For one night only, Metallica fans will soon be able to witness the combined forces of the world’s most famous heavy metal quartet and the San Francisco Symphony on the big screen.
The concert film “S&M2,” scheduled to hit theaters on October 9, will take viewers inside San Francisco’s Chase Center (now home to the Golden State Warriors) for the high-octane marriage of strings and metal that occurred on September 6. Coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of the original “S&M’” the concert made further history by serving as Chase Center’s inaugural event.
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Though the change of venue meant the intimacy captured in Metallica’s first “S&M” — performed and recorded at the comparatively cozy Berkeley Community Theatre in 1999 — might be gone, the absence did not leave a void. Instead, as fans will soon experience, the atmosphere was palpably buzzing with excitement. Traveling from across the world, the crowd captured in “S&M2” was a diverse mix of fans that seemingly spanned every conceivable demographic.
Metallica has always showed a flair for thinking big. They allowed themselves to be the subjects of the 2004 documentary, “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” and gladly partnered with Velvet Underground alum Lou Reed on an album that truly defies description. “S&M2” follows in these footsteps, reimagining some of the band’s most beloved hits as symphonic opuses that give the tracks new dimension and depth.
Buoyed by fan energy, and the band’s close bonds with one another (as evidenced most recently by a letter posted by the band in support of Hetfield, who recently entered a rehab facility), the spectacle of “S&M2” was, in hindsight, a blur of ferocious solos, tender tributes and rafters filled high with distortion. To help viewers prepare, here are three moments to look for when “S&M2” arrives in theaters next week:
Michael Tilson Thomas gives a music lesson. Tilson Thomas’ swan song as music director of the San Francisco Symphony — a post he’s held with distinction for the past 25 years — will forever include the night he decided to teach 18,000 Metallica fans a few things about classical music.
While the imminently capable Edwin Outwater served as conductor for most of the program (the late Michael Kamen conducted the original “S&M” concert), it was a thrill to see Tilson Thomas holding his own against Metallica. Thomas opened the second set of the evening by first taking the symphony players through Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s “Scythian Suite, Op.20, Second Movement.” Then Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo arrived and turned to face their temporary captain.
The result was a cover of “Iron Foundry,” a piece by another Russian composer, Alexander Mosolov. Conducting the four members of Metallica alongside the symphony players, Tilson Thomas reveled in the moment, cracking to the crowd that “futurism will never be the same.” It’s true.
A jaw-dropping tribute to Cliff Burton. The story of Metallica will forever include the loss of bassist Cliff Burton, who perished in a bus accident in 1986. Bass is not, by definition, the easiest of instruments to wield as a solo artist. Within the auspices of a sports arena filled with diehard metal fans, the prospect of hearing Scott Pingel, principal bass player for the San Francisco Symphony, perform on his own may have seemed at odds with the nature of the evening.
Then Pingel began to play. His cover of the late bassist’s solo “(Anesthesia)-Pulling Teeth” was astonishing in its ability to conjure Burton’s feral yet poignant style of play. Within moments, the raucous crowd at Chase Center was reduced to hushed reverie as Pingel warped his bow and conjured his instrument into a séance for one of rock’s most beloved, and dearly missed, bassists.
Ulrich then joined Engel at his drum kit, which is about as rare as things get in the world of Metallica. How rare? His appearance on the track at “S&M2” represents only the second time Ulrich has ever performed his part of “Anesthesia” live. Prepare for goosebumps.
The ecstasy of “Ecstasy of Gold.” Wrong answers are hard to come by when it comes to picking “S&M2” highlights. Who could be blamed for spotlighting string-infused renditions of Metallica classics like “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters” or “Enter Sandman”? Fortunately, “S&M2” features fantastic versions of all three.
There is, however, one Metallica tradition that especially benefitted from the appearance of the San Francisco Symphony: their introductory music. Since 1983, the band has always kicked things off with Ennio Morricone’s iconic “The Ecstasy of Gold” (also known as the theme to the 1966 Clint Eastwood western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”).
“S&M2” started no differently, except that instead of a recording, it was the SF Symphony tasked with welcoming the band to the stage. To hear those triumphant notes is to feel the adrenaline building. Bombastic and rousing, Morricone’s most acclaimed composition may have originally been written 53 years ago, but to hear it as the opening salvo of “S&M2,” it’s hard to believe “The Ecstasy of Gold” was ever intended for another purpose.