Monday, August 14, 2006

From the Cathedral of Darkness

The Osaka sky is never black at night - always dark purple, or orange if there are clouds, because of the neon glow of the city. To me Osaka is a more frightening and overbearing city than Tokyo or even Shanghai, because it is so huge and so busy. When I enter Osaka I really feel like I have entered the centre of the industrialised world, full of factories and massive freeways and huge buildings towering to the sky. There is no better place to watch a Metallica concert, and that is exactly what I did this last weekend.

Metallica were playing as part of Summersonic, an annual music festival like the Big Day Out which actually manages to attract important international bands, Osaka being the centre of the world and all. Metallica played in the open air stage at dusk, right at the foot of the world trade centre, which towered over the stage like a massive neon statue. The sky was orange and from my position in the middle of the crowd I could see other huge skyscrapers marching off into the distance. The stage was flanked by two huge screens, on which we could see Metallica in detail, and the night was balmy with a slight breeze and scattered drizzle.

I last saw Metallica play 15 years ago, in Adelaide, and knew what to expect, but I was stunned by their intense energy of their performance. Songs I had seen played ferociously 15 years ago were being performed with the same, if not more, aggression by men who are well into the time when nice bands retire. The singer had the same hulking, intense presence on stage, the guitarist had the same focussed dedication he had then, and although they were all visibly aged, they showed no signs of having worn out. The crowd were in uproar from the very start, and although like all Japanese musical audiences they became quite staid by the end, Metallica never relented in their forceful performance. Against the backdrop of the neon sky and the towering buildings, the huge sound and the apocalyptic themes were like a journey into Hell.

Back in the old days, before they had to scrimp for every penny the way they do now, Metallica released a video of concert footage made from bootlegged videos (they used to encourage that sort of thing). On this video I saw an awe-inspiring performance of Sanitarium at an open air festival, and I never thought I would ever have the chance to experience such a phenomenon. Imagine my surprise then when, halfway through the performance, the band announce that they are going to do a complete, 20th anniversary rendition of the album Master of Puppets - considered by many to be Metallica's finest work - in its entirety! Fifteen minutes later, there I was yelling along to that very same song - Sanitarium - in an open-air stage on the outskirts of hell! Never had I expected to receive such good fortune, let alone in a non-english speaking country!

And in a month Iron Maiden - who are renowned for the quality of their live performances - are coming to Hiroshima. I am, indeed, in the centre of the Industrialised world - and in the heart of Darkness, at the same time!


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