Metallica: On the road with metal's biggest band
As Metallica prepare to bring Hardwired... to the UK, we headed to Canada for an exclusive, intimate look inside the biggest tour of 2017. Welcome to the greatest show on earth, babeeeeeeeh
Lars Ulrich is chomping on a toothpick, sipping tea and wondering how his band have managed to remain so famous. We are sitting backstage at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, where Metallica will later perform before 52,000 people on the 18th North American date of their ongoing WorldWired tour.
They first played the city in 1985, at a club show alongside W.A.S.P. and Armored Saint, before this stadium even existed. “As you get further into your run, you almost get high from the fact that it’s still even fucking happening,” he marvels. “I may not be as critical as I was 10 years ago, because a bigger part of my outlook on everything now is, ‘Holy fuck – I’m 53 years old. People still give a shit!’ That just blows my mind.”
The drummer is in good spirits today, welcoming us into Metallica’s “tuning room” – a makeshift rehearsal area decorated with fan-made flags where the group warm up for 30 minutes each night – and peppering his conversation with phrases like “blowing my mind” and “mind-fuck” that are characteristic of his speech.
The last time Metal Hammer spoke to the band was in New York in September 2016, two months before the release of their 10th studio album, Hardwired... To Self-Destruct. At the time, fans had only heard the spunky title track and were nervous about what to expect from the rest of the band’s new material. Since then, the record has gone platinum in the US and double-platinum in Canada – they’ll actually receive commemorative sales plaques from their Canadian distributor tonight – as the WorldWired tour has rolled through a handful of major cities in Asia, South America, Europe and now North America. In October, it will finally reach the UK.
It’s clear Lars focuses less on the detail of Metallica’s performances these days, and more on gratitude for their continued success. “When you start talking about the drum fill in song eight or something,” he says, “does any of that really matter in relation to the fact that there’s 52,000 people coming tonight, or my shoulder is still functioning, or we can all get dressed in the same room or share space?”
Hammer landed in Toronto just a few hours ago, but Metallica have been here for nearly a week. Long gone are the garage days when they’d get in the van or tour bus and drive from venue to venue together. Now in their 50s, they choose a series of “base camps” from which to operate – cities that act as temporary homes while they commute to and from shows in surrounding areas (prior to Toronto, they were based in New York City, Chicago and Miami). This strategy keeps them from tiring too quickly, mentally and physically, of the lifestyle and of each other.