The name, the brand, the band, the institution that is Metallica is a bridge of music between the most loyal metal-head and the most average rock radio listener. Risen or fallen, however you slice their catalog, Metallica is an icon without fail in many endeavors, as both friends and enemies will tell you. While this particular writer was not privy to 2008’s Bonnaroo exploits, the absentees have been graced with a nice trinket for their devotion to an empire. Is Live At Grimey’s an early Christmas present for your littlest drummer boy or a mildly pleasing stocking stuffer to neglect as if it were a Tamagotchi? It is, to be fair, in the eye of the beholder.
From a fan’s perspective, you receive a sucker-punch nine-track live album that truly plays to Metallica’s audience. Whether you were one of the lucky ones in attendance at this Tennessee record store during 2008 or you happened to snag it all on iTunes, this setlist is pleasurable in a purist sense. Throwback opener “No Remorse” gets a dodgy but welcomed introduction, flips to crowd-pleasing “Fuel”, and amidst the whole performance, we’re graced by a nod to every release until ReLoad, with the exception of its immediate predecessor, Load. Alongside the quite audible spectators, there is a wonderful (albeit briefly interrupted) rendition of “Harvester Of Sorrow”, lots of fanfare for the staples “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and “Master of Puppets”, and back-to-back, tuned-down flashes to Kill ‘Em All, with “Motorbreath” and “Seek And Destroy” tightening the finish.
Given the stature of such classic songs, in grading this record, one needs to see everything with two sets of eyes.
On the one hand, I consider this a generous and sincere effort to not only bring Metallica’s basement show to the masses but also for the band members to show their love of the everyday record store shopper by selling celebratory wares to all equally. Spontaneous as it might have been, Live At Grimey’s is legitimate regalia for your shelf and your turntable, and all who support the band know this to be indisputable. On the other hand, the location Metallica chose for a quick metal show is not acoustically ideal for a bootleg, and it appears as though the recording was taken on in a somewhat shoddy manner. The banter between band and audience was less witty or peddling and more to do with four guys chatting up the weary concert travelers, making good on a promise and playing to their collective heart’s content; if only that sense reverberated a little better.
Does it keep its setting’s authenticity and grungy merits? Sure. The ambient sounds, warmth of skillfully taken memorable tracks, and erratic volume levels on vocals provide the listener with a sonic “wish you were there” postcard. Unfortunately, Hetfield’s singing style, which relies much more on echo and stage presence these days than a violent gruffness, and an overall sound aesthetic that is better suited to Metallica’s “Tuesday’s Gone” cover from Garage, Inc., emits the realism of Live At Grimey’s without adding much dimension to the way it approaches your ears. You can imagine being there, but it is less immersion and more like you are a paper Mario exploring an abandoned bomb shelter — flat and explosive, 50/50.
Live At Grimey’s is surely a knick-knack, a nice item to grab a tight hold on, but all in all, it feels muted in tone, like a mild shade of rust on your grandfather’s pocketknife. Aged well and kept by your side for comfortable assurance, the steel is not stainless, but the metal lives on.