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Steeve (whose wonderful review I hope you have already read) and I met and spent our teenage years in the not posh part of Harrow on the outskirts of London. Our story was the modern day Romeo and Juliet, Jets & Sharks as we united across the divide that in those days was thought of as unbridgeable. My favourite band was Megadeth and his was Metallica.

Whilst most teenage boys were discovering drinking and girls we discovered music and because we were sad (or in our minds right) spent all our time lapping up this new fascination both at our local independent record store Jammin’ with Edwards and (by luckily being in London) attending lots and lots of gigs.

I bring this up because twenty odd years later nothing much has changed. Steeve might have got married, moved to New Zealand and produced a little Steevette, but otherwise life is pretty much the same. I masturbate constantly (although internet porn has advanced a long way since my teenage years) and we both still have a huge fascination with music. The typical text does not ask ‘how the family are doing’, or what has the other been up to but instead asks, ‘Have you heard the new Corrosion album?’ Or ‘Did you see Chris Kontos is back in Machine Head?!’ These things are still important to us and nothing gets us more excited than discovering a new band or attending a show. And this brings us nicely round to the point in hand.

When we were both 18/19 we picked up the S&M album by Metallica. The title was of course a play on words of one of the many categories you can now whack off to on Pornhub but (even) more excitingly actually referred to the fact that Metallica had recorded a show with an orchestra. We knew the shows were happening but also knew that we couldn’t get there. It was impossible for us. Still at college (or just into work, I can’t remember) and with the internet not like it is now, we had no money or means to get tickets. Watching the DVD we knew it was special but also knew we had just missed out on a unique performance that would never happen again. It would have been gutting if we had any thought that we could have gone but instead it was confined to a mystical other worldly experience that happened to other people. No doubt we contented ourselves with the fact that a Machine Head or Kill ii This show was just around the corner…

It was around Spring this year that the news broke that Metallica was doing a 20th year anniversary of the S&M shows. As soon as the news broke the texts started flowing between us, Have you seen the news?, Yeah! We have to go! It’s the one thing from our youth we just couldn’t do. We HAVE to go!

Tickets went on sale and as Steeve mentioned also went off sale in about five minutes. Hitting refresh on the Ticketmaster site for five minutes competing against the bots and then seeing them on the resale site at five times the price (and they weren’t exactly cheap in the first place) was heart destroying. Childhood dreams are of course no match against the almighty dollar and so as quickly as the dream had arisen it had also disappeared.

It seems however Metallica are as ever (as much as the posters on Blabbermouth will say otherwise) good guys and having been made aware that so many of their fan base missed out on the tickets due to the bots decided to do a second date for fan club members only. Of course it wasn’t a guarantee; there is a huge fan base and there was only one arena show. However we were back in with a chance and especially Steeve as he was a legacy member whereas I was a newer freebie one.

I received my email first, ‘I am sorry to say…’ and it was not really a surprise. Steeve and our other friend John had received nothing. I think they had both resigned themselves to their fate of not going but for some reason I still had hope and…

A text came through from Steeve… The email has come through; I have a chance to get tickets!!!!! We were on!

Steeve however was in the middle of nowhere on the day that the tickets went on sale (the day after the email). If you didn’t get them on that day then the offer would be withdrawn and a second sale for those that missed out would occur. He passed on the duty to me.

I also had a problem. I was in Bristol to see Monster Truck. It wasn’t ideal but there I was in a pub, hoping my roaming data would do the job and I entered the Ticketmaster site and clicked on a seat selection… unfortunately these tickets are no longer available. I tried another and the same message. Again and again, no luck. My friend Matt who was with me was roped in. ‘Get onto the site and give it a go’ I politely demanded. It seemed like hours but was still at least twenty minutes before Matt pipped up, ‘I’ve got through!’ and handed me his phone so I could pay. I (and Steeve) will be forever grateful that good old Matt gave up twenty minutes of his life to help us relive our childhood dreams for no reason whatsoever other than he is nice. We were in! On a side-note however poor John was not and even more guttingly for him the one day he didn’t check his emails was the day the email had arrived telling him he had been selected! Poor John…

