The group set the tone with high octane opener "Fuel," and rarely relented throughout the two-hour showcase. Second song, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," could have just as easily been an encore, and the enthusiastic crowd showered the band with cheers during the classic's foreboding introduction.
"The Metallica family is here," snarled James Hetfield. "How many are virgins here?"
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He chuckled after a sizable crowd roared in response.
"If you don't know what to do, just look at the people who have been here before.. they'll show you to have some fun here!"
Metallica launched into a crushing rendition of "King Nothing" while fortunate onstage fans lost their collective minds. Maintaining the aggressive set list, Hetfield goaded the crowd to get louder in advance of Kill 'Em All classic "Seek and Destroy" and Master of Puppets fan-favorites "Disposable Heroes" and "Sanitarium."
The band played only one song from most recent release Death Magnetic, slotting it in before the hard-hitting "Sad But True" and Reload highlight "The Unforgiven II."
Throughout the performance, Hetfield showed off his rhythm guitar chops while Kirk Hammett tastefully noodled on solo interludes. Rob Trujillo took the limelight on an impressive bass solo that recalled the band's late bassist Cliff Burton, and drummer Lars Ultich was a portrait of intensity with clenched teeth and wild eyes.
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It takes serious cajones to play your two best songs back-to-back while going up against the likes of Sam Smith and Alesso, but that's exactly what Metallica did with "One" and "Master of Puppets." I didn't think anything could make me punch the air screaming "Die" 28 times these days, but "Creeping Death" proved me wrong.
"Metallica is grateful after 34 years we're still here thank you Chicago -- thank you Metallica family!" Hetfield hollered before leading a group chant over his savage rhythm guitar chords.
"It's a beautiful night, you're a beautiful crowd," gushed Hetfield. "We're going to play a cover by a band we've always admired."
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The band exceeded their scheduled set time on a muscular series of encores, including their deep cut cover of traditional Irish drinking song, "Whiskey in the Jar," and ferocious Garage Inc. era rework of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil." The latter prefaced a stunning rendition of power ballad, "Nothing Else Matters," that left fans speechless and throwing signs of the horns skyward.
A cascade of inflatable black balls signaled crushing final encore "Enter Sandman." The band took a well-earned bow before leaving the Lollapalooza crowd variably satiated and shell-shocked.