GUNS VS. METALLICA: A HIGH-SCORING DRAW
© Copyright Jim Sullivan, The Boston Globe, 9.12.92
FOXBOROUGH -- As Metallica was roaring down the home stretch at Foxboro Stadium -- evoking a veritable battleground with the pyrotechnic antiwar song ''One," I couldn't help but recall the old tale about the time Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry played a double bill and Lewis ripped the joint up, destroyed his piano, and then sauntered offstage, saying to Berry, "Top that!"
Last night's Metallica/Guns N' Roses double bill was like that on a grander scale. And did Guns top Metallica? Call it a high-scoring draw. The bands share a love of pyrotechnics and a hatred of war. Metallica is all-out fierce, not particularly rock star-like; Guns N' Roses has more variety -- more mood swings -- and is into the rock star thing, every bit the descendants of the Rolling Stones.
The vast majority of these shows has gone off as planned, but the specter of disaster always looms. Last night was rowdy; there were a few fights, and a sizable number of ejections. But according to Foxboro general manager Brian O'Donovan, not much more happened than what was expected. And the notoriously tardy Guns N' Roses was only five minutes late, hitting the stage after the video guys splashed the bare chests of flashing young women up on the screen. Axl Rose and company tore into "Welcome to the Jungle" and the stadium was rocking.
That's Guns for you: sexist and stupid one minute, and yet capable of pulling off an impassioned "Civil War," a hammer-down punk rocker called ''Attitude," and a gorgeous medley of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," ''Wild Horses," and "Patience." They are a bunch of contradictions, but they played a terrific show last night. The Slash and Axl tag-team is a formidable one.
It is possible to make too much of this, but realize this, too: both Guns N' Roses and Metallica got to where they are today -- respectively at the peaks of the hard rock and heavy metal mountains -- by breaking with the genre traditions of the mid-80s. There's a lot of show biz and razzle dazzle now, but there remains a no-nonsense attitude about the music. Both bands attached themselves to the spirit of punk rock, and recognized that the once-bright light of hard rock and metal had grown dim.
Metallica -- fronted by the leonine singer James Hetfield -- is known for their symphonic lightning-fast trash, but their latest music is informed by a growing use of melody, by the odd slower passage, while still being laced with ferocity. Anger and sadness are the emotional cornerstones of what Metallica does in songs such as "Enter Sandman," "Nothing Else Matters," and "The Unforgiven." Last night Hetfield was free of guitar, having been burned in a pyro accident earlier on the tour. And Metal Church's John Marshall ably filled in. This gave the wiseacre chatterbox singer more opportunity to run about the stage and good-naturedly bait the sold-out crowd with comments such as "They look tired and weak and ready to go home."
Metallica's 2 hour and 15 minute set went like clockwork. They're a top- of-the-line rock machine: consistent, powerful, getting better with age.
Guns N' Roses is too ragtag to be called a machine -- they work without a set list or a safety net -- but that's part of their charm. Rose said, "I wish every night could be this good," and while you might chalk that comment up to usual rock blather, my gut feeling is he was right. Their 2 1/2-hour set kept building all night and the pensive, poignant songs such as "November Rain," "Sweet Child of Mine" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" packed as much punch as the slam-bam rockers. Rose, often acting like an animal sprung from his cage, must have run six miles and he sang his lungs out.
This is one damn fine rock band, adept at negotiating peaks and valleys. They share a camaraderie on stage that feels genuine. They are a gang and they let you join them for a night.