The live music industry is really going through it right now. Tours have been postponed indefinitely, venues are fighting to keep their lights on, livestreamed performances are facing lags or technical difficulties — but now, Metallica has an idea that may revolutionize concerts altogether.
Playing together for the first time in almost a year, the Bay Area hardcore legends recorded a live concert to be played at drive-in theaters across the United States and Canada. Airing in Concord at the West Wind Solano Drive-In last weekend, the band essentially reinvented the wheel with “Pandemica,” its one-night-only North American tour.
Three Days Grace warmed up the socially distanced crowd with a plethora of old hits, including “Riot,” “Pain” and “I Hate Everything About You.” The production was meant to mirror a live performance, but in reality, the cropped-too-close camera shots and overpowering shadows made it difficult for viewers to put themselves in a concert mindset.
While shouts of “How we doin’ out there?” and “Put your hands together!” attempted to pull from live concert culture, garnering endearing crowd cheers, the mood still felt too ridiculous to truly reproduce the charm of a live performance. The music itself, however, was pristine — lead singer Matt Walst’s vocals were energetic and growling, echoing across the parking lot via countless car radios.
At the end of the opening set, cars of people cheered as if the band could really hear their appreciation, honking horns to reinforce the novelty of the drive-in concert setting. The honks quickly shifted from thank-you’s to pure excitement as the anticipation set in. A dramatic black-and-white introduction video announced Metallica’s entrance, showing the crew and band members getting swabbed for COVID-19 before entering a sprawling stage set.
The camera cut suddenly to a wide-open field, looking oddly similar to the suburban fields of the north Bay Area. Walking onto the platform, still looking metal-smart in leather jackets and black converse, the band raised car roofs with an opening performance of “Hardwired.”
Unlike with the opening band, many of the prerecorded shots of Metallica succeeded at making viewers feel as though they truly were witnessing a live show. Facing up at the band as if watching from the pit, attendees belted lyrics out their windows or from the trunks of midsize SUVs.
“You couldn’t come to us, so we’re coming to you,” lead singer James Hetfield said between songs. And the heavy metal band truly pulled out all the stops to make this production worth the ticket price. Since the band recorded its set on an outdoor stage, the show was timed to perfectly reflect what concertgoers would be seeing in real time: An expertly timed sunset made viewers almost forget that they were watching a prerecorded show.
Pausing the music for a bit of banter, Hetfield read some names off of a treasured list of drive-ins streaming the show that night. After initially passing over the band’s hometown, drummer Lars Ulrich piped in with a special request. Giving a boisterous shoutout to “C-Town,” the band reminisced on some of its fondest memories of Concord. An impassioned crowd member shouted “Remember your roots,” and families all over the parking lot were energized by the local acknowledgment.
“Music helps us through all things — including this, right?” Hetfield said before jumping into “The Unforgiven.” Playing a chic standing guitar rig, Hetfield juggled two guitars to make sure every dynamic note was covered. Standing side by side, Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo exuded power and control.
The band’s sound has far surpassed refinement: Metallica’s music is seasoned with experience. While the show may have lost some momentum toward the end — sitting in a car for upward of four hours can be oddly exhausting, after all — the show exhibited decades of passion. It is clear the members have fully lived in these songs, broken in every lyric and thrashing timbre.
It may be too soon to say, but Metallica has seemingly pioneered the new 2020 concert experience. But if there’s one thing that has not changed between the arena and drive-in environments, it is the 45-minute battle to exit the parking lot. Drive-in concerts may be a test of endurance for car batteries everywhere, but the dreamy nights are surely a step forward for the new normal of live music.