It says something of Metallica, and the heavy / thrash / metal / rock (delete according to taste) genre they represent, that much of the pre-Glastonbury Festival talk was about whether they were an “appropriate” act to take the Pyramid (or indeed any other) Stage. Were they really The Thing That Should Not Be At Glasto?
Park Stage headliners Mogwai described Metallica as “unbelievably bad”. Jonny Marr said it will be “funny” but also “the musical moment of the summer”. Kasabian described the move as “bold”. Mick Jagger (who headlined last year) said Metallica were “going to be great”, Blur’s Graham Coxon said “better that than lovely lovely pop music” and Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner said the decision was “out there”.
None of this of course was actually “news”. It’s not as though loud bands haven’t played Glastonbury before, including Rage Against The Machine, Hawkwind and Corinne Bailey Rae. It got to the point that journalists were running out of people to ask The Big Question, “So What About Metallica at Glastonbury, Then?”
As each mundane headline presented itself (“H from Steps Thinks Metallica Will Be Quite Good But A Bit Too Loud”), it only confirmed Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich’s view expressed in an interview with BBC 6 Music that the British music press tended towards tribalism and “a need to categorise”.
The uncertainty hasn’t just been confined to non-metal acts. Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson described Glastonbury as “bourgeois”, presumably before he flew back to his eight bedroom home in his own aeroplane. In an entertaining interview Dickinson ruled out the chance of Iron Maiden “doing a Metallica” for the same reason, which rather had the ring of when Andrew Cole ruled himself out of being selected to play for England. But you never know: I’d certainly love to see Maiden play Glasto: I think they’d go down an absolute storm, rather than making people Run To The Hills.
The same nonsense happened before Jay-Z’s headline act in 2008 of course, and we all survived that one. The only real question remaining was whether Metallica would mimic Jay-Z and perform a cover of “Wonderwall”…
That turned out not to be the case, but there were still hearts and minds to be won. After all, said the dissenters, James Hetfield is a pro-hunting American with a taste for that most henious of crimes, narrating bear-hunting documentaries.
Metallica dispatched these doubts in a trice before they had even taken the stage. Their normal introduction music of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” was interrupted mid-flow by a comedy skit involving a fox turning the tables on some hunters to the soundtrack of “Fox On The Run”. The hunters were then shot down by bears, who took off their costumes to reveal Kirk, Lars, James and Robert. It was great fun, and typical Metallica: and when you have the tunes that Metallica have, the rest was easy.
With fan club members standing with their flags at the back of the stage for the whole performance, and some sincere words from Hetfield about being proud to represent “heavy music” Metallica showed their credentials as a people’s band.
They opened with Creeping Death, For Whom The Bell Tolls and Wherever I May Roam, as the mosh pits became frenetic. I saw teenagers (and plenty older people) caked in mud having the time of their lives flying around in the treacherous, wet mud caused by a torrential downpour just before Robert Plant’s set. The front rows were heaving.
Having spoken passionately about people who hold music dearly in their hearts, Hetfield then somewhat amusingly broke the romance by introducing the next song: “Cyanide” from Death Magnetic. This picked up the pace though, and “Master of Puppets” swiftly followed.
Towards the back of the vast field it became clear that Metallica had attracted the largest crowd so far of the weekend. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see them and as Enter Sandman plus encores of Whisky In The Jar and Seek and Destroy played out Glastonbury had transformed into Glastallica: a black balloon-filled metal festival. Monsters of Rock and Masters of Glastonbury: that was Metallica.