Rocking with Metallica at the cricket ground!
Trip Start May 25, 2005
351Trip End Ongoing
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James Hetfield - you are a god! After the dismal audience interaction of the previous ten hours, it was a relief to see a master at work. With that one line the audience was hooked - albeit a very polite South African audience!
I moved closer. I couldn't help it - the stage was drawing me in.
The day had been a surreal experience all round and certainly not what I had been expecting ever since Cheryl had declared;
'Claire, Metallica are playing in Centurian. Would you be interested in going?'
I swung around on my chair,
Metallica are playing in Centurian!!!!
Why Centurian of all places?"
My head was spinning. The tickets were over ten percent of my monthly wage but it was worth it. But I still didn't quite understand why Metallica would choose Centurian to be the first venue they had ever played in Africa. I mean, a bloody cricket ground half way between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Why?
The day started early with a trip to buy some supplies. We had to be able to nosh at an outdoor festival - especially one that was due to last for twelve hours in the South African sun. I had only returned from the field the night before. The 9am start was looking painful as I switched off the light on a busy two weeks with my American colleagues.
'Morning Claire, are you ready to go?'
Cheryl was sitting outside in the car. Time for one last check. Jacket, phone, money, mascara. "Ok, let's go"
We arrived to find a barrage of car parking attendants and the queue snaking its way past the 'you'll be waiting for two hours' point. It was only then that I began to understand just how amazing this was for the South African crowd. This was the biggest festival (one day, 12 hours - so no Glastonbury!) the country had ever seen. They were expecting 45,000 people but had still only decided to open one gate. Luckily we found a friend's sister in place near the front.
I breathed deep. It was refreshing to see people dressed differently, with some personal style. The landscape was mottled with black gothic trends and stripey shirts, pink and green hair, funky bags and studded body parts. Individuality was the name of the day and we were here to rock!
'Sorry, you can't take that in.' the security lady said as she looked me over.
"What, sorry?" I glanced up and down my body.
'That' she said, pointing to my keyring. It was black with some silver studs.
"This?" I said smiling, unbelieving, "It's my keyring!"
'It's a dangerous weapon. You'll have to leave it outside.'
So back to the car I went for the second time. No bottles of water, sealed - too dangerous. No small travel-sized contact lens solutions - too dangerous. No camera - not allowed. No keyring.
By the time I got back to the gate, the crowd had swollen in size. They wouldn't be able to keep that level of security up for long, especially as the bands were due to start at midday and most of the audience were still waiting outside. There's nothing worse than listening to a festival from the queue, knowing you are missing what you have paid for and it would be hard to police should that happen.
They waved me through.
'Holy shit - that's a big stage' Yes it was - the day was going to be messy indeed.
We made our way down the embankment to the far side of the cricket pitch. This was hallowed turf. The grass was short and springy. This was the field of dreams for so many 20-20 teams, and here we were trampling all over it. We took up our positions for the rest of the day, applied the sunscreen and went in search of beer.
It was easy at first. The two small bars both had plastic glasses and beer, but the lines were long and R100 tips were flying around in the vain attempt to get served. Nico latched on to the chap next to him who had more money to flash around than most.
'Hmm, that feels good. Nice work Nico. Thanks man!'
Cold beer on a hot day with music flowing feely. It was a great day. I wandered over to the stalls. The 'young trendy' companies were out in full force. Coke and Motorola dominated the skyline. Around the ground people were lining up to dip their hands in paint and make their print on the Nelson Mandela board for HIV. His charity '46664' was gaining prominence, and as the bands had all contributed to the wall of hands, the support was flooding in.
Ahha - merchandise. Ooh - lovely new Metallica t-shirts. As I handed over the money I just shrugged. Oh well, it's not like I intended on eating for the rest of the month anyway.
The music kicked off and the three large video screens spluttered in to life. I didn't recognize the band, or the language they were singing in, but the crowd seemed excited. The sound of a large crowd whistling is one of my favourite sensory thrills. It's so powerful. Karen Zoid (the pterodactyl lady) did her soft Afrikans rock and was followed by the lovely looking guy who used to lead up the 'Spingbok Naked Girls'. The pace was picking up. Time for some more beer.
"Hey man, what's the story? Why isn't the line moving?"
I'd been standing in the mush around the beer tent for ten minutes and was yet to see anyone leaving with beer.
'They ran out of beer, and now they say they will open again at 4pm once the new barrels have been cooled down.'
"What? How can they run out of beer three hours in to a twelve hour festival?"
'Beats me. They've run out of Coke too!'
"But this bloody thing is SPONSORED by Coke!"
"I predict a riot"
I gave up. Half and hour with no movement was enough, especially as 'Simple Plan' were about to take the stage. Now where did everyone go? Bugger!
