This is how Metallica became “the biggest band in the world”

Metallica was hardly an overnight sensation.

Formed in 1981, the band worked for years in relative obscurity, going through the types of growing pains that most young bands endure: composition changes, money issues and tragedy, in the death of the bassist and native of the band. Castro Valley Cliff Burton in a tour bus. accident.

But with the release of the group’s eponymous fifth album in 1991 (commonly referred to as “The Black Album”), Metallica had achieved superstar status.

Additionally, the group that actually started in LA were fully and proudly rooted as a San Francisco entity (it would be Burton who convinced the group to move to the Bay Area). That bond has never wavered, and so when the band celebrates their 40th anniversary this weekend, they do so with a “Metallica San Francisco Takeover,” a series of four-day concerts and special events across town. highlighted by two Metallica shows – Dec. 17 and 19 – at the Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors. (See for details.)

It’s a grand celebration, but those who know the band say it must be.

“They’re the biggest group in the world,” said Gregg Perloff, CEO of Another Planet Entertainment, which has been promoting Metallica shows in the Bay Area for decades. “A lot of bands can claim to be – and there are definitely huge bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones. But if you really think about it and know what they can do, Metallica is the greatest band in the world. … And they get bigger. Think about it, after 40 years they get fat.

How did it happen? How did a group of guys, who allegedly first banded together out of a common interest in Iron Maiden and Diamond Head, ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sold over 125 million albums – more than Bob Dylan, Prince or Britney Lances?

There is no denying the certain enormity of the musicians’ talents or the fact that the band’s first five albums alone are classified by metal and hard rock connoisseurs as classics of all time. “The Black Album” has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

Yet there is more to it.

The band’s runaway success – currently featuring drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Robert Trujillo and singer-guitarist James Hetfield – also reflects the bonds the band members have forged, carefully but sincerely, with their fans. .

“While other bands might say ‘We owe our fans everything,’ Metallica really believes it,” says music critic Jaan Uhelszki, a former Berkeley resident who has covered the band for decades.

Some see Metallica’s bond with fans as reminiscent of another legendary Bay Area rock band.

“If a band doesn’t stay close to their audience, they probably won’t have a very long career. Metallica had a great example just down the street in this regard, namely the Grateful Dead, ”says Dennis McNally, author of“ A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead. “Lars Ulrich admitted that they took some advice from the dead in trying to keep business in-house and in trusted hands.”

“No matter how you play, starting with respect for those listening to you is good for the soul. It makes the ‘Sandman’ happy, ”McNally adds.

The connection endured despite being put to the test by the band’s evolution to more mainstream hard rock in the 1990s, which some thrash metal purists despised, and its legal war with society. Napster music file sharing company in the 2000s, which challenged its “People’s Image Group.” The band members made up for these problems, in part, by breaking down some of the walls that regularly exist between rock fans and the rock star.

“There was always the feeling that they were like their fans,” Uhelszki says. A little rough around the edges, unassuming or airy, shameless and honest about their weaknesses, self-effacing and fond of airbrush art, surfing, comics and hockey, they’ve always slapped a face human being stars. “

This was certainly the case with the stunning 2004 documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster”, in which musicians gave filmmakers extraordinary access – not to triumphant stadium concerts and enthusiastic supporters, but to the passage of Hetfield in rehab after bassist Jason Newsted leaves the band. and other problems of the troubled 2001-2003 period.

“They’ve done a lot to demystify fame and show that it could change you, but not in a particularly positive way,” Uhelszki said. “I especially think that even if sometimes life knocks you down, they show that it is important to get up again. They came back from addiction, the death of a founding member, divorces and betrayals, but they still stand. “

Through it all, Metallica has always shown great gratitude for its success and commitment to being part of the San Francisco tradition. This came from more than playing the games of the San Francisco Giants and his two-album collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony, but in his multi-faceted charitable endeavors.

Metallica has done a lot of charitable work over the years – including performing at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit concerts and the Acoustic-4-A-Cure shows Hetfield hosted with Sammy Hagar. They also started their own charity, All Within My Hands, a few years ago.

“Metallica has always given back to the communities they visited on their tour, it’s something they’ve done pretty quietly since the early days,” says Renee Richardson, Associate Director of All Within My Hands. “In 2017, they decided to create their foundation in order to have more impact and encourage fan participation.

“Feeding people has always been at the heart of their efforts, but once formalized, the mission extended to training workers in trades and disaster relief. “

Metallica helped raise millions for the North Bay fire relief efforts by headlining the Band Together Bay Area benefit concert at AT&T Park (now Oracle Park) in San Francisco in late 2017. The concert also included Dead & Company, Rancid, G-Eazy, Raphael Saadiq and Dave Matthews.

“If it hadn’t been for Metallica, this show wouldn’t have happened,” said Perloff, whose show Another Planet Entertainment co-produced. “No big band will give up the kind of money they gave to play for free to support the victims of the fires in North Bay. And they played all these other huge bands.

“No give up a show at a stadium like this – only Metallica.”

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