Metallica shoved the mosh pit into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Heavy metal's heaviest hitters, whose menacing, monstrous sound has banged heads around the globe for decades, were inducted into rock's shrine on Saturday night, capping a star-studded ceremony that felt much more like a concert than an awards show.
For the first time, the no-holds-barred show, back in Cleveland following a 12-year holdover in New York's Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, was open to the public.
And nearly 5,000 fans partied in the balconies inside renovated Public Auditorium as 1,200 VIPs dined below at tables costing as much $50,000 each. Many of them came to pay homage to Metallica, which earned top billing in an eclectic 2009 class that included rap pioneers Run-DMC, virtuoso guitarist Jeff Beck, soul singer Bobby Womack and rhythm and blues vocal group Little Anthony and the Imperials.
Metallica's members have survived some of the dark themes - death, destruction and desolation - that threads through their music, and their induction was a chance to celebrate their legacy as perhaps the hardest band to ever walk the earth. The event also served as a reunion as bassist Jason Newsted, who left the group in 2001, joined his former bandmates onstage for searing versions of "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman."
"Whatever the intangible elements are that make a band the best, Metallica has them," said Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who delivered a heartfelt speech in presenting the band. He recalled being on tour and hearing Metallica on the radio for the first time.
"My mind was blown. It wasn't punk rock. It wasn't heavy metal. It just stood by itself," he said. "I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was a mighty thing."
In accepting their awards, Metallica's members were joined by Ray Burton, the father of original bassist Cliff Burton, who died tragically in 1986 when the band's tour bus skidded off an icy road in Sweden.
"Dream big and dare to fail, because this is living proof that it is possible to make a dream come true," said frontman-guitarist James Hetfield, who then rattled off a long list of hard-rocking bands he felt deserve induction. "Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Rush, Kiss, Ted Nugent, Iron Maiden, Motorhead. We'd like to invite them through the door," said Hetfield, who concluded his remarks by wrapping Ulrich in a bear hug.
The evening ended with a jam for the ages as Metallica, Beck, Jimmy Page, Aerosmith's Joe Tyler and Flea brought the house down with a performance of the Yardbirds' "Train Kept A Rollin."
A guitar virtuoso, Beck, who was previously inducted in 1992 with the Yardbirds, was put in for his solo work. Although best known for his rock accomplishments, Beck's career has wandered a fretboard of genres ranging from blues to jazz to electronica.
"Jeff's style is totally unorthodox to the way anyone was taught," said Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, who presented his longtime friend. "He keeps getting better and better and better."
With two turntables and a microphone, Run-DMC broke down the barriers between rock and rap. With sparse, stripped-down lyrics above pounding beats, the trio of Joseph "DJ Run" Simmons, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels and Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell changed rap in the 1980s by taking the realities of the streets to the suburbs.
"They broke away from the pack by being the pack," said rapper Eminem, looking like the band's lost member by sporting the group's trademark black fedora and black leather jacket. "They were the baddest of the bad and the coolest of the cool. Run-DMC changed my life."