Metallica Rocks Indy

A burst of flames onstage at a concert
Fire explodes on stage at the Metallica show in downtown Indianapolis

Jeff Vrabel

A man plays guitar on stage at a concert.
Lead singer James Hetfield plays to the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Say this about Metallica: They did their research on Indiana.

For their first Indianapolis concert in a decade, the impossibly enduring metal godfathers covered local ’80s punk outfit the Zero Boys, laid their iconic logo over the state flag, showed a picture of a ticket for their 1992 show at the Hoosier Dome with Guns N’ Roses and played two minutes of a John Mellencamp song. Metallica covering Mellencamp is not a thing I thought I’d be writing in 2019.

There are, of course, lots of things you wouldn’t think you’d be writing about Metallica in 2019, which frontman James Hetfield — who’s speedily turning into a dead ringer for Tom Waits — acknowledged in front of a packed and frenzied house at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday night. For instance, that they’re 1. Alive, 2. Still playing music after 37 years, 3. Selling out arenas more than a year in advance (the show went on sale in February 2018, and the pent-up energy was palpable), and 4. Easily still able to bash through “Seek and Destroy” and “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets” with formidable force.

To recap, that’s 37 years since “Hit the Lights” (which the band unearthed midway through its 2 1/2 hour set). And here’s some more terrifying math: It’s been 30 years since “And Justice for All,” 28 since the Black Album, 19 since Napster, and 15 since the documentary about their band therapist. And yet at 55, here they were, and here we were, and it’s really hard to come up with something much more thoughtful than mm mm huh heh that was cool.

Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, both 55, roared for 2 1/2 hours on a reasonably stark mid-floor stage, pausing for electrolyte replenishment but not much else. “Seek and Destroy” came third. The bells that opened “For Whom the Bell Tolls” resulted in a roar that nearly made the place structurally unsound. “Sad But True” is a 28-year-old example of near-perfect stomp. (The Mellencamp cover? Guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo stomped through two minutes of an instrumental cover of “I Need a Lover,” part of a nightly schtick to play something local.)

To be fair, songs from the band’s most recent album, the curiously punctuated Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, were not what the fans waited a year for, despite Hetfield’s efforts to hard-sell it. (The album came out in 2016 — this is a very long tour.) But if I might file a SCORCHING HOT TAKE: Despite its ludicrous Rob Zombie lyrics, “Now That We’re Dead” works up a ferocious chug that’s reminiscent of the fanbase-shredding “Load” and I liked “Load,” don’t @ me. And for the pretty rote “Moth Into Flame,” a fleet of drones emerged from the stage, swirling over the band like murderous fireflies.

The weirdest part might have been how friendly everybody was. (“Hetfield is just so nice now,” said my wife, “It’s like that part with Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World.”) The band took time to acknowledge an 11-year-old (hero) fan in the pit. There were shouts to the late Cliff Burton and a joke about how you might find “Hardwired” in your mom’s Prius. Nodding to himself and Hammett, Hetfield (rightfully) claimed that they’d earned their silver. That’s not something I thought I’d be writing in 2019 either, and yet here we are.

Four men talk on stage to the audience
The four members of Metallica interact with the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Metallica, 3/11/19, Bankers Life Fieldhouse

  • “The Ecstasy of Gold” (Ennio Morricone intro)
  • “Hardwired”
  • “Atlas, Rise!”
  • “Seek & Destroy”
  • “Ride the Lightning”
  • “The Unforgiven”
  • “Now That We’re Dead”
  • “Creeping Death”
  • “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
  • “Here Comes Revenge”
  • Kirk and Rob medley: “Vicious Circle,” “Amphetamine Addiction” (Zero Boys covers), “I Need a Lover” (John Mellencamp cover), “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)”
  • “Hit the Lights”
  • “Fuel”
  • “Moth Into Flame”
  • “Sad But True”
  • “One”
  • “Master of Puppets”
  • “Fight Fire With Fire”
  • “Nothing Else Matters”
  • “Enter Sandman” (with “The Frayed Ends of Sanity” outro)