"Francais pour une nuit" translates to "French for one night" and serves as the title to Metallica's new live DVD. The project is unique, in that it's only being sold in France and on Metallica's website, although various online retailers have now bought their own copies from these outlets and are selling it a healthy markup. Also unique is that everything on the DVD is shot and produced by an entirely French crew.
The DVD captures the veteran metal icons playing this past July on their World Magnetic Tour at the historic Arenes de Nimes, an ancient Roman amphitheater in Nimes, France. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more impressive looking venue for a concert and the producers take full advantage, making use of numerous aerial shots that capture the time-ravaged beauty of the stadium. Accompanied by the band's traditional intro music of Sergio Leone's haunting "The Ecstasy Of Gold", the opening shot of the DVD hovers above the back of the stadium facade, showing fans perched precariously at the top, seemingly only a tumble away (or a blast from a James Hetfield power chord) from falling over the edge. One of the next shots shows the band members walking alone through the gladiator tunnel leading to the stage.
A gladiator metaphor may be laying it on a little thick, but it's not a huge stretch. Nobody ends up dead at a Metallica show (at least not usually), yet they too are entertaining a rabid crowd based on a display of testosterone, aggression and punishing physical demands. Although it'd be an undertaking whose reward wouldn't nearly equal the effort, I'd love to see someone with too much time on their hands calculate the total number of notes and percussion hits played by the entire band in the course of one of their average concerts. It'd have to be in the hundreds of thousands.
The ...And Justice For All album is well-represented, with four tracks from it making their way into the setlist, including a scorching "Blackened" to open the show. Most of the Metallica concert staples are here: "Fade To Black", "Enter Sandman", "Master Of Puppets", "Creeping Death" and "Nothing Else Matters", which is the only song in the entire show I could have done without. It's a fantastic song, I'm just completely burnt out on it. A great version of "Fuel" reminds fans that their mid 90's output was much better than it got credit for. Tellingly, nothing from the much maligned St. Anger album is played. Death Magnetic, their newest release (and one of their finest yet, in my opinion), merits four songs, all of which take on an added level of heavy and translate extremely well live. "Broken, Beat & Scarred", in particular, sounds impressive, propelled by a highly original stuttering guitar riff that qualifies as one of the most badass I've ever heard. The band does a spirited take on Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy" and the somewhat obscure "Motorbreath" (from their debut album) receives a healthy airing out for the diehards before perennial closer "Seek And Destroy" concludes the show.
Two weeks prior to watching this I viewed a 1988 performance from the band that I hadn't seen in years, which I recently acquired on DVD. The hair may not be as long or thick, but Metallica in 2009 is still a formidable live act, equal (if not better) than their younger selves. Frontman James Hetfield is a friggin' riff machine, with a voice that is still strong and capable of enduring 2+ hour shows, plus he knows how to get the best out of the crowd (which isn't difficult at this show, as the French fans fortify the live reputation of European fans as the best in the world). Drummer Lars Ulrich is a whirlwind of flying arms and feet and relatively new bassist Rob Trujillo provides a solid bottom end, even if his background vocals aren't up to the snuff of his predecessor, Jason Newsted. He's also fun to watch, assuming almost animal-like predator poses at times and a curious, squatting crab-like pose at other moments. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammet has always been a little one dimensional for my liking, playing too many notes seemingly just because he can, with a tiring reliance on the wah-wah guitar effect pedal.
The band's stage setup for the Nimes concert is slightly altered from the normal one they've been traveling with, with an overhead lighting rig implementing coffin visuals (taken from the cover of Death Magnetic) absent. There also seems to be a noticeable lack of exploding pyro, normally a Metallica concert standard, but perhaps a concession to the historic nature of the venue. There are plenty of columns of flames that belch skyward intermittently, though.
A similar DVD release from a show in Mexico is tentatively set for release, as is an "official" DVD release (to be available worldwide) shot in Quebec City and Ottawa in late 2009. If, like me, you missed the band on their current tour then Francais Pour Une Nuit is a highly worthwhile substitute.