What's black and white and red all over, and almost tall enough to reach the upper decks at Lincoln Financial Field?
The enormous video screens that towered above the four members of Metallica in South Philadelphia on Friday night that made James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich seem both much larger than life and really teeny in comparison to their oversized LED images, that's what.
Thanks to a classified ad that Ulrich placed in 1981 — "drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with" — Metallica have been bringing the noise for over 35 years now, and Friday's show by the California band was the second date on their WorldWired American tour, and first in Philadelphia since 2009. (They also brought their short lived Orion music festival to Atlantic City's Bader Field in 2012.)
As with most rock bands who rise to stadium-sized success, Metallica made the great majority of their memorable music in their first 10 years together.
And the good thing about Friday night was that the two-hour show — before a shivering but enthralled crowd that has aged along with the band of 50-something thrash-metal titans — was heavily weighted toward those peak years.
Last year, Metallica released Hardwired ... To Self-Destruct, a double album that made a conscious return, in its first half at least, to return to the high speed tempos and compressed song structures of early albums like Ride The Lightning and Kill 'Em All.
After entering the stage to the strains of Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstasy Of Gold" from Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, the band opened with the Hardwired title cut, summing up a grimly existential outlook in a few choice words: "We're so f—, s— out of luck / Hard wired to self destruct."
That kicked off an evening in which Hammett's clean, melodic guitar lines and shrieking leads provided the musical fireworks, and naturally, there were actual fireworks (and lasers) shooting off even higher in the sky than those video screens, which tended to show the band members in black and white, or bathed in the color of blood.
Early on, the robust sounding Hetfield gave a speech emphasizing inclusion as he rallied his tribe: "We don't [care] what you've done with your life. We don't care what you're wearing, 0r what religion you believe in. We are here together as the Metallica family."
(The importance of family was underscored by the absence of one of the scheduled opening bands. Avenged Sevenfold got the night off so the band's guitarist could be present at the birth of child. Danish metal band had to go it alone.)
The most worthwhile piece of art that Metallica has produced in the last quarter century may be the painfully unguarded 2004 documentary film of dysfunction, Some Kind Of Monster, that they opened themselves up to. But the songs from their early records, leading up to the landmark 2001 Metallica (known as "the Black Album") can still deliver frenzied release, and when they power through their trademark lock step trudge, a certain elegaic grandeur.
"Seek & Destroy" was a high-speed case of the former, "Fade To Black" a stentorian example of the latter, and the multi-part "Master Of Puppets," was a mash up of both approaches.
The encore kicked off with a particularly frenzied "Battery," from the 1986 Master Of Puppets album, followed by the tough guy power ballad "Nothing Else Matters." And then, of course, as a closer, the inexorable riffage, of "Enter Sandman" that has soundtracked so many relief pitcher entrances, which on this night sent the sated Metallica fans to the exits.