Sometimes, in the course of a human life, it is necessary to get thoroughly tanked and rock out. Few venues offer the possibility to do both with as much furor and vigor as Metallica—live in concert. While I would not refer to myself as an especially avid fan of this band, I will say that their live performances exude an energy rarely equaled in our mundane, everyday lives.
After traipsing around the Old Town of Tallinn for a few days, methodically embarrassing myself in a fine restaurant called Chakra, spending nights in a moving hotel and religiously watching flight updates due to the ashen disturbances of a certain unpronounceable volcano in a far-off, bankrupt country (but whose people are very nice!), it was finally time to make our way to the site of what is arguably Estonia’s greatest moment of international fame—hosting the Eurovision Song Contest. Of course I’m talking about the Saku Suurhall, the indoor concert venue. The Song Contest was hosted in this country thanks to one Dave Benton and another Tanel Padar having won the previous year’s competition by singing a rather unlikely duet. But the tune was catchy. Come On Everybody? Is that what they sang?
We arrived in the parking lot of the Saku Suurhall and waited for friends, a full hour before the warm-up acts were to take the stage. It had been a few hours since we’d eaten at Chakra, so we went to Statoil—the Norwegian-owned gas station chain. There was quite a line for the jaan, as most everyone was already drunk. Half the cars in the parking lot had small crowds of people standing and drinking beer, each time bending over to take a sip so the beat cops wouldn’t see them consuming in public.
I ordered a hot dog. The bun was a tube. They offered mayonnaise. I declined. Ketchup, please. It tasted surprisingly like a hot dog. I’ll eat one again in the future. This concludes the restaurant portion of our broadcast.
Originally Metallica was to give two concerts in Riga, Latvia. Due to poor ticket sales, one of the shows was moved to Tallinn. This is either because of the economy or the staggeringly expensive tickets, mostly priced at one thousand five hundred kroons. Personally, I think both were responsible, but I could be wrong. And still neither show was sold out. Throughout the entire performance, there were large swathes of seats left completely empty. The band could see this as well.
One thing I would like to point out regarding the tickets and seats: it is possible to choose seats for the movies, buses, trains and so on. These tickets are a fraction of the cost of Metallica. But seats at Metallica could not be chosen. Where you wanted to sit just wasn’t an option. There were sections, of course—standing room, assigned seating and a restaurant? With a wait staff? “Excuse me, Krista. Could you bring me another beer before Enter Sandman? And a bowl of onion soup, too. Thanks!” We got lucky. Third row and on the aisle. The aisles were kept clear by very large, bald bouncers, one of whom actually instructed me that I would have to remain seated for the entire performance.
Hoards of people standing outside gave the impression the line was long, but in fact very few were actually waiting in line, and we were inside within two minutes. Most of the men were getting patted down, but the bouncer took one look at me and just let me in. I guess he recognized me. But what were all those people doing outside? Selling tickets. It’s common. It’s called scalping. These scalpers were selling heavily discounted tickets. Five hundred kroons for most of them. I guess a lot of people had planned on flying to Tallinn to see Metallica. One of my friends missed the show for that very reason. Whereas most of the Estonians I know who wanted to see the show were stuck with tickets to the Latvia concert.
The building itself was quite nice. A coat check was the first thing I noticed, and there were several food vendors. I wish I hadn’t rushed to Statoil. The jaans were a bit few and far between for such a large place, and if you found one it could only accommodate four people at a time. The walls of the jaans were built at an angle, causing understandable confusion for concertgoers who had consumed copious amounts of brew. As expected, the stall was eventually rendered useless. The cleaning ladies apparently weren’t on duty.
After the warm-up bands, I couldn’t help but notice that the music played in the meantime was just amazing. It always is at big-name concerts. If only that music was from a radio station. I would listen to that station, and that station alone. Then the lights dimmed, and a recording of Metallica playing music blasted through the speakers while Metallica themselves made their way to the stage to start playing music. Of course the concert rocked out. It was amazing. It always is. It is Metallica.
At one point, during a slow song I don’t particularly care for, I stepped out to the section where tobacco products are consumed, and saw none other than Tanel Padar. Twice in two days! Four years ago, when Metallica sold out the Song Festival Grounds (upwards of eighty thousand tickets), Tanel Padar was the opening act. He hadn’t been invited to reprise that role. I wonder if he had been forced to purchase a ticket to this performance.
The thing about Tanel Padar and the Sun (his band) is that while they are very talented musicians—anyone who can play guitar, in my book, is talented—I find their music boring. The melodies are completely lackluster and I feel not a drop of the energy I pick up from most other bands. But that’s just my opinion, so while you can disagree, you can’t say I’m wrong. Because it’s an opinion. Opinions can’t be wrong, by definition.
And then he spoke to the small crowd surrounding him.
“Do you have a pencil?” Everyone laughed hysterically.
“That’s not a pencil.” More laughter.
“Is this a pencil?” I think I saw tears in one man’s eyes.
“I need a pencil.” Comic pandemonium erupted.
“Do I need a pencil?” Mr. Padar continued his erudite observations of literary tools.
“Where is a pencil?” At this point I just went back inside.
In the States, it’s often considered bad form to wear the T-shirt of the band you’re going to see. It’s the opposite here. I’d never seen so much Metallica attire in one place. And again, I didn’t hear any Estonian. Most of the people I happened to see and hear were Finns. There was one middle-aged man sitting across the aisle from me who sat up straight as an arrow and did not move for the entire concert. His facial expression did not change. His button-up shirt said “Suomi” on the back. Where are the Estonians?
On the way back to the Hotel Vertigo our designated drivers were not familiar with the streets of Tallinn. My partner-in-law gave directions. At one point he told us to turn right. From the back seat, he couldn’t see that the right turn lane was for buses only. Both of our cars turned, and a police patrol car saw it. They started following us, but didn’t flash their lights. As we were already at the hotel, we turned into the parking lot and stopped. The officers got out, approached us, and asked for identification and registration.
Neither of the drivers was Estonian, and neither were the cars’ owners. The cops never even said what we’d done wrong. It was obvious we’d made a harmless, honest mistake, and they returned our cards and told us to have a good night, in English, and with a smile.
A week after arriving back in Tartu, I received a warning in the mail from the police. But that was because I sped past one of the new droid cameras on the highway. See, we were hungry, and we were anxious to get a Statoil hot dog.