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I think the only place to start with this review is to talk about emotions. I'm not a big one to discuss emotional subjects, it's far more British and the done thing to keep a stiff upper lip old boy and let those pesky emotions stay in their box. However this occasion (and it was without doubt an "occasion") brought about a roller coaster of emotions, from the very beginning when the concert was first announced, around February time. My immediate feeling was one of joy and a simple clear mind-set that stated I had to be there to witness the second-coming of what was originally an unbelievable sound and spectacle of these two heavyweights colliding some 20 years ago. This collaboration produced arguably Metallica's best song of the previous 20 years also (No Leaf Clover). That emotion was soon dashed and laced with despair as it quickly became apparent that on trying to purchase tickets it just wasn't going to happen. The bots and other Ticketmaster related dottywots scuppered the dream. Dream no more.

Or so it seemed. Metallica have always appeared to me a classy organisation, both the 4 members of the band and also importantly that huge support network of managers, producers, engineers, fan club runners, and doers etc. Whoever made the call to add a second "fan club special" gig hot on the heels of the first one selling out will go down in history as a genuine hero to this Metallica gig-goer of over 50 concerts. Hope sprang eternal but we still had to hope beyond hope eternal that the lottery system of selecting the 16,000 lucky fans who would get the chance to purchase tickets for this show would shine down on us. Thank you hope eternal. What seemed like years, although was a few weeks followed and finally an email dropped into my junk account (thankfully I checked this quickly enough!) stating that I had the opportunity to purchase tickets for the gig. Elation. Followed by reality. When tickets went on sale I would be in the middle of middle earth with little or no internet connection. I sent out an SOS to Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf who despite being in his own internal hell of not being ideally placed to purchase tickets, pulled it off via his good (and truly life-saving!) friend Matt. We had tickets. Holy shit.

We had tickets. I was overjoyed. This was quickly tempered and stunted by my reality of a trip from New Zealand to anywhere outside of the good shire not being on the radar this year. Some NATO style negotiations were pursued with my better half. She is a great woman and agreed to the trip (with some cunning clauses inserted by her - how the hell was I not to agree?!). Pure unadulterated joy. It now felt like this might actually be happening. The concert couldn't come quick enough and the start of September seemed to take forever to come around following the purchase of tickets in April. Still, the 4th September finally came around and both our esteemed website host and I made it to San Francisco.

Even on arriving it didn't feel real that this was actually happening. 20 years ago this event was pitched as a unique once in a lifetime occurrence (although there were a couple of hastily added shows in Germany around that time also) and here we were days away from history repeating itself. Growing up Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf and I were sad boys. Make no mistake, highlights for us included weekly trips to the unrepeatable Jammin' With Edward for our fix of crap heavy metal and crapper put downs from said store owner. Well, I received the put downs and Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf just laughed along revelling in me being ripped the piss out of. Other highlights included taking Charlton to European glory in Championship Manager circa 1995 and the production of the limited edition "Metal" magazine - which undoubtedly launched the career of Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf to where he is today. I digress. We always, always dreamed of stomping the Bay Area, San Francisco as some cool dudes like the bands we admired from the locality (Metallica and Machine Head most notably).

Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf and I are men of culture and we immediately took in the sights, sounds and smells of the Bay Area. The night before the first gig saw us trace historic Metalli-steps to Tommy's Joynt, where Jason Newsted was apparently inducted into the band. Tommy's had a cool vibe with the sheer amount of Metallica fans all in the same place awaiting history. What I'd like to add here is just how everybody I came across who was attending any part of this weekend was just glowing. Everybody attending, whether it be one night or both, was fully aware as to how significant this weekend was going to be and was happy to experience whatever unfolded with the gig - regardless as to whether they heard their favourite songs or not, more on that later. It's also worth mentioning here just how many nations were represented across the 32,000 people attending the gigs. People had travelled from literally everywhere, again not worried whether they had just a ticket for one night or if they were lucky enough to have both.

Friday was the day of the first gig. The one we didn't have tickets for. Despair. Well, not quite. Clearly we'd have loved to have gotten in. We tried as hard as we could but it became apparent this was likely to be a forlorn task. And so it proved. The gig happened and we didn't get in. Still, we knew we'd be there on Sunday and we literally couldn't do anymore. What we both vowed was that we would not subject ourselves to any spoilers before seeing the spectacle ourselves on the Sunday. I removed myself from social media for 48 hours and when we encountered any fans we swiftly admonished "no spoilers you shits!!". Ok. not quite that harsh but you get the idea.