This is as I am sure you are aware a long intro but I truly wanted you to appreciate how monumental this gig in our minds was. It was a one off experience that was never going to happen again. It was almost mythical, Metallica and an orchestra. A part of our childhood, even if only as an experience of watching it on DVD together at each other’s (well parents) houses. It was something that would never happen again and we would never experience except now we could. I had already had a monumental and amazing experience of seeing Regina Spektor (my favourite artist for many a year) doing some hugely special shows on Broadway a couple of months ago and never thought a gig could possibly get close to that. But then this happened and well… it for so many reasons did. Let’s finally get to the actual performance!

Steeve has mentioned the problems of finding our seats  and the two cool chaps sat in front of us so apart from saying we had the joy of our seats being in a row of two, so no disturbance from either side, let’s get straight to the music and the Ecstasy of Gold intro played by the orchestra. Of course we knew this was going to be the intro and knew that it would be special with an orchestra playing it but I wasn’t expecting it to be that special. The hairs on my arms (and possibly legs but I didn’t check (and maybe pubes but less likely)) stood on end and I turned to Steeve and we gave each other a knowing look. This was happening and this was special.

The Call of Ktulu has always been a favourite song of mine but with an orchestra is taken to another level. It was special, so special but over so quickly. I was wrapped up in it, I was transfixed but then it was gone. This was my only worry; this show was going to be over before it had started.

Following on from this we had For Whom The Bell Tolls followed by a run of newer songs, The Day That Never Comes, The Memory Remains, Confusion & Moth Into Flame (okay The Memory Remains is not new but truly wonderful and from my favourite era of Metallica, the mid/late 90s (controversial I know but there you go, Load in my opinion rules). They were all performed with aplomb and the orchestration added so much. Even those songs that might not be highlights in a normal set shone but Memory, that for me always shines live, shone brighter still with the orchestral backing.

This gig just for being what it was, was already wonderful but it was the next two songs that provided the first as Steeve so eloquently put it, ejaculating moments:

The Outlaw Torn is a fabulous song from as I have already stated my favourite album and I just stood there dumbstruck. There are no words, it was just truly beautiful and the orchestra took it to another level. I know we got it on S&M one but my god it sounded good live.

This was also the same for No Leaf Clover and possibly the highlight of S&M one; a new song at the time that was up there with their best and suited the orchestra perfectly. This time was no different and along with The Outlaw Torn the highlight of part one of the current show. The first half closed with Halo on Fire (again excellent) and we waited for part II to commence.

Reflecting on the first half with a beer (Enter Night the Metallica version was on offer and not bad) we of course were delighted. I mean we were there, it was happening and it was amazing. However the dude in front of us who had been the night before said there were five moments that truly were awe inspiring and so special they would blow our minds. So far (discounting the fact we were seeing Metallica with an orchestra in San Fran!) I had only counted the one (or two depending on how you see it) of the one two of Outlaw Torn into No Leaf Clover. It had been amazing but I knew that we hadn’t even hit the peak yet.

Part two commenced with the conductor coming out and introducing to us Scythian Suite, Op.20, Second Movement, describing the history of it and then playing it with the orchestra. It was glorious, a bit of classical music in a Metallica show. The anti was then upped as he introduced the next classical piece they were going to play but this time accompanied by Metallica. Iron Foundry debuted and wow, could things get any better?

I think this was the moment I realised that the concept of S&M one had been enhanced and improved upon (although I guess being there rather than at home watching on DVD helps). Whilst S&M one felt like two worlds colliding to produce wonderful results, this time it felt like one giant colossal beast working together. The fact that the stage was in the round, the orchestra surrounding the band rather than behind them made it feel even more so a unit. The fact that we had the music of their world infiltrate Metallica’s rather than just Metallica’s infiltrating theirs was a work of genius and cemented that bond. However what happened next took that all to a level beyond all expectations. Having played Iron Foundry the band exited the stage aside from Hetfield and so we were left with Hetfield and the orchestra. Hetfield sans guitar and the orchestra.

