Where to start…well, once upon a time, 40 years ago, a young Danish guy and a young Downey dude found each other through an ad in some free paper…and here we are. Four decades later, in 2021.
Hotels, motels… it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll, but they got there.
One of the biggest bands in rock history (by the way, someone won’t like that being said here, but it is true), who remains a phenomenon and, indeed, a lifestyle.
A band celebrating a significant birthday during an ongoing, weird global apocalypse that has filtered its filthy hold on the entire world for nearly two years. A pandemic which has caused much to change and put the mockers on live entertainment and social gatherings, especially now, especially with a variant racing through nations like lightning.
Which, of course, doesn’t stop Metallica.
Nothing else has, so why would a pandemic? As long as every precaution possible was taken and encouraged, of course.
In fact, rather than just two gigs, what about a takeover of San Francisco? What about offering the opportunity for the Met Family worldwide to come together? To congregate, commune (masks always recommended!), and throw down with each other in the sort of intimate-yet-rather-massive birthday party you’d want for four decades of incredible art?
Well, we saw it. We just lived it. We’re all struggling to catch rides and flights home right now after days of joyous, free-loving goddamn fun with old friends and Met Family.
You did it.
You made it happen.
The band just provided the invitation and hoped.
You didn’t let them down because you didn’t want to.
You braved the conditions and precautions without a fuss. You got your jabs, took your tests, took more tests, continued to take your tests, wore your masks for hours and hours on planes from all over, and came here to celebrate, to scream, to roar, to smile, to singalong.
YOUR celebration of the celebration was as much a celebration as the one you all came to celebrate.
So let’s establish right now that a party is only as good as the guests who make it. And goddamn it, you have been the greatest guests and most incredible family members a band could wish for.
Of course, there were solid reasons quite aside from the stunning music over the years.
Metallica has supplied much comfort and joy, helping us all through various stages of life, from adolescent angst to mid-life fucking crises. Still, I’ll wager that this past week – this takeover – might have been the most important of them all.
In an abnormal world, here was some normal in the mix.
At a time when social distance has become an ingredient of our reality, here we were seeing friends and family members we’d not seen on this scale since March 2020; the reconnection a pure salve for our lonely, confused social selves.
And the music and lyrics, which have propped us so many times, were calibrated for full-force delivery at the loudest possible volume hitting the sweetest possible spots.
Live music from your soul brothers, surrounded by family, with plenty of trimmings in-between… I think only Metallica could – or would dare to – make that happen in these turbulent times.
Co-manager Cliff Burnstein recently told me during our conversations for Mandatory Metallica on SiriusXM, “You just don’t say no to Metallica.”
They will always find a way.
And that has been the single hugest thing about this week for me. Before we talk about all the cool shit, we must say: it happened!!!! And I’ll tell you that it did due to the band, of course. But it is also due to the superb road crew, management, Met Club team, the All Within My Hands folks, Blackened Whiskey crew, Live Nation, Another Planet, Salesforce, Amazon and The Coda Collection, all the bands who came to play during the week, and everyone who helped and supported each other in their quests to fulfill such ambitious events. I’d name everyone, but I’d forget too many important people, so, take a moment to appreciate them all as a giant collective, please. And again, include yourselves. Without you, there’s next to nowt. And if I sound a little over-appreciative, you bet I fucking am because my head has been fogged and beautifully beaten by the world like us all. Yet, thanks to all those efforts, I got to feel that connection to this wonderful world we all enjoy so much once more.
The takeover then… yeah! White Reaper and the spellbinding Taipei Houston held court on Thursday at August Hall. Some of you joined Tony Leong and me from Another Planet for a night of Metallica Trivia as the Valencia Street Corridor in San Francisco’s Mission District reverberated with your presence at the bars and restaurants. All Within My Hands set up shop and had a chat with the fans about all the amazing work they do. (I heard advanced whisperings about an incredible venture of support in 2022 which will make you all prouder still.) And with that, the festivities were off and running.
We had night one of the main events, or should I say, “The First-Half,” the next day. By the way, I want you to know that I am not sure I have seen them prepare so hard for two shows in many a year. The focus on making sure that they – as hosts of this birthday celebration – were on point was laser pointed. The emotions? I know how much it meant, and I’m sure you do too. I could see it in their physicality, their gestures, as they stood right before taking the stage, and in the moments after that.
James looked swollen with gratitude – genuine gratitude, the sort that takes you and raises the hairs on your arms. Maybe more than anyone, he has journeyed to get to this 40th year. Although I have not asked him yet, I think there must have been a pause to reflect that when he last played Chase Center, his world underwent another large slice of tumult and self-discovery. As he started playing “Hit The Lights,” the energy pouring off him was immense.
Rob, albeit the “new boy” with only just under two decades in, carried with him the fierce focus and wide shoulders of responsibility. (I say that, laughing: “new boy.” He’s an old boy. He’s been ours forever!)
Kirk, in so many ways the catalyst for the Bay Area Metal scene, was looking in awe at the crowd as he rock’n’strolled his way around the stage.
And Lars, head down, walking to his with that slight swagger, face like stone, sunk deep in his thoughts and his adopted heft of responsibilities, his baby with James, their kid, now a mid-life adult. And after the final seconds of “Lights,” I saw him drinking in the roars from all around, feeling it, feeding off it, believing it, reminding himself that this mid-life adult he’d helped create and raise could still dial it in and on point, followed by the roars, screams, and gleeful grimaces of a show being lived and loved. Yeah. There was emotion.
