Call them guitar geeks. They are mostly middle-aged white working-class guys who have a thing for guitar heroes past and present. After an evening of guitar pyrotechnics, they will crowd around the bar and pound beers and vodka shots and pontificate on the virtues of, say, Ritchie Blackmore vs. Pat Travers or Joe Satriani vs. George Lynch. They know every famous rock guitarist and keep a mental file of guitar-god trivia such as what brand of amp Stevie Ray Vaughan used. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I too am a guitar geek, so when I mention Kirk Hammett’s name and say that without him Metallica would be just another bar band, you know where I’m coming from.
“Sometimes,” writes Chuck Klosterman in his book Fargo Rock City, “I think Hammett is the most underrated guitarist of his generation, even though he bores the piss out of me 80 percent of the time.” Likewise, I find Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield to be tireless rock-and-roll drones. They are dispensable, cartoonish musicians, even though they’ve won Grammys and are among the richest of heavy-metal musicians. Come on — Hetfield sounds like a singing Popeye.
Founded in ’81 in Los Angeles by Ulrich, Metallica had the good judgment early on to eject original guitarist Dave Mustaine in favor of Kirk Hammett, who has since carried the band and created Metallica’s most memorable riffs. Rolling Stone ranked him at number 11 on its list of the top 100 best guitar players in 2003. His work is intimidating, always original, and never cliché. He’s earned his place in the mythical hall of immortal guitar heroes, a point that I will argue until last call with any guitar geek, metalhead or not.
METALLICA, Cox Arena, Monday, December 15, 7 p.m. 619-594-6947. $59.50 and $79.50.