I will preface this by saying that I almost never win contests. Granted, I almost never enter contests. Luck, however, was on my side this past weekend when I saw “You have won ONE (1) ticket to Metallica’s special Record Store Day show.” in my email inbox. This was both surprising and incredibly exciting. Metallica was the band that introduced me to metal music, and I had just won a ticket to see it play in Rasputin Music on Telegraph Avenue, a five-minute walk from UC Berkeley.
The first and last time I had seen Metallica was back in 2011 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, where the band performed with Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer — known collectively as the “Big Four” of the thrash metal genre. This was the first time all four bands played together on the same stage in the United States. The crowd was enormous, the bright lights were blinding and the music vibrated right through your chest. Thus, I was very curious to see how such this grand metal act would translate its lively performance to a much smaller space.
I felt like I had hopped on a time machine and stepped back into the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. This was a rare opportunity to see the band perform old-school hits from the albums Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning in a small venue. My friend and I were among the youngest guests in attendance, as most people there appeared to be several years above the average UC Berkeley undergraduate. We also saw long hair, metal shirts and plenty of devil horns — the only thing that reminded me that we were still in 2016 was the overabundance of smartphones in the air.
Overall, this event felt like other metal performances I have attended in the past, only smaller. This was the 100-calorie version, if you will, without the religious zealots you usually see protesting at larger shows. My guess was that there were far more blasphemous affairs happening elsewhere in Berkeley on Cal Day.
Also unlike other shows, a magical sort of nostalgia heavily permeated the atmosphere. Several family members of the band were in attendance, such as drummer Lars Ulrich’s father. But the performance likely felt nostalgic for the band as well since it got its start from playing in small venues such as this one.
The scale was an unbelievable contrast to a sold-out venue of thousands. I estimate that there were around 300 people or less in the record store. The show had to be smaller and the focus would be on the music for the most part. There was little room for pyrotechnics, strobe lights, insane mosh pits or flashy special effects.
People in the crowd roared when the band stepped onto the stage. Metallica’s set featured some of the greatest songs it made in its earlier years, filled with fast drumming and low-register chords. It opened the show with “The Four Horsemen,” the second song from its 1983 debut studio album, Kill ‘Em All. The band still sounds amazing even though that album in particular has 33 years separating it from today.
The setlist included other metal juggernauts such as “Ride the Lightning,” “Fade to Black” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The energy was deafening. There is just something very special about being in a room filled with people head-banging and singing along to every lyric of the songs you love just as much as they do, with the bass and distortion beating in your chest.
My stomach jumped when I heard the first bars of “Fade to Black.” It is just an absolute legend of a song and the first Metallica song that I ever listened to. Few words can describe the excitement that cooled my veins upon hearing the lead guitar. Everyone banged their heads and flowing hair in unison.
The band closed the show with “Metal Militia,” which was well worth the ringing ears. Bands such as Metallica prove that you do not need fireworks, Autotune, spandex pants or thousands in the crowd to leave a lasting impression, just the music.
Music is a transformative force. Metallica may not necessarily be my favorite metal act of all time but I will always have a strong affinity for it. Without Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” for instance, I doubt the awkward, pimply teenager that played classical Brahms concertos on acoustic guitar would be jamming to guitar riffs by bands such as Black Sabbath or Carcass on electric guitar today. And I never looked back. I do not believe that I am the first, nor do I believe that I am the last musician to cite the band as the bridge that took them to the wonderful, misunderstood land of metal.
When the rock and metal legends of tomorrow cite their influences, let’s just say that names such as the Jonas Brothers or Flo Rida probably won’t be there. Metallica will likely be near the top of the list.