AUDIO-VISUAL S&M SPECTACULAR – AND A LITTLE BIT OF THE UNEXPECTED
20 years after their S&M excursion with Michael Kamen and The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Metallica return to the city for a two-date symphonic return: S&M2. For those who couldn’t make it – every Metallica fan in the world, statistically speaking – there’s been a chance to see the concert film in cinemas on October 9. Does it add anything to the Metallica canon?
Let’s warm up a little. You’ve got the biggest metal band of all time putting another extra out there for the fans (has any other band given as much footage as this lot?). They’re on imperious form. And they’ve somehow found time to prep for an orchestra gig and turn it into an international cinema screening so it’s pretty special, a proper event. These are all Good Omens, and with the band at a golden late age in their career, the idea of Symphony Days Re-revisited feels celebratory and critic-proof, which wasn’t necessarily the case with S&M 1999.
Bollocks to critical speculation though, this just feels RIGHT. An unexpected gift from one of the most important bands in your life.
The Ecstasy of Gold sets us off, as ever – always a hair tingler, many times more so when pumped with millions of orchestral vibrations and Metallica’s immersive in-the-round camera angles. Then The Call of Ktulu reminds us how infallible a composition it is, unwittingly built for a symphonic set-up.
But just when you think S&M2 might be a straight run though of the original, we get a change. The Memory Remains pops up early to showcase massive audience participation and The Day That Never Comes jolts us into a post-Reload reality – looks like non-S&M tracks will be in the set after all, so now it feels like a gig and we don’t really know what’s coming. GAME ON. Confusion, Moth into the Flame and Halo on Fire make Hardwired the joint most represented album tonight (with Metallica), and other huge cuts include For Whom the Bell Tolls, Wherever I May Roam, No Leaf Clover, One and Load’s titanic closer The Outlaw Torn.
Special mention goes to Master of Puppets, not just because you’re reminded (again) of how structurally fucking awesome it is, but because it’s where the show hits peak charge – the point where collapse into chaos looks most likely. It’s Master of Puppets … things get a little pumped but it doesn’t fall apart. Metallica and friends somehow stick with the score. Everyone nails it.
What really lifts this gig though are the touches (spoiler alert) that shift it from ‘Can we actually do this orchestral thing?’, which must have a been a major factor in S&M 1999, to ‘We know we can do this. How can we make it better?’
Here’s how. Let musical director Michael Tilson Thomas lead us into classical tasters on primitivism and futurism during the interval. Put James on stage with no band, not even a guitar (looks weird), to sing Unforgiven III with army-sized orchestral back-up. Pull the plug literally and give St Anger epic All Within My Hands an oversized Alice in Chains/Jar of Flies acoustica outing. Pretty damned cool.
But best of all …
“You remember Cliff Burton, don’t you? We do. So does Scott Pingel … and he’s here to pay tribute.”
(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth. OMfG. Cry? You might, you just bloody well might, because watching this virtuoso carve Burton’s solo out of his upright bass in San Francisco is a right-on tribute. Metallica have never been short of humility and generosity, especially for their fans, and this moment captures all of that: honour paid to their lost past, gifted to someone outside the inner circle, within the show. A precious moment.
Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman finish the set – no surprise – but, as with everything else, the symphonic novelty pumps new blood. Metallica have conquered again with an ambitious project that might just put more adventurous fire up ’em. Will they ride a slower Reload swagger or two next time they get in the studio, instead of the slightly by-numbers thrash metal tack of Hardwired? Wouldn’t be surprised. Definitely wouldn’t be disappointed, either.
And Hetfield … you watch him knowing that in a few days from doing this, he checked back into rehab. Let’s hope he does what he has to do and gets well, but he’s in the voice of his life here, as is everyone on and around that stage. There are no minus points, not after a one-off large-screen viewing where symphonic heft surrounds you. It feels too good.
Metallica 2019, S&M2. Still the metal kings.