Metallica fans came from all over the world – representing such far-flung locales as Finland and Chile – for a six-hour celebration at the Fillmore in San Francsico on Monday night honoring the band's 30th anniversary. The event featured several musical tributes and special guests, including an appearance by former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted.
The first of four such shows this week, the kickoff party began with a big-band jazz tribute by the Soul Rebels. The New Orleans ensemble joyfully reinterpreted Metallica classics, including "Enter Sandman" and "One." The brass section marched to the stage while the members of Metallica enthusiastically rocked along from an overlooking balcony.
The mood was festive to say the least. Audience members had to win a fan club lottery to get tickets, and most people had to travel a great distance. Immediately upon entering the building, it was apparent this wasn't just another Metallica concert; this was something special. The band literally transformed the venue into their own banquet hall, complete with the Fillmore's Poster Room serving as a makeshift Metallica Museum featuring artwork, instruments and other group memorabilia.
Frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich strolled onto the stage early to explain the proceedings: "If you don't know by now, Metallica is throwing a party, and you're all invited," said Hetfield. He handed the mic to comedian Jim Breuer, who hosted several "game shows" using contestants plucked from the audience. The first competition focused on band trivia while a second game was entitled "Name That Riff."
Next up: Helsinki cello ensemble Apocolyptica, known for reimagining Metallica songs on cellos, played a set of their arrangements, including "Master of Puppets" and "Nothing Else Matters."
As Hetfield warned, this wasn't a Metallica concert – it was a Metallica party. Ulrich casually hung out in the audience for a bit, meeting and mingling with fans, while other fans lined up at a booth to film messages for the band to view later. Meanwhile, pre-recorded congratulations from friends and peers were projected onto a large video screen. These included a number of greetings from their musical friends, such as Slipknot, Scorpions and Kid Rock, but also featured Rolling Stone's David Fricke, celebrity chef Guy Fieri and Beavis and Butthead. Also, notably, U2 filmed a short skit in which they were in a therapy session, playfully referencing Metallica's 2004 theatrical documentary, Some Kind of Monster.
In a touching part of the evening, Hetfield and guitarist Kirk Hammett welcomed late bassist Cliff Burton's father, Ray, to the stage to tell stories that his son once shared with him about being in the band. Metallica's bassist from 1981 to his untimely death in 1986, Cliff was tragically killed in a tour bus accident in Sweden.
And then, finally, there was the main attraction: Metallica themselves. Taking the stage for the final three hours of the affair, Hetfield proudly told the audience, "This is our party. We're headlining. We're gonna play. The doors are locked. You can’t escape."
The next three hours felt like a special – if surreal – mix between Metallica redux and deluxe, in which they debuted live songs for the first time, dusted off rarities and brought out a virtual parade of special guests. The band appeared as relaxed as they might be in rehearsal, joking amongst themselves as well as with the audience, often with their guard down. Ulrich even joked at one point that the band was going to launch into their new, poorly received collaboration with Lou Reed, Lulu, "in its entirety." Instead they launched into "Carpe Diem Baby" from their 1997 release, ReLoad, followed by another first-timer, "Hate Train" – a previously unheard outtake from 2008's Death Magnetic. According to Hetfield, the studio version will be available "sometime next week" on iTunes.
In a stated nod to their multiple appearances at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit concerts, in which artists traditionally perform acoustic, Metallica stripped down for a cover of Nazareth's "Please Don't Judas Me." And in a move that recalled the antics of fellow Bay Area bashers Green Day, Metallica invited an audience member ("John from Chicago") onstage to shred guitar with them on "Wherever I May Roam."
After that, the night turned into a showcase for special guests, each of which represented something significant to Metallica's past. This started with John Marshall from the band Metal Church – who went to high school with Hammett and has filled in as Hetfield's guitar understudy during times of injury. He performed with the group on "Sad But True" from 1991's Metallica (the "Black Album").
Other guests included members of Diamond Head (who, as Urlich explained, directly inspired him to form Metallica in the first-place), singer Biff Byford from Saxon (who Metallica opened for at their second gig ever, at the Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles) and Apocalyptica.
But, by far, the most special guest of all was one-time Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, who quit the band abruptly in 2001. Hetfield introduced him as "someone who lived with us, and toured with us and did stuff with us for 14 years." After performing "Harvester of Sorrow" (alongside his replacement, current bassist Robert Trujillo), Hetfield begged him to stay for a second tune. Newsted obliged, performing "Damage Inc." to a room filled with very happy fans.
"We feel very grateful," said Hetfield at the show's conclusion, when they brought out all the evening's performers for a mass collective take on "Seek and Destroy." Hetfield's honesty was apparent and, indeed, with all the fanfare, nostalgia and good old fashioned parlor tricks the band parlayed on Monday night, every aspect of the show still came across as one of the most honest nights of their entire career. And this from a band that once let a documentary crew film them in the midst of an emotional breakdown.
Earlier in the evening, Breuer commented that "There's no other band in the world – not the Rolling Stones, not Van Halen, that would treat their fans the way you're being treated tonight." And he might be right. Hetfield really drove it home when he was simply trying to kill time during a stage changeover: "We're all friends here, right?" he asked. "Well, we are now."
Friends. Fans. Indeed.