After months of anticipation, weeks of rehearsal and hours of standing in line for the merch table to buy a commemorative T-shirt, fans finally got to see Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony christen the new home of the Golden State Warriors in Mission Bay on Friday, Sept. 6.
The concert at Chase Center, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Bay Area metal group’s first collaboration with the orchestra in 1999, was called “S&M2” — as in Symphony and Metallica, the sequel — and drew 16,000 fans from all over the world, some who paid upwards of $9,000 a ticket on the secondary market for the privilege of being in the room.
With the four members of Metallica — singer James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich — playing on a circular, revolving stage in the center of the arena floor, surrounded by 75 members of the Symphony and conductor Edwin Outwater, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house as the musicians opened the evening with a cover of Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” before tilting into the instrumental “The Call of Ktulu,” firmly establishing the show’s cinematic tone.
The three-hour concert was split into two parts. The first half felt refined, showcasing the interplay between Metallica’s thundering riffs and the Symphony’s sweeping strings on brooding songs like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Memory Remains.”
Despite the visual dissonance of seeing people in the audience clad in head-to-toe black banging their heads to celestial harp flourishes, it made perfect sense — the orchestra highlighting the inherent drama and friction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band’s music, giving it additional muscle and speed in the process.
“There is no place on this planet Metallica would rather be tonight than here with you,” Ulrich proclaimed.
Outwater seemed to relish being onstage as much as the band members, flailing his arms, leaping in place and clearly breaking a sweat as he led the orchestra with his wild gestures.
When Metallica performed with the Symphony 20 years ago, the band’s brute force overpowered the accompaniment. On Friday, Outwater brought balance to the mix, asserting the strings and percussion while giving Metallica wide berth to, well, be Metallica.
The second half of the show featured an opening set by the Symphony’s veteran Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who academically introduced the metal-heads in the crowd to Prokofiev’s “Scythian Suite, Op. 20, Second Movement,” explaining it represents “where classical music and heavy metal fuse and combine.”
In what was his second public performance since undergoing heart surgery earlier this year (also marking his final season with the Symphony), Thomas was then joined by Metallica for a run through Alexander Mosolov’s cartoonish “Iron Foundry;” and a solo turn by Hetfield and the orchestra on a version of “The Unforgiven III” that nearly drifted unforgivably into new-age territory.
Thomas’s portion felt like an outlier, a concert within a concert that didn’t quite fit with the larger mood of the night. It felt like the product of separate rehearsals, conversations and ideas, one that didn’t necessarily resonate with the shaggy crowd, many of whom sat down and didn’t get back up until it was over.
It also made the second set feel discordant, as the band moved abruptly from a tough-but-tender rendition of the ballad “All Within My Heads” to a heavily distorted take on “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth),” from 1983’s “Kill ‘Em All,” performed as a solo by the Symphony’s principal bassist Scott Pingel in tribute to Metallica’s late founding bass player Cliff Burton (whose 94-year-old father was in the audience).
The overall setlist, leaning heavily on more obscure and recent material, drew some grumbling from fans on social media. But Metallica pulled it back in for the final sprint through its “Headbanger’s Ball” classics, turning up the volume and riffage as it soared through “One,” “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters” and the set-closing “Enter Sandman” with a racket that was amplified tenfold by the Symphony.
In one sweep, the concert suddenly felt dangerous, with fans rushing the stage, moshing in the aisles and puking on the brand new floors — essentially all the things you want form a quality Metallica concert, no matter where you are.
Waiting for Metallica and San Francisco Symphony to take the very circular stage for the opening concert at Chase Center. Everything is shiny and new. pic.twitter.com/di9OTLdfgn
— Aidin Vaziri (@MusicSF) September 7, 2019
What was most remarkable was how intimate Chase Center felt.
The venue is physically more compact than the Oakland Arena and the SAP Center, even though it can hold more than 18,000 people on game days. That works well once fans were settled in their seats but the narrow walkways from the entrance to the entry portals became quite congested before the concert — no doubt because of the diehard Metallica fans faithfully forming mile-long lines for the merch booths. That may not be the case when Bon Iver plays.
Getting to the venue also proved to be easier than expected. With a steady flow of bikes, trains and other forms of mass transit, thousands of people moved in and out of the area with relative ease. If that keeps up — especially when the Giants have a game at Oracle Park down the street — Chase Center could very quickly become a new favorite destination for even the most incredulous locals.
Or, as Ulrich so delicately put it, ““How f— cool is this? We have a new arena in our backyard. F— yeah!”
Those who missed the concert and all its flowery language (or couldn’t score tickets for the fan-club show at the same venue on Sunday, Sept. 8) will be able to watch it when a filmed version hits theaters in October.
Click here for The Chronicle’s ultimate guide to the new Chase Center.
— Metallica (@Metallica) September 7, 2019
Metallica and San Francisco Symphony Setlist – Chase Center, Friday, Sept. 6
1. The Ecstasy of Gold (Ennio Morricone cover) (performed by the San Francisco Symphony)
2. The Call of Ktulu
3. For Whom the Bell Tolls
4. The Day That Never Comes
5. The Memory Remains
7. Moth Into Flame
8. The Outlaw Torn
9. No Leaf Clover
10. Halo on Fire
11. Scythian Suite, Op.20 , Second Movement (Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev cover) (performed by the San Francisco Symphony)
12. Iron Foundry (Alexander Mosolov cover)
13. The Unforgiven III
14. All Within My Hands
15. (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth
16. Wherever I May Roam
18. Master of Puppets
19. Nothing Else Matters
20. Enter Sandman
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