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Over time, Metallica remains El Paso favorite

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Come Thursday, Feb. 28, it will have been 22 years, one month and 22 days since the borderland was blessed with a James Hetfield’s growling “yeah-ah,” Lars Ulrich’s thundering double-bass or Kirk Hammett’s euphoric guitar solo.

And the sold-out show at the Don Haskins Center will be the first time bassist Robert Trujillo brings his trademark crabwalk to the area as a member of the groundbreaking, multi-platinum record-selling kings of heavy metal – Metallica.

Despite the long wait, Metallica has a long history of ripping stages in El Paso and Las Cruces that dates back to the mid-1980s.

Here’s a look back at the San Francisco foursome’s past concerts in the borderland.

March 2, 1985: Ride the Lightning Tour, Big Apple, El Paso

Yup, it’s been more than 30 years since Metallica played its first gig at the nearly forgotten Eastside entertainment center, the Big Apple, popular in the early- to mid-1980s.

“I was a teenager,” said former-El Pasoan Dyna Shirasaki, who lives in Los Angeles. “Back then, there wasn’t a lot of bands like Metallica. They weren’t nearly as big as they are now, but they were freaking intense.”

A fan of more popular melodic hard-rock acts like Ratt and Def Leppard at the time, Shirasaki said Metallica was “the heaviest thing I had ever seen.”

May 12, 1986: Damage, Inc. Tour (with Ozzy Osbourne), El Paso County Coliseum, El Paso

Now widely considered by fans and critics as one of the best heavy-metal albums of all time, Metallica’s groundbreaking third album, “Master of Puppets,” had only been out for two months when they took the stage at the El Paso County Coliseum in 1986.

A video uploaded to YouTube in 2009 by the Metallica fan account Metallica Bootlegs features audio of a performance taken from the concert.

“El Paso?” Hetfield said as the crowd roared. “Have you heard of an album called ‘Kill ‘Em All?’” before launching into “Seek and Destroy.”

YouTube user Medved commented: “First time I saw Metallica live. I was there to see Ozzy, but Metallica blew him off the stage.”

Jan. 21, 1989: Damaged Justice Tour, Don Haskins Center, El Paso

Wikipedia says this show happened at the El Paso County Coliseum, but it didn’t. I know. I was there at the then-UTEP Special Events Center.

With the release of its fourth album, “... And Justice For All,” Metallica had risen from the underground, to headlining clubs, to opening arenas with Ozzy, to its own headlining arena tour, right before El Paso’s eyes.

I remember singing every word and whipping my hair around, trying to keep pace with Hetfield and new bassist Jason Newsted, who replaced the great Cliff Burton after Burton’s death in 1986.

My mom picked me up when it was all over, just before midnight. Chalk up another cool-mom point for her.

Jan. 31, 1992: Wherever We May Roam Tour, Don Haskins Center, El Paso

In 1992, following the release of its self-titled “Black Album,” the world belonged to Metallica.

El Paso teacher and musician Oscar Gomez was there when the band returned to the UTEP campus.

“They allowed fans to take video cameras, the huge VHS ones,” Gomez said. “I filmed it, but I lost my tape in a move. They opened with ‘Enter Sandman’ and played every classic hit they could fit in an entire concert.”

Aug. 27, 1992: Guns N’ Roses/Metallica tour, Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces

Fans, including Gomez, got their second chance to see Metallica in less than nine months.

“I cried both times,” Gomez said. “I was 16. They opened with ‘Creeping Death,’ my all-time favorite.”

The concert was just Metallica’s second gig since frontman Hetfield caught fire on stage in a freak accident on Aug. 8 in Montreal. Hetfield sang, while Metal Church guitarist John Marshall filled in on rhythm guitar.

Jan. 6, 1997: Poor Touring Me Tour, Pan American Center, Las Cruces

Supporting its “Black Album” follow-up, “Load,” this concert isn’t just remembered for being the last time Metallica would make its way to the area for more than 20 years.

Interstate 10 was closed after the concert due to ice and snow on the road, El Pasoan Lindy Hernandez recalled.

“This was before cell phones, there were long lines at the pay phones and word got around that hotels were filling up,” Hernandez said.

While Metallica’s performance was memorable as well, Hernandez says she’ll never forget the night she spent at the Pan American Center as the Red Cross handed out blankets.

“We could see Metallica hanging out in the main hallway, so we snuck around and met them,” Hernandez recalled. “Kirk signed my ticket.”

Feb. 28, 2019: WoldWired Tour, Don Haskins Center, El Paso

The wait is (almost) over.

The ultimate road warriors, Metallica is on the 12th leg of its WorldWired Tour in support of its 2016 album “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.” The tour kicked off in 2016 in Puerto Rico, and now rolls into El Paso for a concert that sold out in minutes.

It will be many local fans’ first chance to catch the band on home turf.

“I was 12 when they were in town with GNR in ’92,” said longtime Metallica fan Rick Scott. “I never had a chance to see them live anywhere else, but I’m glad that I waited 27 years to see them here at home.”

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