Although point of origin shouldn’t be an issue, Metallica originally hailed from Los Angeles and during their formative years made many trips to the Bay Area before eventually moving there. So much so, in fact, that today native San Franciscans and newbies alike still claim them as their own. Today, few can argue that Metallica’s early and late eighties output yielded some of the greatest metal classics in the genre’s history. From the opening notes of Kill ‘Em All (1983) through to Ride the Lightning (1984), Master of Puppets (1986) to …And Justice for All (1988), not a dud could be found.
However, it wasn’t until Metallica literally and quite figuratively turned their own page with their self-titled album in 1991 that their longtime fans became divided. And while the record topped sales charts across the globe and catapulted the band into veritable mega-superstars limited to stadiums and headlining festivals, the group always paid attention to their fan base, making sure their live sets satiated everyone’s appetites (new and old). Without going into a lengthy diatribe about the following records which many agreed found the band taking a couple of steps backward – Load (1996), Reload (1997) and St. Anger (2003) – the band did the inevitable and moved mountains with a fantastic return to form in Death Magnetic (2008), Unfortunately, the group has been anything but prolific since.
Last Saturday’s pre-Super Bowl soiree at San Francisco’s AT&T Park – promoted by both Live Nation and CBS Radio yet appropriately and not-so-coincidentally dubbed ‘The Night Before’ – the perfectly positioned concert apexed a long, promotion-filled Super Bowl 50 week in San Francisco and its neighboring cities. Previously, the band had been largely inactive taking some much needed time off after a handful of successful festival dates in September 2015 and finding members involved with other personal projects.
With tickets fairly priced for a venue this size (prices ranged from $49.50 to $149.50), their unexpectedly announced show sold out immediately, leaving many fans bummed and bewildered. Even without a new record (or even songs for that matter), the overwhelming response was a given for a band who’s been long absent from the near-to-immediate areas. However, as luck would have it, their able management found a way for every fan to enjoy the show concurrently by teaming up with sponsors like Salesforce, CBS Radio and myriad others in perhaps one of the most successful live YouTube streams ever.
After a lengthy wait and the group’s two warm-up pieces – Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” played on the PA before Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” ran in sync with video – the quartet launched headlong into “ Creeping Death” much to the delight of everyone in attendance. And while their magnificent sound was mired by a low end bass rumble (which was later fixed a couple of songs later), fans in the general admission/floor section didn’t notice and went bonkers starting several mosh pits.
“For Whom The Bell Tolls,” also from the same ‘Ride The Lightning’ release, was a near perfect follow-up song. Although rushed at times, with tempos changing drastically from verse to chorus, the song still proved a fitting choice. Both singer/guitarist James Hetfield and guitarist Kirk Hammett used the large stage to their advantage while bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich provided the song’s mid-tempo drive.
However, much to the chagrin of many discerning ears and die-hard fans, unison fist-banging was near impossible at times to due Ulrich’s rushed drum fills which became a problem when trying to air-drum or head bang in time. The complication was exacerbated even further when the band launched into the opening number of Reload, “Fuel.” From the minute the song started, Ulrich couldn’t keep up with the myriad changes and flubbed what could probably be one of the easier songs on the night.
“King Nothing,” also from the same album, worked much better and found many in the crowd nodding and banging in consummate approval. Still, even with its grandiose guitar riff, the band seemed distant from one another and rarely looked at each other for important changes (much to the song’s detriment). Even during integral and important cues from Ulrich, Trujillo or Hammett could be found anywhere but close to their drummer. Instead, the band would rally near the close of songs to get their bearings and make sure they ended together. Not a perfect recipe but neither is a large-scale show of this size. From then on, the band delivered with many great classics including (but most certainly not limited to) “Ride The Lightning,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” “Sad But True” and the fan favorite /set closer “Seek & Destroy”.
Other highlights also included the inclusion of “Fade To Black” and “Whiskey In A Jar” which was dedicated to the band’s late bassist, Cliff Burton. Oddly enough, Ulrich delivered during the faster-paced songs with greater effect as evidenced on the bridge of “Ride The Lightning” and the barn-burning assault of “Battery” but struggled whenever dynamics or slower-paced fare came into play (see performance of “The Unforgiven” for good measure). Aided by a wholly competent video and audio team, the band’s mistakes and missteps were went seemingly unnoticed and overshadowed by the sheer enormity of the event.
Even during Kirk Hammett’s two (yes, two) head-scratching and wholly unnecessary guitar solos or Trujillo’s lone bass jazz odyssey (which ended with Robert de-tuning his instrument), many fans applauded nevertheless preferring to, instead, to revel in the all-too-rare moment of seeing their favorite band onstage again in the Bay Area. For a band that stayed away from San Francisco for so long, it was quite the spectacle to see them playing their own backyard and with such fervor and passion.
And even while singer James Hetfield made a couple of jokes about the band’s inability to produce a new record (which he laughingly claimed was twenty years in the making), fans cared little on this night. Flaws and nitpicking aside, The Night Before’ served as a wonderful respite from many of the other not-so-heavy metal activities during the Superbowl week. Additionally, it served as a way to remind us why Metallica deserve to be recognized to their contribution to heavy metal history. While not considered their greatest show by fans who’ve seen the band multiple times, many will be talking about the band that was truly “Too Heavy For Halftime” for years to come.
Intro 1 The Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy song)
Intro 2 The Ecstasy of Gold (Ennio Morricone song)
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ride the Lightning (with Bleeding Me riff and Kirk solo)
The Memory Remains
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Sad But True (with Rob solo)
Wherever I May Roam
Master of Puppets
Battery (with new song jam, Kirk solo)
Fade to Black
Seek & Destroy
Whiskey in the Jar (Dedicated to Cliff Burton)
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman (followed by ‘The Frayed Ends )
Photos: Paul Piazza