After weeks of speculation, it’s finally been confirmed that Metallica will headline Glastonbury 2014, and the internet’s now ablaze with debate. Everyone from The Strokes and Prince to Oasis and Kate Bush had been tipped for the Saturday night top slot – so why were the San Francisco wrecking crew handed it? Is their booking an inspired piece of outside-the-box thinking by an Eavis clan looking to spice things at Britain’s biggest festival up, or were those other acts not available? Can a metal band – albeit the biggest one out there – really deliver atop the bill at Glastonbury?
One thing’s for sure – the San Fran group are more than up for it. “We’ve been fortunate enough to play every other festival on this planet numerous times, so Glastonbury is the only one that’s eluding us,” drummer Lars Ulrich told MTV in October last year. “There’s such a vibe and it’s maybe the most quintessentially English festival. Everybody who goes there loves it and obviously Michael [Eavis] doesn’t need our help – I completely appreciate and respect that – but if he ever wants to get hold of us we’re in the Yellow Pages and ready to go!” A massive Anglophile who’s hugely influenced by British bands and festival traditions, you can bet Ulrich will have been on the live stream last year watching Arctic Monkeys dazzle, getting ideas of his own.
You can probably forgive the conspiracy theorists claiming they probably weren’t Glastonbury’s first choice of headliners – after all, festival organizers had left it pretty late to make today’s announcement. Last year’s bill, by contrast, was posted on March 28 – nearly six weeks earlier than this evening’s full lineup reveal. This is probably down to the fact that the San Fran group’s Sonisphere booking, where they’re due to headline on July 6, was billed as the only UK appearance they’d be making this year. Discussions between potential headline band’s management and festival organisers begin years in advance – in March, Reading Leeds booker explained he was already ironing out plans for 2016’s headline acts. Ulrich certainly didn’t seem to have any indication Glastonbury wanted to book them in October: “Every year there’s probably less chance of us doing it than the previous year,” he conceded in MTV’s interview.
So, the all important question – can Metallica pull off headlining Glastonbury? You could argue either way. In the for column: anyone who’s seen them before will tell you they’re tons of fist-pumping, eyebrow-torching fun (seriously, their fetish for pyrotechnics is something to be reckoned with). They’re the biggest metal band in the world with 25 years worth of anthems but at Glastonbury – not a festival that metal lovers traditionally flock to – they’re out of their comfort zone. They have a point to prove. They’re underdogs for a change at Worthy Farm. Expect them to come out all guns blazing.
Also, there’s a feeling that Glastonbury was in safe hands with Arctic Monkeys, Rolling Stones and Mumford & Sons last year. This year’s booking should ruffle a few feathers. The times when they’ve done that, the rewards have been great – just look at the reaction to Jay Z in 2008. That was a huge turning point for the Brooklyn rapper in the UK, rising above comments from Noel Gallagher who said he had no place at the festival to deliver one of the most memorable Pyramid Stage sets in recent memory. It was his greatest ever UK PR move but also a big win for Glastonbury, proving again that Worthy Farm is a place where anything can happen. 80,000 people sloshing around in the mud to ‘Enter Sandman’ is one way to prove that again.
On the other hand – Glastonbury tickets went on sale in November 2013, selling out in just 16 minutes. As is customary, no one knew the line-up. It’s unlikely Metallica die-hards were those battling for tickets, anticipating an appearance from James Hetfield and company. Which is a shame, as there’s few more devoted fandoms in music, consistently making for an incredible atmosphere at their shows. The more casual fans likely to be at Glastonbury might know ‘Enter Sandman’ – but will they know the deeper, darker, more thrilling recesses of the Metallica canon? The result might be a strangely muted Saturday night on the Pyramid Stage, despite their ear-busting sonics.
Will they wow? Lars thinks so: “Trust your friendly neighbourhood Metallica, we’ll put something suitable together.” We’ll find out for sure on June 28. Till then – start practicing your moshing.