As ever, the production was beautiful. An elliptical screen, sitting somewhat like a zeppelin, with multi-phased smaller screens supplementing its vastness, giving the impression of a space station, a spectacular visual feast, yet never taking you too far from the main attraction.
And then there was “Fixxxer.” A live first. 40 years of Metallica and still firsts. I don’t think it is pushing it to say the moment was akin to a religious one for you, the Metallica Family. In truth, it proved impossible to top that moment as the night one crescendo.
Of course, being bat-shit crazy fuckers, Rob and Kirk decided it’d be a great idea to have their mostly 10-piece covers jam-out, The Wedding Band, congregate as the headliners at The Fillmore where Goodnight, Texas had played earlier with the rampant Bastardane. So these nutters joined the likes of Jon Theodore, Mark Osegueda, and Whit Crane to absolutely smash a sold-out crown with childhood favorites ranging from “War Pigs” to “Jungle Boogie” to “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown).” In tracksuits. All of them. Including the brass section. A two-hour set. After a two-hour set. And Trujillo was still jumping! I’ll have some of what those two ’ave ’ad please, guv!
Saturday a day off? Come on. This whole week was “Thurfrisatsunday,” one long glorious day with some nap breaks. So you had a film festival at the Kabuki, a Q&A with Ross Halfin at the ornate Elks Lodge, Kamasi Washington at August Hall, and a thunderous tribute band night featuring MotorbreatH, Damage Inc, and SANDMAN at Bimbo’s. There was also a historic night at The Chapel where Tye Trujillo’s OTTTO, Myles and Layne Ulrich’s Taipei Houston, and Castor Hetfield’s Bastardane came together for an evening that proved rock’s future is in some giant fucking hands. For helvede, these three bands all rocked so, so hard in their own unique ways. Rest assured, you will be reading stories with them all in So What!, not in a nepotistic-bullshit way, no. In a “these bands are fucking insanely good, and you need to get on the bus right now” kind of way.
As a wise bunch of legendary English rockers once said, “the kids are alright!”
Sunday arrived too fast in a way.
The show was a selection of the deep and classic from every album (you know this because you were either with us at church or attending a virtual version of the gathering via Amazon’s live broadcast). There was some great sequencing, with the first song being “Hardwired” and the last “Seek & Destroy,” in itself not especially rare. Still, given the moment and context of back to the front, the last to first status was magnified.
Look, let’s keep it simple. They kicked some sharp, major ass, yet as we absorbed and enjoyed the stellar performance, it became even more apparent that this whole anniversary has been about you. Your part in their decades. Your role in these intimate yet enormous moments. Why do you think everyone in the crowd had a special light-up wristband under their seat? So as you could create that incredible light show on the seats, on the floor, in the nosebleeds too. The sheer electricity from the stands and floor was overwhelming.
Yeah, the band won’t mind me saying again that this was about the generations inside the building, like the mother, father, and teenager in front of me. It was about the die-hard Fifth Members who reconnected at bars and restaurants everywhere. It was about the lives that engaged in a long weekend, the likes of which appear non-existent in today’s world. It was also about taking a moment to reflect on what 40 years of Metallica has meant to you.
That included me.
What has forty years meant to me?
Well, the first plane I ever stepped on was for a flight from London to Paris to write about this band I loved at the age of 17.
Since then, we have enjoyed journeys, moments, friendships, and relationships that have been a deep 37-year part of my life.
My son, Zak, was born a year into the Wherever We May Roam tour, and he would pop up with me at shows and homes and studios and HQs from that point on. My daughter, Bea, has played drums at HQ in a tiger suit! And I’ve seen and hung often with all their lovely kids from birth to now (and these kids are all special humans: incredibly decent). We’ve been to all seven continents together, and we’ve rocked late at night with music and beverages. There have been highs, lows, lots of fun, and some deep times too. As I tumble it all out here and now, I realize I don’t have brothers or sisters by blood, but after 37 years, I think I get to think of these people as brothers.
Really, I do. And I love them all, just like you do…
…and so as “Seek & Destroy” closed us out, my head started swimming a little bit as all those thoughts and emotions of what Metallica and the Metallica Family are to me coursed through my body. And I know in my heart, you were all experiencing your own intimate connections, reflecting on them, being grateful for them too.
That’s a lot of pure love in one space, and its power showed. They say it conquers all, and let’s agree that for this week, the love generated by this crazy fucking Metallica Family really did conquer everything.
So yeah, 40 years is an epic achievement, I know, but here’s the real kicker.
As they stood there saying their farewells for the night and year, there was not one person that did not, and does not, believe that we will gather for a 50th. And a 60th. There was not one person who did not believe that there would be new and exciting creative adventures, new and exciting ways to bring their music and selves to an ever-shifting world. At a time when we don’t know what’s coming in global affairs, it was so enormously nourishing for the mind, body, and soul to know that this – Metallica – is not only as it always was, but is ready to keep on being the constant in your lives.
And as I processed the nostalgia, I quickly realized that life, indeed, begins at 40… especially when this band is concerned. These guys will never stop; they’ll never quit ’cos they’re Metallica.
Thank God, thank you, and thank you, Metallica. Now, about 2022…
Words by Steffan Chirazi
Photos by Ross Halfin
Catch an encore broadcast of the 40th Anniversary live stream between December 24 & December 27... click here for more details.