Metallica shows no signs of rust

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Metallica has turned speed metal into arena rock, as only Metallica could have done.

A crowded, all-ages audience at the MCI Center Sunday night — a mix of second-generation grunge-era fans, holdouts from the ‘80s underground and their children — saw the Bay Area metal vets employ lots of dinosaur-rock stunts to glorious excess: a giant stage in the middle of the house with revolving platforms; stand-alone guitar solos that begged for Christopher Guest’s violin from “Spinal Tap”; and pyrotechnic blasts to rival a military deployment .

Before the band emerged from the bowels of the stage to play “One,” its graphic account of a limbless soldier in a coma, snippets of the movie “Full Metal Jacket” played over the PA system, while the set was engulfed in what seemed like mortar fire. It was a scene worthy of Peter Arnett and CNN.

The vibe Sunday was tame, even giddy. In the interim between Godsmack’s warm-up set and Metallica’s arrival, the arena was diverted by a flashing competition between some of the more uninhibited gals — and yahoo guys proud of their paunches — in the audience.

Metallica’s speed-riffing and martial thrash no longer seem scary; the rage is now safely bottled up in middle age and mainstream stability. But if there was one thing to be gleaned from Sunday’s 2-hour march through Metallica’s 20-year career — from first-album faves like “Seek & Destroy” all the way through “St. Anger” — it’s the band’s airtight connection to its audience.

Yes, the movable bandstand was tacky, but the point was intimacy; it essentially created four front rows. Like stage actors, singer-guitarist James Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett painstakingly hit their marks, giving equal face time to each quarter of the house (as well as steering clear of flame-throwing vents in the floor). And it was all drummer Lars Ulrich could do to stay put and not mug with fans eager for keepsakes such as his sweat towel.

Enviable new guy Rob Trujillo, who replaced bassist Jason Newsted, lived out every metalhead’s dream of not only playing with his heroes but getting paid millions to do so.

The quartet played tightly constructed songs such as “Enter Sandman,” “Sad but True” and “Nothing Else Matters” — all were part of Metallica’s early-‘90s pivot toward the MTV middle — as well as baroque epics like “Fade to Black,” “Ride the Lightning” and “The God that Failed.”

Mr. Hetfield and Mr. Hammett combined for harmonic, double-guitar lines; Mr. Ulrich played at a speed that masked the complexity of his drum patterns; and Mr. Trujillo played a five-string bass that hit notes deep enough to rattle periodontal work.

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