When you receive a zero-notice invite to join more than 16,000 maniacal Metallica fans in the brand-new home of the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco for a roaring celebration of a special collaborative show between the metal demigods and the San Francisco Symphony, you damn well better drop everything and make it happen.
So I blasted up the California coast on Friday, through 360 miles of an endless golden purgatorial ocean of farmland, to join Metallica and their diehard legions in the Bay Area as they christened the new Chase Center on the night of Sept. 6th.
Dubbed “S&M2,” the show was designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bay Area band’s first collaboration with the orchestra in 1999, and build on a great idea with some long-marinating new arrangements and out-of-the-box experiments. Orbiting a circular stage in the center of the arena floor, a formally-attired Metallica were surrounded on all sides by 75 members of the Symphony and conductor Edwin Outwater as they delivered a nearly three-hour run through a catalogue-spanning set of musical risks and uncharted thrills.
Fans who traveled from all around the world to attend were rewarded for their tenacity from the very onset. The collaborating artists opened the evening with an orchestral cover of Ennio Morricone’s haunting “The Ecstasy of Gold” before launching into the storming instrumental “The Call of Ktulu”. Like a flipping switch, the opening notes of “For Whom The Bell Tolls” took the crowd from fascinated observers to adrenalized participants, screaming along, spilling beer and howling their approval at every break.
In the first S&M performance 20 years ago, the orchestra was positioned behind the band. This time around, the orbital placement around the band provided the entire audience with more intimate access to the experience. Outwater leaped, fist-pumped and wildly gestured as he led his Symphony through the tempest of sound, as James Hetfield stalked the entire stage in the round, while guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo operated as anchors for their respective stage sides, with minor straying. Lars barely stayed seated for the entire damn show, leaping off his stool to pound his kit with wild-eyed, tongue-poking fervor.
What took the show from special to unforgettable was the setlist. Deeper cuts from recent albums Hardwired and Death Magnetic were given new breath in orchestral arrangement. Standouts included “The Day That Never Comes,” “Confusion” and “Moth Into Flame,” the latter being brought to a new potency that teeters on legendary in performance.
Among the few returning tracks from the first S&M experience was “No Leaf Clover,” given a far more expansive symphonic form, while first-set closer “Halo on Fire” left the walls trembling.
After a 20-minute intermission, Lars took the mic to pay tribute San Francisco’s beautiful new arena, as well as extend thanks to the Symphony players.
Then shit got weird. Symphony Director Michael Tillson Thomas, in his last season, conducted the first few songs in the set, the second joined by Metallica, and aptly called “Iron Foundry”. Most memorable, however, was Hetfield’s solo moment with the Symphony, when he put down his guitar and gave his all to “Unforgiven III”. Goosebumps return now in the retelling.
The magic was only doubled when one of the orchestra’s cellists playing a breathtaking, masterful rendition of “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” in honor of Cliff Burton, with Cliff’s 94 year-old father in attendance.
A string of smashes closed the show, including night-highlight “Wherever I May Roam,” in which the crowd provided a juggernaut accompaniment so strong, it felt as if the building itself was singing along. The power was no less impactful on “One” – and it’s damned hard to overstate the impression of an orchestra of percussionists recreating the artillery fire of the studio version. Fittingly, the night came to a close with a three-song roar-along: “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman.”
Missed the show? Didn’t have $9,000 to drop on a scalped ticket? Don’t stress. A film version of the show hits theaters on October 9 for one night, showcasing on 3,000 theaters around the world.
Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony set list:
The Ecstasy of Gold (San Francisco Symphony)
The Call of Ktulu
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Day That Never Comes
The Memory Remains
Moth Into Flame
The Outlaw Torn
No Leaf Clover
Halo on Fire
Scythian Suite, Op.20, Second Movement (San Francisco Symphony)
Iron Foundry (San Francisco Symphony with Metallica)
The Unforgiven III (James Hetfield solo with the San Francisco Symphony)
All Within My Hands
(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth
Wherever I May Roam
Master of Puppets
Nothing Else Matters
All photos except setlist by Johnny Firecloud