In keeping with the political overtones of the past week, the 50,000 thunder-seekers entering RFK on Friday evening were as effectively split as the two-party system. The only conjecture the Metallica and Guns N' Roses camps could agree upon was that opening act Faith No More would live up to the latter part of their moniker and offer "no more" than their allotted time. Thankfully, they complied.
There is something positively menacing in the way Metallica's James Hatfield approaches his audience. From the opening strain of "Creeping Death" to the last notes of "One," Mr. Hatfield hovered at the edge of the massive stage hunched over his microphone like a gargoyle guarding Hades' gates. Clad in requisite black, the heavy metal guru led his mates through a sweat-soaked, two-hour set that drained the capacity crowd to near exhaustion. Concentrating mainly on material from their latest Elektra release, the band managed to delve into their storied past for arena-tested chompers such as "Seek & Destroy" and "Shortest Straw." The unearthing of the earlier material not only inspired the multitudes to their highest level of frenzy, it confirmed that Metallica has reached a level of instrumental maturity unequaled in rock's Panzer division. Live or on record, this four-piece band is a hard act to follow, and that's just the position Guns N' Roses found themselves in.
If you take Metallica out of the picture, the Gunners may have bettered their merely average live reputation. In spite of a voice that had obviously been ragged by their recent European tour, lead singer Axl Rose managed to carry the crowd with energy, showmanship and playfulness (referring to his recent arrest for year-old criminal charges in St. Louis). A seemingly endless bout with mountainous feedback also did little to enhance the vocal performance. In all fairness, RFK's cavernous surroundings better suit a crunch band like Metallica. The Gunners are at their best when dishing out melodic hard rock, and it's hard to be melodic in a giant soup bowl.
Still, even the most hard-to-please head banger would be hard-pressed to find fault with the set list. "Welcome to the Jungle," "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Patience," the rambunctious repertoire boasted every MTV staple of their impressive catalog. Ironically, for all their bad-boy image and ruffian persona Guns N' Roses were most powerful on subdued outings. The mournful, piano-based "November Rain" and "Civil War" were among the evening's most dramatic moments, as was the edgy treatment of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
In all, both heavy metal titans delivered the sort of deafening mayhem their followers crave. A suggestion: If, for the rest of the tour, the Gunners plan on matching the sort of payload Metallica delivers they had better accentuate the heavy artillery.