Review - Metallica & the SF Symphony grand opening of the Chase Center (9/6/19)

Friday, September 6th, 2019 saw the grand opening of the Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco; and to celebrate, the San Francisco Symphony and Metallica came together once again to celebrate the 20th anniversary of S&M, their landmark concert/album recorded in 1999 with famed conductor Michael Kamen at the Berkeley Community Theater. This time around, long-time SF Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas conducted portions of the concert as he celebrates 25 years with the SF Symphony, this year of which will be his last.
Chase Center - San Francisco Bay Area Concerts
The Chase Center's location in the heart of Mission Bay led many to wonder how events would impact traffic and area congestion, but I found it relatively easy after driving up from the south bay in the evening commute. Parking was a bit of an issue, with only two garages within proximity of the venue -- each were charging $50 (FYI), but it seemed like most people heeded the warnings and took public transit or Uber/Lyft to the event. In terms of the venue itself, it really is a gorgeous building, with modern lines in the design of the exterior and entrance/exitways that seemed to flow attendees in/out of the building without any major bottlenecks. That said, there were definitely kinks to be ironed out related to the operational efficiency of the building. The staff at the box office seemed overwhelmed with the crowds, and every other window seemed to be dealing with some sort of technical problem. Managers were scurrying back and forth to help each of the staff, and amazingly, everyone seemed to be in good spirits -- probably from anticipating there would be delays as part of the grand opening. The other point that stood out were the lines.. Lines for everything... Food, drinks, merch, bathrooms... Be prepared to wait in lines if they're not able to make changes to increase the throughput. Food ordering can be done via self-service tablets, which were quick and easy enough to do; but the delivery of the food hit a snag when the POS terminals at the pick-up area froze. As with any large event, food and beverages aren't cheap. A beer set me back $16, and because I skipped dinner, I bought some popcorn shrimp with fries for another $14. Bonus though, if you're a Chase credit card holder, you can use the first 6-digits of your card in the promo code field on the self service tablets to get about 10% off your order. Another nice perk was the numerous free-refill soda stations throughout the concourse. Once you've got a cup, refills are free throughout the night (thanks to Pepsi as one of the founding sponsors.)

With all that said, let's get to the concert!

The anticipation was palpable for the 18,064 of us who had made it into our seats for the 8pm start time. The stage was set in the center of the floor and designed as a large circle with the center portion raised from the outer ring. The SF symphony was spread around the outer ring and sitting quietly, all in black, with some tuning their instruments getting ready for the start of the evening. Lars' drumkit was directly at the center of the stage, with the rest of the inner circle empty with the exception of four microphone stands positioned at quarters around the perimeter. Finally, at 8:40pm, the lights went down and the symphony played a 10-minute instrumental piece called "The Ecstasy of Gold" by Italian composer, Ennio Morricone. Accompanying the symphony were colorful artistic visuals displayed on the 'jumbotron' hanging directly above the center stage. It'll be interesting to see if the jumobtron remains configured as it was last night -- unlike typical jumbotrons, this one consisted of 4 concentric circular rings hanging staggered and disconnected from one another, so the visuals weren't conformed to a single image, but split across the four rings... And not only displayed on the outside of the rings, but also within the inner portion of rings. As you can see from the shot below, it was hard to see how these will actually be useful, besides possibly adding to the artistic qualities of a show. "The Ecstasy of Gold" seamlessly transitioned to "The Call of Ktulu", an instrumental off one of the band's earlier albums, Ride the Lightning (iTunes), as each member of Metallica walked onstage.
Metallica and the SF Symphony @ the Chase Center (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Metallica and the SF Symphony @ the Chase Center (Photo: Kevin Keating)
By this point, the crowd was ready to hear James Hetfield's gravely vocals supported by the soaring strings of the symphony and lo-and-behold, the third song of the night turned out to be "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and the crowd absolutely erupted. Lars got so into the song, that at one point, he was standing while playing his drums just to keep up with the thunderous timpani section of the symphony.

From there on out, the remainder of the first set was largely focused on the band's newer material. Hetfield introduced the symphony and conductor Edwin Outwater and said to the audience 'don't be afraid...<pausing> sing along with this next one,' which turned out to be "The Memory Remains."

As I mentioned before, the stage was extremely bare, with the exception of the drum kit and mic stands, so there weren't stacks of Marshall amps or guitar cabinets within proximity, so in between certain songs, the band would sneak offstage to exchange guitars. While they were doing that between "Confusion" and "Moth Into Flame", Hefield asked the audience 'should we play some more? Well, we're going to anyway' and with that, Kirk and Robert had picked up new axes and made their way back into their positions on stage.

