At one point in Metallica’s sold-out show at Soldier Field Sunday night, singer James Hetfield turned to an 8-year-old boy sitting on top of his father’s shoulders and asked him point-blank, “What does the next generation want to hear? … Do you want it heavy?” before the boy (and the crowd) roared with applause and the band chugged its way into ’91 staple “Sad But True.”

The show, Metallica’s first-ever at Soldier Field (and first headlining appearance in Chicago since 2009), was as much about passing the torch on to a new guard as it was about leading by example and proving they still have a place in the maelstrom of modern metal.

Though the band looked like a miniature diorama on the Goliath stage, five skyscraper-height screens magnified images of Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo, making them appear larger than life for two full hours. The symbolism carried on with round-the-clock pyrotechnics, full-score fireworks, cinematic visuals and a Tetris stage with multiple ramps and glory platforms that gave meaning again to stadium shows. This night was Metallica’s Super Bowl performance that fans have been petitioning for for years (and the Grammy performance they should have had in February).

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich perform at Soldier Field on Sunday, June 18, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

For those that have likened Metallica’s latest album “Hardwired to Self Destruct” as good as their 1980s heyday, they are right. The band played nearly every song from disc one (such as “Atlas, Rise!” and “Now That We’re Dead,” which was followed by an impromptu drum circle) with seamless transitions into the money shot material like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Wherever I May Roam.”

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For a band which has been playing large arenas for the last three decades, Metallica also did an excellent job of tempering the show’s grandiosity with rare intimacy. At one point in the set, they migrated to one of the smaller extended platforms, all four musicians crowded on stage. “This is like the Metallica garage way back in the day,” Hetfield joked as they ripped into “Seek and Destroy” while old showbills of their first-ever Chicago gig at Metro in 1983 filled the screens.

One of the more poignant moments was Trujillo’s bass solo on “Anesthesia” while footage of the late Cliff Burton (an original member who passed in 1986) played behind him. “We don’t care what color you are, what religion you follow or who you voted for,” said Hetfield at one point in a moment of unity. “Tonight we are here to celebrate our similarities. We are Metallica family.”

Avenged Sevenfold lead singer M. Shadows performs at Soldier Field on Sunday, June 18, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Opening was hard rock act Avenged Sevenfold, who rallied the crowd with radio hits “Hail to the King” and “Nightmare,” as well as hometown act Local H, which won a national radio contest allowing them to provide support on select dates. With breakneck songs like “High-Fiving MF” and “Fritz’s Corner,” they won over the early entrants with their two-man fury that filled the field. Frontman Scott Lucas also brought out Aly Jados of local band Blood People in a display of showmanship — the group was also in the contest running early on. Other surprises included an appearance by The Misfits Jerry Only who helped radio personality Mancow introduce the night’s DJ, Beastie Boys’ Mix Master Mike.

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

Metallica Set List:

Hardwired
Atlas, Rise!
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Fuel
The Unforgiven
Now That We’re Dead
Moth Into Flame
Wherever I May Roam
Halo On Fire
I, Disappear (Kirk Hammett solo)
Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth) (Robert Trujillo solo)
The Four Horsemen
Sad But True
One
Master of Puppets
Fade to Black
Seek & Destroy
(Encore)
Battery
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman