A couple of weeks ago, I watched a corporate band playing in a corporate environment and ate up every minute of the spectacle. On Friday, I witnessed essentially the same exact thing, and, because I’m apparently a shameless hypocrite, I walked away with a bad taste in my mouth.
On Friday, thrash metal titans Metallica played the opening night of Chase Center, the new luxe home of the Golden State Warriors. As part of a rehash of their legendary 1999 live album, S&M, the band was once again paired with the San Francisco Symphony. It made total sense to have two revered Bay Area musical institutions open the curtains for what will surely be an iconic addition to the San Francisco skyline, but something about the whole night just felt off to me.
Maybe it was Metallica being the first of many white, Boomer-ish bands playing the opening month of the Chase Center, or maybe it was that wary feeling of visiting a site that had been recently ripped away from the folks in Oakland, or maybe it was drummer Lars Ulrich’s first word of thanks going to the Warriors owners (only then followed by a shout out to the fans). It all just kind of felt icky.
Admittedly, there was little to complain about musically. Paired with the 75-plus members of the Symphony in a circular stage that gave views to all fans, the band stirred the crowd into a frenzy from the first audible moments of “The Ecstasy of Gold” — the Ennio Morricone classic that has become the group’s opening track staple. From there, the band launched into two classic cuts, “The Call of Ktulu” from 1984’s Ride the Lightning and the towering epic “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Reminding everyone at the Chase Center that they’ve been at this thing for almost four decades, the band showcased its entire discography during its opening set, playing nine songs from six different albums, leaning heavily only on their latest album Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, from which they performed three different tracks.
After an intermission, the Symphony returned, this time led by the famous maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, who recently returned from a three-month medical leave. Thomas led two classical compositions, “Scythian Suite” and “Iron Foundry” before the band reclaimed center stage with a performance of “The Unforgiven III.”
The clear highlights of the night were the band’s closing numbers, starting with an emotional tribute to bassist Cliff Burton, a virtuoso performer who revolutionized the instrument before tragically dying at the age of 24, when the band’s van crashed in Europe in 1986. To honor his memory, Metallica performed the bass-heavy “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” before launching into a series of classics, mostly from their epic heavy-metal (and divisive) self-titled album from 1991 (aka The Black Album.)
The band closed the night with “Enter Sandman,” their career-changing single from that album. It was a fitting end to a night — not only did it showcase Metallica’s inimitable talents, it also offered a glimpse into just how much the band has changed over its nearly 40-year run.
“Enter Sandman” marked the turning point for the band, where they transitioned from a scrappy bunch of dirtbags into a world-beating outfit with aims of being the greatest metal band of all time (Napster be damned). Thinking wistfully of those old days is boring and pointless, but seeing an outfit that once rocked weird mustaches and cutoff t-shirts stunt for a billion dollar arena seems jarring, no matter how big Metallica has become.
The Chase Center, which currently features preseason Warriors tickets going for $145 (those are the cheapest ones), will soon become a must-go locale for the City’s elite, and like it or not, that might be Metallica’s fanbase now. If that’s the case, they were a fitting band for the arena’s opening night.