S&M²: Metallica & the San Francisco Symphony (CONCERT REVIEW)

From Metallica: “A must-see celebration of the 20th anniversary of Metallica’s groundbreaking S&M concerts and album recorded with the San Francisco Symphony. See them once again perform with the Symphony as legendary conductor Michael Tilson Thomas leads a portion of the show, kicking off his final season in San Francisco. Including several tracks from the original ’99 S&M release as well as symphonic versions of new songs released since then, the shows also commemorate the opening of the state-of-the-art Chase Center, a historic addition to the city’s waterfront.”

What I liked:

  • The first S&M was a smaller show (for the time) with a smaller venue, spearheaded by then-conductor Michael Kamen (who has passed away since then). This time, the show opens up a brand new and much larger venue, the Chase Center, an arena paid for and home to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
  • In a mini-documentary before the actual show, we learn that both Metallica and San Fransisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas both had the idea to revisit the original S&M concert on it’s 20 year anniversary in conjunction with the opening of the arena.
  • In the same documentary, they discuss how this show was more of a collaboration between the two groups. This allows the symphony to have a bigger, mutual role this time around, instead of assisting. Certain songs even get boosted by their presence, adding new functional layers to both the music and lyrics to some Metallica classics. They even got the spotlight during Metallica’s break/intermission. One spotlight featured the symphony’s bass soloist Scott Pingel playing a loving tribute to late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, while another spotlight featured the symphony as the lead group, with Metallica backing them up upon their return to the stage.
  • Speaking of the stage, it’s housed in the very middle of the arena (“Center Court” for you fellow basketball fans), with Metallica surrounded on all sides by the symphony. This allows for some really cool mobility and provides a nice visual of electric guitars amidst a section of flute players.
  • As mentioned in the summary, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas “leads a portion of the show”, while the rest is conducted by Edwin Atwater. Both men have different styles of conducting, with Tilson’s being a glamorous way while Atwater’s is more vigorous. Both were incredible to see.
  • I still have my original S&M cd, and I’ve listened to it so many times that I know it by heart. Every single musical cue is embedded in my brain, and it was nice to hear this iteration of the symphony make some newer contributions. The deviations from the original kept things fresh. Also, they played half of the songs from that ’99 show (in a somewhat different order) and 7 songs new to the S&M treatment.
  • Two of those songs to receive that treatment really stood out. One was a guitar-less, drum-less, symphony-only version anchored by James Hetfield’s haunting vocals, proving the man is an incredible singer. The second newer standout creates an acoustic version of a deep track off of the band’s most-divisive album.
  • Another nice thing about the show is it’s many shots of different fans enjoying the hell out of this experience. I’m talking air guitars, I’m talking sing-alongs. Sometimes the footage is highlighted by the band members weaving through the people, but an even stronger highlight is when we see fans holding up flags from different countries. It’s a warm feeling seeing people from around the world displaying their love of their country and of their favorite band.
  • [SPOILER ALERT] The band and the symphony perform a FEROCIOUS version of Master of Puppets.
  • The whole presentation was extremely well done. The very first thing we see is a promo for their non-profit organization All Within My Hands, which “is dedicated to creating sustainable communities by supporting workforce education, the fight against hunger, and other critical local services.” We then get the behind the scenes mini-documentary that I mentioned earlier, followed by some wondrous footage of what life is like in San Francisco. After that, it’s a movie of a concert that featured impeccable lighting, sound engineering and camera-work directed by long-time Metallica contributor Wayne Isham.

What I didn’t like:

  • [this space left intentionally blank, because I loved every minute]

Overall: After almost 40 years of playing together, Metallica has no need to take creative risks. They’re famous and they’re wealthy, why do something like this? Why revisit it? Because they’re “artists”. Artists need to always take creative risks to push and challenge themselves to evolve their art. With this show, they took the familiar S&M concept and elevated it to new, powerfully awesome heights, thus cementing their status as music icons. If they release all the music as an album and then release the concert as a blu-ray, I’ll get both.

Jose Zuazua is editor-in-chief of Quick Lunch Break Reviews. He has an associates degree in film production. He’s on Twitter and Instagram, and is also currently writing his first short novel.

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