It is at this point I am going to blow the Blabbermouth commenters minds. Unforgiven III was possibly the highlight of the night or if not a very close second. To be fair if you had told me that before the show it would have blown my mind too. I like Unforgiven III, the piano intro is cool but I can’t remember the last time I listened to it. From memory it goes on a little bit…

Tonight however it was different. Tonight it was played by the orchestra; well their interpretation of it and Hetfield provided the vocals. Yes, Hetfield, standing there with nothing but his vocals backed solely by the orchestra. We had had the orchestra entering Metallica’s world and with the last two pieces Metallica entering theirs but this, this was new, this was different, this was the two world’s combined and what a moment. The dude in front turned around and again with just looks we confirmed, this was another ‘semen escaping the penis’ moment.

I hadn’t masturbated for about a week at this point (information I am sure you were keen to know) as sharing a room with Steeve it seemed a bit inconsiderate to be knocking one out but it worked out for the best as I could therefore instacum on the next two songs also. Honestly this one and the next two were for me the crowning glories of the set.

Next we had another ‘why the fuck did they play this song’ from the Blabbermouthers as All Within My Hands got an outing, acoustically. I have always enjoyed this much underrated St Anger closer and it didn’t disappoint. This is what I love about Metallica; they will always throw in surprises and this acoustically with an orchestra was beautiful. It entered the top three songs of the night at three, with Unforgiven III at two and the number one spot going to…

(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth. The fact that this song was in the set at all was incredible but of course with Metallica it was not enough to just have it there. Apparently Rob was going to play this with the stand-up bassist but having heard the stand-up bassist play it thought his services were not needed and he was right. Just the cellist with distortion made this song special. A true tribute to the late great Cliff Burton and with Cliff’s father present, a special, special moment. The highlight of a night full of highlights.

For me Metallica have always been at their most interesting and exciting when they take risks. Often they are flawless, sometimes they are not but at least they are interesting. The leap from Kill ‘Em All to Ride The Lightening was huge and progressed through until Justice. The leap to the Black album was a giant sidestep and I loved the leftfield turn of Load. Then of course they had the orchestra part one experience, followed by St Anger and Lulu and whilst it might not have been perfect at least for me it was still exciting. The last two albums had seen them playing it a little safer and I had to be honest lost a little interest. This show was the antidote to that. I went because of nostalgia but also because I knew this show was different. The thing that took it over the edge though was just how different it was.

The second half closed off by covering all the classics of a Metallica set and it was closed off very well indeed. I mean you can’t really go wrong with One, Puppets, Sandman etc. can you? However for me it was those first five pieces of the second half that stole the show and put this gig on par with any other I had seen in my lifetime (and bearing in mind I am now almost 40 that is quite the achievement). The two classical pieces, followed by Hetfield with just an orchestra, the surprise of All Within My Hands and then the amazing Cliff tribute was just perfect. It was a dream come true not only for my eighteen year old self who had never imagined this happening but also for my now almost forty year old self who shouldn’t be blown away by gigs anymore but still is. It made me realise that the teenage me that had fallen in love with music all those years ago was not much different than the thirty-nine year old me who was still in love with and enchanted by music now. I might be fatter, I might be slightly wiser but I hadn’t lost that ability to be touched intimately by a musical experience. Sure I could have probably drank more as a teenager, I could (definitely) have shagged more but looking back from a seat in San Francisco overlooking an empty stage awaiting the above experience with my best mate of all those years I happily concluded I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Music is everything and when it reaches these heights not even sex (in my limited experience) can come (cum haha – I had to ruin the poignant moment, there was a come pun) close. Regina on Broadway and then this in the same year; I am truly a lucky, lucky man and this 40th year of my life, is somehow probably the best!

Metallica & San Fran Orch - 08/09/19

The Chase Center - San Francisco

Part III: Concert Review by Hero