"The Outlaw Torn" revved up the energy levels of the audience a bit after much of this set, although sounding great with the symphony behind them, wasn't what it seemed most had come to hear. Although with this song, the charging guitar riffs were augmented by the bellowing horn section all while the strings created an incredibly lush landscape that filled the arena.

At this point of the show, we were nearly an hour into the set, and all along, the stage had been slowly rotating clockwise. The band stepped offstage and the symphony took over and started into "No Leaf Clover", a song that was written explicitly for the original S&M performance back in 1999. The band came back out, and Hetfield quickly got the crowd re-engaged with his low growling vocals 'and it feels right this time, just a freight train on your way, it's coming your way... here it comes! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!'

Intermission came after "Halo on Fire" at about 9:50pm and lasted nearly 30 minutes. Walking around the concourse was an absolute zoo. Lines for everything stretched down the halls in a chaotic stew of people trying to get in and out and back to their seats before the start of the second set.

At 10:15pm Lars walked on stage and welcomed Metallica fans from all over the world who had made the trip to see the show. He took time to thank the Warriors management team who allowed them to take part in the opening ceremony and for being able to put this together again after their last S&M 20 years earlier. Lars then went on to introduce Michael Tilson Thomas, lead music director and conductor of the SF Symphony, and Edwin Outwater who had been conducting the symphony throughout the night so far, and for pulling the show together. Bruce Coughlin was also thanked for arranging much of the music that the symphony performed during the night.

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) took the mic from Lars and then went on to talk about the next piece of music, the 'Scythian Suite', from the Russian composer, Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev. MTT described how the song was an example of 'primitivism' and a combination of metal and classical, although Metallica didn't perform with the symphony during this piece. MTT's next piece was described as an example from the 'futurism' period and the age of iron. This piece was from another Russian composer named Alexander Mosolov, and called "Iron Foundry." On this piece, the symphony started slowly building with the timpani's pounding, and the strings slowly building on top. Lars was the first of the band to take the stage and layered his drums over the pounding percussion of the symphony. The rest of the band joined, adding layers of guitar to the music that was spiraling through the arena.

Obviously, this was not your typical metal show, and for at least one person in my section in the upper deck, the unfamiliar classical works had taken their toll as he yelled out at the top of his lungs, 'play some old shit!' But unfortunately for him, he'd have to find more patience as the band wasn't done, and Hetfield was given the chance to sing solo with the symphony backing him on "The Unforgiven III," the last song to have MTT leading the orchestra -- until the closing number.

The band rejoined James for an acoustic rendition of "All Within My Hands" which sounded terrific with the accompanying symphony, and then one of the major highlights of the night happened when Hetfield spoke of giving a tribute to their original bassist, Cliff Burton. SF Symphony principal bassist, Scott Pingel, moved his electric double bass to the center circle of the stage and went on to perform first a more traditional classical bass solo, but in the second half of the performance, distortion kicked onto the bass, and he was joined by Lars as they performed "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth."

As the night crept on, I was beginning to wonder myself if they were going to dig into their hits, but any question of that came to an end when the band launched into "Wherever I May Roam." Banks of lasers blanketed the arena and split the upper and lower decks in green and blue. I was absolutely blown away by the audience -- they were nearly as loud as James and signing not only the chorus, but all the verses as well. I can only imagine how the band felt hearing the entire arena sing like they were.

The stage went dark and the percussion section began to randomly hit cymbols and drums, almost like they were warming up. Then, the somber guitar notes from my favorite Metallica song rang out from Hetfield, as he stood alone on stage in front of Lars' drumkit and facing conductor, Edwin Outwater. It was "One." And the crowd went nuts. The string section became louder backing the repeating notes of Hetfield's lines, and then the band returned to the stage and Kirk joined in with his delicate notes above James and the string section -- continually building until the percussion and Lars blasted in. It was simply beautiful and James delivered the guttural lines, 'hold my breath as I wish for death, please god wake me.' The crowd loved every minute of it, and we could tell that these were the closing moments of the show.

That energy continued for "Master of Puppets" and then on "Nothing Else Matters," the arena was awash with camera phone lights as the audience put the spotlight back on the band. You can see what I mean in the fan shot video below.

MTT came back out to conduct the closing number, "Enter Sandman" and the energy was probably the highest of all night. MTT even joined the band on stage behind a bright red Nord keyboard. Looking back on the evening, this may have been the first Metallica concert where the band played at least one song from each of their 10 studio albums, plus "No Leaf Clover" from the original S&M performance!

Video crews were everywhere filming not only the performance, but audience members as well -- all throughout the arena; even in the upper deck! Let's hope that the upcoming theatrical release in October will hopefully be able to capture at least a part of the energy of the live experience. What a historic night to open the new Chase Center in San Francisco!

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Metallica Setlist Chase Center, San Francisco, CA, USA 2019, Worldwired Tour

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