.  Our seats weren't bad actually; 12th row in the lower tier, in the section before the floor GA area.  Since the stage was in the round, the best way to describe where we were located would be on Lars' right side (his drumkit on the main stage would slowly rotate throughout the set, but he started out facing the opposite long end of the arena).  At that point, I don't think it had quite set in yet that I'd soon be seeing my boys in Metallica! 

The stage itself was actually TWO stages; one, sizable figure-eight stage with large almost robotic arm-looking lighting trusses at each corner and another, smaller stage that would be utilized in the second half of the set. There were microphones dotted all over the place so James Hetfield could sing pretty much anywhere -- including even on the floor itself!  Between the two stages, on each side, there were microphones on the floor near ramps for each band member to navigate from stage to stage....or prowl along the barricade around the stages, literally getting right into kids' faces!  It was a spectacle unlike anything I'd ever seen before and, honestly, haven't truly seen since -- even after 20+ Metallica shows!

By then, our stomachs were growling, so the three of us headed out on the main concourse of the arena for some chow and beverages.  I also found the Metallica Club booth which, of course, was an essential stop for anyone currently in the Metallica fanclub (or MetClub) or those of us who were not yet members.  At this point, I'd completely forgotten about the Club -- despite having an original order form pamphlet from early 1994 after sending a SASE to the address printed in the Live Shit tourbook!  Hell, I'd even completely filled out the order form and just forgot to send it in [that or Dad said "No" to the membership fee at the time - ED.]  As I stood at the booth inquiring about a Meet & Greet, I'll never forget how foolish I felt having not joined the Club ahead of time . . . as it turned out, on this particular tour, you'd send a postcard to the Club with dates of shows that you'd likely be able to attend and your membership card was essentially a backstage pass!  So, had I been a MetClubber then, I probably would have met some of the band guys that night!  Urrrrgggggh!!!  Needless to say, I grabbed a new form and promptly filled it out, again begging Mom and Dad for the membership fee.

Later on, I'll also never forget making small talk and chewing on a pretzel, while sipping a Pepsi, as we heard . . . music coming from inside the arena.  We looked at each other and collectively thought, "Nah, that's not the roadies jamming during soundcheck....is it?"  In the all excitement of being at the show, I'd completely forgotten about the band simply walking out into the arena and jamming on new music to start the show!  We hastily tossed whatever was left of our snacks and literally ran around the entire concourse to get back to the entrance to the section where our seats were . . . only to realize that we ran around for no reason, as the entrance had been right behind us the entire time!

Hetfield's pre-show ritual (pic from Metallica.com)
Running to our seats, I couldn't take my eyes off the stage as Metallica was right there, in front of me, jamming away on some new music before ripping into "So What!"  My eyes blinked like a kid on Christmas morning . . . I simply couldn't believe it.  That wasn't Metallica.  It COULDN'T have been.  They had to be imposters!  There was no way the dudes who adorned so many posters in my bedroom were now in the same space as me, starting a show!  Since I was free of parental discretion, I gleefully sung along to the profanity-laced lyrics of "So What!" and threw middle fingers in the air, as I'd seen so many metalheads do in previous Metallica live videos! 

It was ON.

Lars and Jason crushing Philly!  (pic from Metallica.com)
As the band ripped into "Creeping Death" next, the pyrotechnics they'd become known for exploded on each of the four corners of the main stage!  I eagerly chanted along with the "Die! Die! Die! Die!" chorus during the song's bridge; seeing this classic staple was something I'd dreamt of for so very long! 

Next up, James announced that they had come here to kick our asses and asked if we wanted "heavy"...he then proclaimed "'Tallica gives you heavy, baby!" before launching into a riff so heavy that it's been known to shatter teeth.   Of course, in my nirvana-like state of euphoria, my mind completely and totally went blank as this next song started -- I literally could not recall the name of the song they were crushing skulls to at this time!  Of course, by the time the chorus rolled around, I knew it was "Sad But True" (or, as it had been dubbed by Tim and Ed:  "Sad But Honest" which, these days, is known as "Sad But Buck Honest").

Pic from Metallica.com
Throughout the rest of the show, there were many moments which were forever etched into my brain:  during "Ain't My Bitch", Jason broke a string and had to switch basses mid-song and James' guitar unplugged from his radio pack . . . when they started "Hero Of The Day", I couldn't believe that they were actually playing it, as it hadn't been played yet during the interviews and tour reports I'd read earlier . . . in place of either "Devil's Dance" or "Fuel", we got "Wasting My Hate", which James dedicated to C.O.C. . . . during the Bass And Guitar Doodle, I actually thought they were gonna play "My Friend of Misery" when Jason started the bass intro, but knew they weren't going to play "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" since Kirk doesn't start the song live . . . "Until It Sleeps" seemed pretty damn epic when it played . . . after "Fade To Black", I distinctly remember looking up into the waaay upper teers of the arena when James proclaimed how much we liked the song, all the way up into the stands . . . during the Kill/Ride Medley (Ride The Lightning / No Remorse / Hit The Lights / The Four Horsemen / Seek & Destroy / Fight Fire With Fire), I remember Kirk standing on the bridge over the tech pit on the main stage during the intro to "Hit The Lights" . . .