An hour later I found the rest of the gang. "Sorry everyone, I failed!" I said holding up the empty glasses.
'Don't worry, we did too. Sarnie?'
The sun had gone and given us the relief we needed. It had been a long day in the merciless heat and the crowd seemed weary. 'Seether' were on stage, and the rock section of the day was starting to crank up. The lead singers bright red hair sparkled on the stage. He was a big guy with a voice like Hootie (of the Blowfish fame). I was strangley impressed. They were tight.
The electronic stage jumped in to life on the right. The 'Stereo MC's' and Norman Cook (Fat boy Sleeeem) took centre stage, but there was only one more act to endure until the real music began. I was staying firmly at the main stage. 'Soul Collective' seemed well known to the crowd, and sported smart suits and floppy hair. This was the first band to ever be nominated for major music awards in their native US, despite the fact that they had never signed up to a record company.
Darkness. The power failed. Only in South Africa.
The videos screens were gone (not for the first time), the audio stopped and the stage melted in to the black of the night.
"Oh my God. They better get this sorted out in time for Metallica. That's just embarrassing!"
The crowd were silent. How long before the chanting would begin. Some poor techies were probably having the worst day of their lives, scurrying around behind the scenes, furiously trying to get everything back on line.
Vocals echoed through the night. It was the lead of Collective Soul.
'Hello South Africa. I am going to stay on this stage until we finish the whole fucking song. We are Collective Soul!'
Lights crept back in to life and the crowd began to cheer. They were in the middle of their final song when the world had flipped off the switch, but I was relieved when their set was over. Every minute spent listening to other bands was a minute wasted by not listening to Metallica.
The crowd sat down and waited for the main event. Please God don't let the power fail again. It would be too much to bear.
'I want every last bit of your energy South Africa!'
JAMES, Lars! Kirk! Rob!
The growling guitars swept out across the field and surrounded our pounding hearts. They were not going to take it easy tonight. This gig officially meant that they had finally played all the continents. It was going to be a messy night.
The video screens went ballistic. Images from the Metallica archive danced across the blazing displays. Old photos, black and white films of eyes and operations, roads passing by, album covers of the eras gone by.
'Enter Sandman - Yes - We're off to NeverNever Land'
The crowd surged, hands grasped up in the air, bodies blasted against each other. The mosh was on. Rob Trujillo started the deep bass riff, his face in pain as he sustained the intricate rhythm that is better suited to the thinner neck of the lead. Lars was on fire. I felt engulfed by the ricochet of his drums.
'Hush little baby, don't say a word'
James led the silent voices of the whispering congregation.
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep"
The crowd went wild. I couldn't quite believe what was happening. Fade to Black eased its way across the skies. As I looked up I could almost see the colours of the music as the shapes formed in my mind. The curves and spirals, the jagged helix of desire. These feelings were too long in coming. I had missed a season of festivals back at home, and this release had felt a world away all too often of late.
They were slick, moving seamlessly from one classic to another. They skirted through all the albums while entwining new songs from their forthcoming album. And then it was over. The crowd went silent. Did they not know that this couldn't be the end of the show?
People began to leave. The stage was in darkness.
'No - they have to come back on - we haven't had some of the real classics yet - they just wouldn't leave a crowd hanging, especially after waiting 20 years to play.'
I whistled and screamed. The teenage lads next to me joined in, and the realization spread that gig etiquette requires that you have to feed the performers too. It's not a one way deal, but the South African crowd were rock virgins. It was bloody hard work.
'Where are they all going?' People were filing out!
The minutes seemed slow, and the lack of noise from the crowd potentially useless. I was worried to the core. It was almost taking too long. And then a solo guitar spiraled out over the stars. 'The Unforgiven'
Relief. The dark bodies began to sway in unison. Astonished faces lit up by the purples from the stage. As we rattled through the missing tunes, the encoures gained momentum. Encore number two brought out lighters - 'Nothing Else Matters' and at that moment nothing really did. I was in heaven. To think that this band was nearly lost forever. It was a night I'll remember for a long time.
And there is was, 'Seek and Destroy'. The final song. The third encore. By now the crowd had worked out what to do. It had been an education. The applause lasted forever. It was a long goodbye, and a promise of more to come in the future with the release of the new album. I would be there.
I stood and watched the dark stage, unable to move. The crowd filtered out around me. This had been a wonderful night.
Trujillo had a few words:
"It feels like it's all very heavy and grooving and there's a certain magic, which is hard to explain, but there's a certain special something that's going on in out world right now."
Correct - straight from the bassist's mouth.
Stay metal man.
Forever trust in who you are.