Sunday arrived, the day of the gig. The day again adopted a somewhat surreal quality as we breezed through it with one thing on our mind - get us into that show! 6.30pm duly arrived and as doors opened we shuffled our way in alongside 16,000 other keen attendees. By 7pm we were in. Merchandise was the first port of call. I had to get something to mark the occasion regardless of the quality, which in all fairness was slightly disappointing. As it was when I asked for various items of merchandise only to be told they were already out of certain sizes. To be honest although slightly disappointing nothing could detract from the elation I was feeling at being in the building.

The brand new Chase Center is a wonderful arena, however I'd suggest it has a couple of teething and wording issues. "Wording" issues you ask? Who in their right minds names sections "portals"? Americans, that's who. Now, Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf and I are not only men of culture but men of intelligence. But do you think we could find our portal? Of course not. This however wasn't due to our intelligence; it was due to the fact that our "portal" appeared to be the only one not listed on any signage whatsoever. We asked any number of staff to assist who all tried to point us in the right direction. Eventually we found our "portal", helpfully beyond and behind a clearly marked "exit" which on pushing through you weren't sure wouldn't take you straight out of the building. Thankfully we were in; pure elation again. Shit, now I was excited. I could see the stage and set-up which looked wonderful. Lars's drum kit sat in the centre of the arena, low to the ground with a relatively small circle around him. A second circle encompassed this with the symphony's instruments all laid out. It looked impeccable. And then the three "halo" like circles sat above the centre of the arena for which images would be projected. Now was boner time. Excitement was being replaced with arousal.

The countdown was now fully on. We secured our seats and beverages in hand. In the lead-up to the gig kicking off we started talking to two chaps in front of us who attended the show on Friday (bastards!!). They were lovely. Two San Franciscans (although one who had just moved to New York and flew back for the gigs) who talked about the cool things they get to see in the Bay but not in a showy or pretentious way just truly grateful to be able to attend events like this one. They were in awe (and rightly so!!) at how far we and many others had travelled for the gig(s). The gentleman now based in New York stuck to the no spoilers policy (you bastard!!) but did say there will be 5 moments during the gig which will literally leave you awestruck. I commented that I was prepared for 18 out of a 20 song set-list.

And then it began. A Metallica gig always begins with the gorgeous The Ecstasy of Gold by Ennio Morricone. However this isn't just an ordinary Metallica gig and that point was firmly rammed home when you have a god-damn 70 piece orchestra in front of you filling your senses with the swirling and stirring tones of this fine song. Immediately the hairs on my neck were raised and everybody stood in joy and disbelief that this was happening. The feeling was incredible. Before you knew it though the orchestra had been joined in the round by the 4 horsemen and we were into The Call of Ktulu. Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf and I had of course been through set-list connotations and both agreed there was no-way you could not start with this ridiculous one-two combination. However to see, hear and feel it was truly special. Next up we bounded into The Day That Never Comes, which sounded like of course a god-damn orchestra should accompany this song. As well as The Memory Remains (this song always, yes always sounds incredible live and with a god-damn orchestra backing it was of course even more so), For Whom The Bell Tolls followed as did Confusion, Moth Into Flame and Halo On Fire. At this point I was thinking this is ridiculously glorious and faultless with new songs having been introduced from the original S&M. And then my senses went into overdrive as a true classic moment was delivered with The Outlaw Town. This song is epic alone, alongside a god-damn orchestra it sounds humongous. Hetfield's snaking guitar work, which leads it to its thunderous conclusion, is genius at work. The orchestra complementing it all the way to the end was a moment I will never forget. And then they played No Cleaf Clover. Wow. Just wow. That one-two in a regular set, let alone with the San Francisco Symphony is unbelievable.

Part one finished and I was ecstatic with what I had seen. This is the beauty of gigs with orchestras. The intermission. Lovely. Time to take in what we have just witnessed and prepare for part two. The only downside, part one flew by and we knew part two would too. We didn't quite foresee what was going to come next...

Lars bounded onstage alongside the preparing orchestra to thank all those fans who had travelled many, many miles (thanks Lars) but also those locals who had welcomed us out of towners with such bonhomie. Lars was not only genuine and classy in doing this but also right. Every local we spoke to, regardless as to whether they liked the band, was kind, interested and proud of what was happening in their back yard. Lars is the man.

