SHOW REVIEW: S&M2: Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony at Chase Center 9/8/19

Ok full disclosure here, bear with me for a paragraph to put this into perspective… I was a HUGE Metallica fan as a teen. Posters on the wall, logo on my notebook, Ride the Lightning shirt. I was suspended from school for repeatedly drawing that most awesome logo on my desk with a marker. I quit classical violin to learn guitar at age 11, listened to them all night in my bedroom with big headphones on over smaller ones plugged into my shitty guitar amp so I could play along. So naturally, my first big concert around age 15 was Metallica, Guns N Roses, and Motorhead. It was total insanity. We’re talking around 1990(?) in the cheap seats with serious headbangers doing coke drinking booze they snuck in in their pants. Different times. I think it’s the tour where James Hetfield caught fire on stage…

“Send me money, send me green, heaven you will meet / Make a contribution and you’ll get a better seat” – Leper Messiah

Fast forward, since then Metallica has grown into a timeless household name synonymous with anything metal, from cameos in “Billions” to Simpsons memes to designer tees worn by Kardashians to full-length documentaries. I’ve bumped into a few members in SF over the years (Most people I know have a Kirk Hammett story), yet have only seen Metallica live once or twice since those days and it was fun, but I have a seriously high bar to keep here. This is one of my top 5 concerts of all time, an indelible memory I cherish. So last Friday when I got a text from a good friend asking if I want to go see Metallica with the SF Symphony at the new Warriors Chase Center opening in a box suite FOR FREE, I was a little hesitant for half a micro-second but decide fuck yes, of course, LET’S GO.

Arriving at the new Chase Center out front is a little different scene than I remember at my first show, the crowd is all over the map. I feel a little like a wolf in the henhouse, surrounded by nice families, corporate groups, older types in dress shirts taking selfies, to young kids decked out in metal gear taking selfies, to Metallica fan club members with flags who flew in from all over the world. I’m in a sea of reporters and bloggers, people going live on social media, wandering around looking for my friends. This is obviously more about the new Warriors arena than Metallica for some, which is totally understandable and I’m a basketball fan, but I’m here for Metallica man. Entering the Chase Center I see why, it’s shiny and new and really impressive like a brand new airport terminal with good restaurants, cool bars, clean restrooms. I could spend a whole day here. Never mind that Oakland is losing it’s pro sports teams like flies, that’s a subject for a different post…

We find our suite and it is gorgeous, nicer than my apartment, has that new carpet smell and with good catered food, drinks and anything else you could want. No smuggling booze in your pants here. I read some people paid upward of $9,000 per ticket, this is as fancy as metal can get I think. I look out from our box as the lights dim and the SF Symphony enters to the outer edge of the large round rotating stage, and tune-up dramatically for minutes until conductor Edwin Outwater enters. An instrumental opening by Ennio Morricone and Metallica are escorted into the center of the stage to much fanfare. THIS PLACE IS LOUD. Surrounding the stage on every side are some very serious Metallica fan club members, and the sections tier up like some kind of Roman Coliseum or scene of Orcs from Lord of the Rings, it’s beautiful but darkened by Metallica and their fan’s presence. James Hetfield has perfected the outlaw biker look, I bet you’ll see him in movies soon. Kirk Hammett’s long grey hair gives guitar wizardry new meaning. Trujillo is menacing as ever, and Lars is clearly still Lars. The first song is The Call of Ktulu, and the crowd completely loses their shit including me. My hesitation is gone now, I’m all in here. That’s a serious deep cut fan favorite, and with the symphony, it sounds amazing, like a twisted film score. That’s the whole show really, an intense metal score for a film yet to be made. (Actually, they did film it for a documentary coming out October) From there the first set charges through For Whom the Bell Tolls and a bunch of newer songs I don’t know as well but that almost makes it better. It’s a whole new experience for an old fan like me, it’s refined and cinematic but just as exciting.

A short intermission to make that concession stand money, and we’re back for a second set that you just KNOW has gotta have all the hits coming. And they do not disappoint, but first a short history lesson in classical music from SF Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas who will retire at the end of this season, while Lars Ulrich meanders around banging on symphony percussion in the background as he pleases. And then we’re back with The Unforgiven followed by an unlikely cameo from SF musician Avi Vinocur (Goodnight Texas, ex-Stone Foxes) that takes me several minutes to figure out just who in the hell is that on stage. Then comes perhaps the highlight of the night for me and probably a lot of older fans, a tribute to late bassist Cliff Burton by symphony bassist Scott Pingel playing a solo electric upright bass cranked through a distortion pedal. Awesome. I later read that Burton’s 94-year-old father was in the audience that night which makes me tear up a little. From there it’s nothing but the hits from the Black Album back to Master of Puppets, and the crowd becomes visibly more animated and volatile, a little moshing in the aisles, a few super fans rush the stage on the floor. A few dudes in the box next to me pull out some weed and spray beer all over the section below and no one seems too upset about it. As the evening nicely caps with massive singalongs to Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman, I recall a little of that crazy feeling at the first concert, the thrill of being surrounded by controlled chaos and an outlet for anger and frustration that takes you along with it whether you like it or not, and you can’t help but go. Metallica may have matured and grown up a little as we all do, and the crowds may span the globe and age range now, but Metallica is and will always be forever.

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