Jason and Kirk killing it.  (pic from Metallica.com)
For the first encore, the band jammed a bit on "Damage, Inc.", a song I wished they'd actually played that night [for the record, it's one of my all-time favorites and I've only seen it played live ONCE, at the same venue on 10/20/04 - ED.].  From there, they launched into their classic cover of The Misfits' "Last Caress".  During the shortened version of "Master of Puppets", a staple in the early 90s, the show started to take a bit of a turn . . . one of the lighting trusses started to spark and malfunction.  A few roadies snuck on-stage to check it out and effectively deactivate it.  Throughout "Puppets" though, Kirk and Lars played off of each other by constantly looking up at it as it sparked and when a lone, sparking wire swung from above as well! 
Jason greeting the Kidz on the rail. (pic from Metallica.com)

During "Enter Sandman", the much talked about "accident" occurred.  Maybe it's a testament the early life of the internet, but not a lot of people knew about the accident -- despite it taking place on every. single. stop on the tour!  Seriously, after some shows, fans were either writing to the band or calling their local radio stations either showing sympathy for the "injured" crew members or expressing outrage at the band for staging such a stunt and fooling them into believe what they saw had actually occurred!  Once again, the lighting truss started acting up and a roadie climbed a rope ladder to get it and work on it throughout the song.  Towards the end though, as soon as James does the "BOO!" line and more pyro goes off, all hell broke loose! 

The roadie who'd climbed up to the lighting rig via rope ladder, suddenly fell from his nest, only being saved by his climbing gear harness.  Then, the soundboard started sparking and exploded . . . setting one roadie on fire, who then ran around the stage before falling down and being covered with blankets to put out his flames!  Hetfield even took some sparks to the face during the melee!  The roadie who'd fallen from above laid out on the stage, as a team of paramedics with a stretcher ran over to him . . .

Tim and Ed stood there dumbfounded, not really sure what the hell was going on.  Each asking me if I knew about anything; I played dumb of course.  As the faux paramedics loaded the injured roadie onto a board, I was yelling variations of "kick him!  he'll get up!" and shouting out song requests such as "Breadfan"!

James down on the floor between the stages. (pic from Metallica.com)
Before long, roadies set up small practice amps around one of Lars' drumkits.  Lighting was kept to a minimum as several globe electric lightbulbs were lowered from the rigs above the stage -- think of the type of lights you'd see in a garage while working under the hood of a car -- each with its own pullstring.  As they had done so at the start of the show, each band member appeared one by one, yanking the chain to an overhead light as they took the stage . . . except for Hetfield.  He stood there, pretending to yank on his chain, teasing the crowd.  At one point, he even flipped us off as we demanded he turn it on and get on with the final encores -- yup, one of my first Metallica show memories included giving The Mighty Het the finger! 

The band then proceeded to "warm up" with a loose jam on Slayer's "Raining Blood", testing out their new practice amps . . . and effectively re-creating their own Garage Days.  Hetfield was playing his ESP Flying V JH-1 (with red hot rod flames) that he used earlier on the Kill/Ride Medley and Kirk was using his ESP WaveCaster; the WaveCaster has a hollow plexiglass body filled with blue liquid which, as a result, makes its mechanics limited, as it was only used on this tour for the first for "Am I Evil?"   I've always thought of this portion of the show as some sort of statement that Metallica doesn't really need the "Big Rock Show" with all its crazy lights, pyro, and massive stages . . . they're just as powerful with a three amps, a couple microphones, and minimal stage lighting.  The sound at this point was shitty, tinny, and poorly mixed as though it was coming from a boombox or garage practice space.  As the band started the main riff to "Am I Evil?" (skipping its traditional intro), the sound suddenly became clearer as thought it'd been run through the arena's main PA.  Again, another classic cover that Metallica arguably made their own, so it was nice to see it at my first show!  The final encore was "Motorbreath" off of Kill 'Em All . . . another classic that, as of this writing, I've only seen a handful of times actually!

As soon as the band said their goodbyes and left the stage, my life had been changed.  We headed out to one of the merch booths where I promptly bought a Made In L.A. 15 Years longsleeve shirt (just like Hetfield had worn during the show from "Nothing Else Matters" through "Enter Sandman").  There were some other amazing shirts that I should have also picked up that night -- the King Nothing Lanes bowling shirt [I'd eventually get one a couple years later at a record store - ED.] and the Corrosion of Conformity longsleeve tour shirt -- just like Hetfield wore in several promo photos from earlier in the tour.  On our way back to the car, I picked up a $10 bootleg parking lot shirt that featured the Harvester of Sorrow Pushead artwork, with the current Load-era logo on the front along with tourdates and Pushead Zorlac artwork on the back.  Also among my merch grabs were the official tour program (featuring tons of Ross Halfin photographs from the Lollapalooza tour as well as the European leg of Poor Touring Me) and a now highly sought after Ninja Star necklace -- which I still have to this day.

The setlist was as follows:

"Bad Seed" jam
So What!
Creeping Death
Sad But True
Ain't My Bitch
Hero Of The Day
King Nothing
Wasting My Hate
Bass And Guitar Doodle
Nothing Else Matters
Until It Sleeps
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Wherever I May Roam
Fade To Black
Kill/Ride Medley
"Mission:  Impossible" jam
"Damage, Inc." jam
"Sweet Leaf" jam
Last Caress
Master Of Puppets (short ver.)
Enter Sandman
"Raining Blood" jam
Am I Evil?