Ever since Metallica signed up to play a stadium gig the day before the Super Bowl in their hometown of San Francisco, Lars Ulrich has been relentlessly checking the forecast. “The Weather Underground app has taken up a lot of my iPhone time,” he tells Rolling Stone. “About a month ago, it was wet, then it was wetter, then it was the wettest. The good news is, as I look out the window, it’s sunny and dry outside.” He laughs.
Ulrich’s good spirits are starting to show. “There’s a lot of excitement in the air, both from people that live here in the Bay Area and from all corners of the world,” he says. “It’s an awesome thing to be a part of and to have in our backyard.”
Things are looking good for what is officially CBS Radio’s annual “The Night Before” concert, set to take place Saturday night at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and to stream for free online. Part of the reason why the drummer has been worried about everything going right isn’t just because the concert will be Metallica’s first of 2016, but also because they’ll be debuting a new stage production. “It’s big,” he says. “I mean it’s really big. I haven’t seen it yet, but I got sent the first pictures last night, and it’s very vivid. It’ll light up the sky.” He laughs again.
Getting everything right for the show is a chief concern for the band. Usually, they’re able to work out the kinks of a new production on the road, but since the Night Before is a one-off, they’re going to hit the ground running. In order to get ready, the band is doing something they rarely do: play a soundcheck on Friday and invite their fans to watch. “Soundchecks can be notoriously uninspiring, but since we have to get some cobwebs out, and we figured people will be coming in from far away for the game, we invited 250 fan club members,” Ulrich says. “It’ll up the ante and keep us on our toes.”
Asked what fans can expect from the show’s set list, Ulrich says he and the band have been readying what its production manager Dan Braun calls Metallica’s “toe-tapping favorites.”
“If I told you that we were going to play all the deep, obscure tracks from Load and ReLoad, you know I’d be lying to you,” he says, chuckling. “I don’t want to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, but we’re leaning a little bit towards the classics. We do so many different configurations of set lists for if we’re playing theaters, somebody’s basement, arenas, and recently at our last couple of indoor shows, we went very deep. Last summer, we played ‘The Unforgiven II,’ which we’d never played live before, and we had tracks like ‘Disposable Heroes’ and ‘Metal Militia’ and ‘King Nothing’ after a long absence. But I will go out on a limb here and say we will lean on the classics. There will be a significant portion of those, whatever they may be.”
So when it’s all done, and Ulrich is watching the big game the next day, who will he be rooting for, the Denver Broncos or the Carolina Panthers? “The Seahawks!” Ulrich says, laughing. “But I don’t think that will do much good. You got me on that one. Sporting events have the tendency to be a lot more interesting when you actually care who wins.
“Last year, that was a pretty fucking awesome football game,” Ulrich continues. “And three years ago with the 49ers, where they came down to the last play, was insane. This year, who knows? I hope that people find the city of San Francisco a great host, and I hope that it plays out the way people want it to. I’ll be checking out the commercials.” He laughs.