Metallica and SF Symphony Open Chase Center with a Bang

Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony perform at the Chase Center on Sept. 6, 2019. (Dan Nykolayko)

Lightning-fast guitar solos, a laser light show, a 75-member orchestra and a packed arena of 18,000 Metallica fans in black band T-shirts. That was the scene at Friday's inaugural concert at Chase Center, the state-of-the-art new Warriors stadium.

A meeting of the minds as powerful as Metallica and San Francisco Symphony was only right to christen such an impressive building, which felt epic simply by virtue of its enormous size and spotless, glass-paneled facade. With LED screens everywhere, Chase Center takes every opportunity to remind you it's of the 21st century. Unlike the comparatively dusty yet charming Oracle Arena, built in 1966, everything about it exudes wealth—a monument to new-money San Francisco complete with $11 pizza slices and $15 tall cans of Budweiser (which were peanuts for show-goers who paid up to $9,000 a ticket for Friday's concert).

"We have a new arena, a world-class f-cking arena in our own backyard," announced Metallica's Lars Ulrich. "F-ck yeah!"

Metallica fans line up outside of Chase Center for the new arena's debut concert featuring the rock legends and San Francisco Symphony.
Metallica fans line up outside of Chase Center for the new arena's debut concert featuring the rock legends and San Francisco Symphony. (Nastia Voynovskaya)

Ulrich's drum kit was perched in the center of a circular, revolving stage, which made for a dynamic presentation. Singer-guitarist James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo orbited him, moving freely about. Surrounding them were the stationary orchestra musicians, with Edwin Outwater conducting the first half of the concert and San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas (who is set to retire this year after 25 years) conducting the second half.

After opening with a cover of Spaghetti Western classic "Ecstasy of Gold," Metallica's players got to shredding, wasting no time before launching into solos on "The Call of Ktulu," another instrumental, and the sludgy "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

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Although thrilling in its virtuosity, the first half of the show sounded more like a Metallica concert than a collaboration with the symphony—at least from my vantage point in the nosebleeds. The orchestra players were often inaudible over Ulrich's thunderous drum kit, by far the loudest thing in the arena, and it was difficult to pick up on the nuance of the instrumentation the late Michael Kamen arranged for the two musical powerhouses when they first collaborated on the live album S&M in 1999.

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The stripped-down woodwind and string section at the end of "Memory Remains" was a turning point in the show, when Metallica's players allowed their fingers to rest for a moment and let the orchestral arrangement breathe. From that point, the concert became more of an interplay between the two ensembles rather than a Metallica set with an extra boost of strings.

After intermission, Michael Tilson Thomas arrived and addressed the audience directly, unlike Outwater, who had been silent throughout the first half (though jumping up and down and rocking out as he conducted). Judging by the attire of the mostly male, Gen X and Baby Boomer audience, the majority of the crowd was there for Metallica and not the orchestra, so MTT assumed the role of an accessible and entertaining educator, like a Bill Nye for classical music.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony and Metallica at the Chase Center's inaugural concert on Sept. 9.
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony and Metallica at the Chase Center's inaugural concert on Sept. 9. (Dan Nykolayko)

He also revealed tidbits about his cute and unlikely friendship with Ulrich. "Lars and I sometimes talk music late at night," said MTT, describing the similarities between different classical music movements and heavy metal. Metallica then joined the symphony for Sergei Prokofiev's 1915 Scythian Suite. MTT described the anxious piece as "a mighty dance of ecstatic vengeance"—also an apt characterization of Hetfield and Hammett's ferocious guitar playing.

Closing the show with their hits "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman," Metallica and the SF Symphony unleashed 18,000 fans into the wild. Fortunately, the traffic leaving the new Mission Bay venue wasn't quite as apocalyptic as feared. People dispersed into MUNI trams, pedicabs, bikes, scooters and ride shares, slightly deafened and giddy, diffusing the evening's energy into the night.

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