Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 had all the glitz and glam, the biggest celebrities in the world, and a halftime show that pandered heavily to Top 40 music lovers with Coldplay, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Mark Ronson. The night before, Metallica headlined a show of their own at AT&T Park, and judging by the words of frontman James Hetfield, getting the coveted halftime show on their home turf would have mattered to his band.
“I knew there was a petition going around; everything happens for a reason,” he said, a couple songs into Metallica’s two-hour, 18-song set at the show put on by CBS Radio and called The Night Before — a relatively new tradition associated with the big game. Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo had another name for the show: Too Heavy for Halftime. Following the intro music (“The Boys Are Back in Town,” naturally), newly-minted graphics depicted Metallica crash-landing onto Levi’s Stadium and causing some major damage to the turf.
The NFL’s loss was the gain of roughly 42,000 Metallica fans who got the full concert in place of a 12-minute show. To help even up the TV numbers, the show was live-streamed for free. The quartet came to make a point, blasting through the biggest titles in their repertoire and largely ignoring newer material.
After opening with the truly heavy “Creeping Death” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (off 1984’s Ride The Lighting, the quartet launched into “Fuel,” which was the first of several songs that made a strong argument that the Metallica had better charisma and production for a national broadcast than Coldplay. A handful of columns spewed flames dozens of feet into the air from the top of their five humongous LED screens. Other songs got the laser treatment, most effectively on “One,” their standout off 1988’s …And Justice For All.
Hetfield, on several occasions, called it a blessing that his band was still capable of playing in front of huge audiences, and thanked San Francisco and the Giants (but not the NFL) for the opportunity.
As The Night Before wore on, the band only grew tighter and more energetic, with “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “Master of Puppets,” a cover of traditional Irish song “Whiskey in the Jar” (dedicated to late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton), and “Seek and Destroy,” before closing with “Enter Sandman.” The closer is Metallica’s best Top 40 crossover, with fireworks, both literally and figuratively.
Indie rockers Cage the Elephant opened the show with a 45-minute set of their own, bookended by popular hits “In One Ear” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” with lead singer Matthew Shultz frantically working the fans at the front of the stage and inside Metallica’s “snake pit.” But their sound was muddled, and songs failed to ignite the majority of the ticketholders, who came only for the headliner.