I am pretty sure that if you asked him, the greatest moment of my friend Brendan’s adolescence was his first Metallica concert. He and his friend were both members of the official fan club and were able to get front row center seats for the band’s concert at Jones Beach in May 1994. I admit that’s pretty impressive. The closest I ever got to any performance like that was second-row seats to Les Miserables that same spring; otherwise, my concert-going life has been relegated to what’s available or what I can afford–usually bleeders.
Anyway, this wound up being the culmination of a few years of Metallica fandom but also in a huge year for the band. In 1991, they had released Metallica (otherwise known as “The Black Album”) and toured nearly non-stop up until they recorded and released Load in 1996, an album that is so divisive, it’s probably worth its own entry. In the middle of all of this touring, the band released something that most bands do when they put out a successful record–a live album.
But it wasn’t just a live album; when you are the biggest band in the world, you release the biggest live boxed set the world has ever seen. Released at the tail end of 1993 and called Live Shit: Binge and Purge, Metallica’s album came in a small trunk and included three CDs, three VHS tapes, a T-shirt, a booklet, stickers, and a fake backstage pass (there was another version released with cassettes instead of CDs and subsequent rereleases have replaced the VHS tapes with DVDs). It retailed for $89.95, which was a lot of money then and actually still is a lot of money for a boxed set. You’d have to be a crazy hardcore fan to want to spend that much money.
Which, to be honest, is the nature of boxed sets. In fact, Barenaked Ladies even wrote a song called “Box Set” (on Gordon) wherein they satirize the product’s bloated nature:
It’s where we’ve begun, it’s all of greatest hits,
and if you are a fan then you know that you’ve already got ’em.
It was all brand new, an album’s worth of songs,
but we had to leave the whole disc blank ’cause
some other label bought ’em.
This is really me in a grade school play;
I had about a hundred thousand lines but of course I forgot ’em. …
Never released before, and you can tell why.
it’s just some demos I recorded in my basement.
I was barely alive, I was coughing up a lung,
so they had to use a special computer as my replacement.
A dance remix, so I can catch the latest trend
and it’ll make you scratch your head and wonder
where my taste went.
And they can definitely be hit or miss. The two Springsteen boxed sets that I have–Tracks and Live 1975-1985–are well worth their price tags. But for the most part, the average boxed set is an overdone affair with a good $20 less than its price tag. Live Shit: Binge & Purge didn’t suffer its price, eventually selling 15 million copies.
For my friends who were into the band (and to a lesser extent, myself) one of us obtaining this monster was a cause for celebration. I’d heard live albums beofre, but a band we so favorited had never done anything like this, so putting an entire Metallica concert into the CD player and blasting it like we had tickets was awesome. Plus, the band was playing music we hadn’t heard before or that we had heard of but had found hard to obtain. I personally taped “Last Caress,” “Am I Evil,” and “Stone Cold Crazy,” and would go onto crib whatever I could from Brendan’s various bootlegs, imports, and singles (well, until Garage, Inc. came out in 1998 and replaced my need for the worn-out tapes in my car’s glove compartment). And between that and “Breadfan,” I was good to go. Brendan wasn’t and proceeded to collect any import or bootleg he could get his hands on.
If anything, like the nights they capture for posterity, live albums are time capsules and Live Shit: Binge and Purge is no exception. It’s Metallica’s last gasp before they reinvented themselves as a Nineties band. If I listened to it now, I’d probably be able to picture sitting in my friend’s room reading magazines and talking about hockey while James Hetfield grunted and roared away.