So onto part two of the gig. It began with the original conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas coming out and eulogising over the evening before leading the orchestra through its own piece. Now I mention the original conductor because he had a significant health scare early into the rehearsals and had to be complemented by a second conductor, Edwin Outwater. I think now's the time to comment on just how  outstanding Edwin was. He was not only clearly "into the gig" but the merging of the songs this time round compared to S&M to these ears at least sounded even better.

Following this Metallica then took on a classical piece, The Iron Foundry. This sounded superb. Taking the music on from this mirror-image position was genius. It sounded fresh, vibrant and interesting. Now, at this point all Metallica members left the stage except James Hetfield. Except Hetfield didn't have any instruments with him. And then the symphony began and you thought that sounds strangely familiar but like nothing you've heard. And then Hetfield began singing, arms locked behind back. The Unforgiven 3. Yep, that's right "3". Not the original, not even the reprise which features on ReLoad. The Unforgiven 3 would be the third choice of The Unforgiven trilogy let-alone being launched into this S&M2 set. Yet here it was. And it sounded ridiculous. To me it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night if not the highlight. The structure of the song had been nudged and amended to fit around the orchestra. Here it's worth mentioning just how strong Hetfield's voice sounded throughout the evening. I think S&M hosts one of Hetfield's strongest recorded outputs vocally and didn't think he could get anywhere near that level 20 years later. He sounded fantastic throughout.

How do you follow that? Well, next the acoustic guitars entered the stage and you waited for the potential Nothing Else Matters, or if lucky perhaps Mama Said. Nope, All Within My Hands sprung forth. Acoustically. The song which trails out the St Anger album with the refrain "kill, kill, kill, kill, kill...". And here it was stood bare with an orchestra. I was lucky enough to attend The Bridge School Benefit shows in 2007 here in San Francisco where Metallica debuted All Within My Hands acoustically. Not in this world did I think it would be performed in this form, on this evening. It's a stunning reworking of an oft overlooked song from St Anger.

Ok, how do you follow this opening of act two?!?! Anesthesia - Pulling Teeth from debut album Kill 'Em All of course. But not just this song. Nope, this song played by a classically trained player on stand up bass. It concluded with Lars leaping on his kit to outro the song. This was a hugely special tribute to late bassist Cliff Burton. With Cliff's father in attendance I cannot think of a more fitting way to honour the bassist who has left an indelible mark on this band.

By now, my boner has gone erect/ejaculated/flaccid and back round on countless occasions. Emotionally I was exhausted. What happens next you can be blasé with however it is just the biggest metal band of all time smashing through their biggest hits - Wherever I May Roam, Master of Puppets, One, Nothing Else Matters, Enter Sandman. With an orchestra. It is of course incredible. And that is that. No encore. And to be honest you never got the impression there would be. Greedily I'd have loved to have had Orion conclude this show but I have just seen one of greatest shows of my life (it could still be the greatest) so how can I complain?! And yet, people have complained. I must stress I have only read this from people who were not at either show. People complaining that Metallica didn't play more of the straight ahead metal classics. Why did they throw in The Unforgiven 3 and All Within My Hands? Why you complete cretins, because that is what Metallica do. They are not afraid to take risks and make things just that extra bit on edge and special. Life is about being thrown these moments which simply cannot be replicated. This is living.

At the conclusion of the concert Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf and I just sat there for 10 minutes to soak up the post-show atmosphere. Make no mistake this won't happen again. Yes, yes, I can only implore you to get along to the cinema to watch this historic occasion but unfortunately it is no substitute for being there and letting history envelop you. To finish this emotionally draining and incredibly rewarding experience I can only thank the band and everybody associated for taking this step. Mr Cheer Yourself Deaf deserves huge thanks for taking this leap into the Bay Area with me; I couldn't have shared this experience with a better person. In some sense we were searching again for our youth but it was even better living this experience in our 39th year on this planet. Our younger selves wouldn't have appreciated this as fully as we did now. And I can't finish without being an emotional sap and thanking my wife for consenting to this trip. It was a massive ask on many fronts and the fact she was happy for me to do so speaks volumes. It was a trip and gig of a lifetime. Until the next life.

Metallica & San Fran Orch - 08/09/19

The Chase Center - San Francisco

Part II: Concert Review by Steeve