DUBAI: We went, we saw, we were conquered. Patricia from the Philippines simply said it was "the most awesome concert" she has ever seen. Aaron from Dubai, in one word, said it was "epic". As for me, I still haven't got back from Yas Island where on Tuesday night I witnessed Metallica rock our socks off.
Playing to over 25,000 metal fans, the world's biggest rock band delivered a performance that must rank as the best rock act so far in the region's rock history. Despite being on the World Magnetic Tour since October 2008 the band were far from sounding tour-weary. In fact, they were in for a surprise: they found inspiration in Abu Dhabi, in the chanting of passionate metalheads from countries across the Middle East.
Following the customary The Ecstasy of God intro, the act kicked off, rather exploded, with Creeping Death. The force of it grabbed the audience by the throat and set the night on lava. Then came For Whom The Bell Tolls, Fuel, and Ride The Lightning in a row.
James Hetfield was so moved by fans' response he repeatedly thanked the "Metallica family" for the support and minced no words in declaring "Metallica loves Abu Dhabi".
During Fade to Black, the fifth song of the set, the band came to a pause, just before the heavy-riff-driven chorus section. Hetfield, standing right atop the stage prop, his right-hand fist thumping his chest, shouted: "Do you feel it? Do you feel what I feel inside?"
A deafening roar greeted the call. And the band continued from where they left off - with one of the most loved riffs from Metallica's repertoire.
The act touched its most explosive moment during the back-to-back rendition of One and Master of Puppets. That is not to say other tracks were less awesome, but this was the part that took the audience to a level akin to musical orgasm through the band's sheer energy, breathtaking speed, loudness and masterfully accurate playing, amply supported by hysterical fan participation in singing.
Other high points were Sad But True, The Memory Remains, Nothing Else Matters, and Enter Sandman where the audience nearly took over the vocals duty. Hetfield was so impressed he simply exclaimed, "Good singing." And yes, the audience screamed back in jubilation.
Talking of audience, we were packed like the rush-hour crowd on the Dubai Metro. Bodies pressed against me from all sides. You could see cameras falling off hands. It got a bit worrisome when a bunch of shirtless youths got extra aggressive as they headbanged and jostled around. My friends left the spot and took shelter in a calmer area. I held on as I couldn't give up my vantage point - my eyes were fixed on the four men on stage.
Bassist Robert Trujillo was a unique figure. Looking more like a long-haired basketball player, he was sheer athleticism. I wonder if any other bassist slings the guitar lower than he does - it almost touches the ground. And to play it, he bends, he tilts, he squat-walks, and goes through a complex range of postures, with his right hand reaching down below knee level as his fingers ram the strings.
As for lead guitarist Kirk, I have been waiting to see the former Joe Satriani student play those lightning lead solos live. On Tuesday night he gave us ample evidence why he is one of the finest shredders on the planet as he ran through his repertoire of riffs, licks and solos. I was a bit disappointed as his revered solo on One didn't strike me in the face as I expected it to (blame it on the sound guys), but he made up for it in Motorbreath during the encore section where he played like a possessed artist.
Meanwhile, frontman and vocalist Hetfield was in complete control, not only of the proceedings on stage, but also of the entire venue. He was the one in the driver's seat, taking us on a metal trip towards a dimension only Metallica know exists. As for his playing, nobody has struck the power chords heavier than Hetfield and he is one rhythm guitarist who commands respect even from soloists and last night was another proof of this fact.
And lying hidden among the maze of tom-toms and cymbals and yet whose part hit the audience the most was Lars Ulrich. His bashing of the skin, from steady to breakneck-speed pounding, was what held together the metal rituals - and he never lost a moment to raise his head, or stand up and stick his tongue out to greet the fans or to receive their adulation.
A little over two hours later from the first song and 15 minutes from midnight, the band wrapped up the act with a three-song encore (Am I Evil, Motorbreath, and Seek And Destroy). The night came to a close with the band throwing guitar plectrums and drum sticks into the crowd and Lars declaring the band's desire to see the Middle East fans again soon. When will that happen no one knows, but in my mind I am still at Yas Island - I haven't quite got back.