Musical heavyweights Metallica have always held a special relationship with New York. While the group formed in Los Angeles and then migrated to San Francisco, the time that band members spent in the Empire State in 1983 was integral to their development. Their latest album, the well-received “Hardwired . . . to Self Destruct,” invokes the raw, stripped-down sound of those early years.
“Obviously it was a huge part of shaping who we were and who we were to become,” drummer Lars Ulrich says about New York City. “We played shows in all nooks and crannies of the greater tristate area,” including famed and now-defunct metal club L’Amour in Brooklyn. Thus the band’s May 17 show at the renovated Nassau Coliseum holds special significance.
Megaforce Records founder Jonny Z, who created the label to release the Bay Area band’s music, initially brought Metallica out from California to his New Jersey home in 1983 so they could play around the New York City area. They soon holed up in an old furniture warehouse in Jamaica and through Jonny Z forged a solid friendship with future label mates Anthrax. Metallica recorded its debut album “Kill ’Em All” that year in Rochester and later signed with Elektra Records and Q Prime Management in Manhattan.
A special Long Island moment came when Metallica, before opening for Ozzy Osbourne at the old Nassau Coliseum in 1986, visited local editor Gail Flug in her office at the CMJ New Music Report in Williston Park. They served as her “interns” for the afternoon, personally calling college radio stations nationwide to help tabulate the week’s top metal radio tracks. The event was chronicled by MTV for a news report on Metallica. The clip has been viewed on YouTube more than 600,000 times. “I think when we do a ‘Master of Puppets’ reissue, which hopefully is going to come later this year, some of that is going to be in there,” says Ulrich.
While Metallica is used to storming giant venues these days, the band occasionally scales back for certain shows. For the concert at NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in order to deviate from its “outdoor stadium shenanigans,” as Ulrich puts it, the group is not using the five massive video screens serving as its regular backdrop. They will likely transpose the backdrop to a video floor upon which they will play in the round, as they did at a tour stop in Copenhagen in February. (There may potentially be a video ceiling as well.) “It’s not so much about gadgets and trinkets but more about the intimacy and playing in the round and getting as close to as many of the fans as possible, which we love to do when we play indoors,” Ulrich says.
Another surprise may be in store. While touring Asia recently, the group began toying with a four-man drum jam that first manifested itself during their Mexico City gigs in March within the new song “Now That We’re Dead.” During the section where Ulrich, from behind the stage, played some tribal tom grooves, the other members started banging on individual sets of toms, with Ulrich coming out to join them. They plan to integrate that concept into their current U.S. tour.
“I know it’s been on [frontman James] Hetfield’s laundry list for some time to experiment with a drum piece,” Ulrich says. “He’s always been a bit of a closet drummer, so he suggested that we all somehow stitch together a drum interlude.”
The Coliseum gig certainly means a lot to the members of Metallica, which also includes lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bass guitarist Robert Trujillo. “We always consider playing in that area to be right at the very top of our comfort zone,” Ulrich says. “While we’re not the first act through the doors of the new Nassau Coliseum, we’re the first [hard] rock band, so we’re excited about that.”
WHO Metallica WorldWired Tour
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale
INFO $147-$2,499; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Memories in big packages
Most VIP ticket holders for the current Metallica tour get perks like food and drink, swag, premium seats and, in the case of individual “Whiplash” Experience ($429) and “Hardwired” Experience ($2,499) buyers, the chance to visit the new “Memory Remains” museum exhibit that explores the band’s 36-year history.
“It’s been really fun digging through the vaults,” says drummer Lars Ulrich. “We had the museum in Copenhagen and in Mexico City, and people are digging it. It’s fun for people to get a chance to check out stuff — look at the original lyrics and see silly stage clothes. Sit behind my drum kit and see the guitars.”
The drummer has enjoyed revisiting archived and stored items like diaries and notebooks. “I used to wear a blue-and-white striped T-shirt on stage,” he recalls. “Silver spandex or whatever. It elicits a chuckle. I’m really proud of all the different elements of Metallica’s history, no matter how far we’ve moved on or matured.”
Ulrich reports that the band members have been very hands-on about what the experience will be like, and in choosing the different tiers and cost levels for their VIP packages looked at what their peers had been doing. The $2,499 package includes a group photo with the band and the chance to meet some members. “What’s kind of crazy is that it’s the more expensive packages that sell out first,” he says.
“People want to share experiences with people that they’re close to, whether they’re into sports or music or entertainment,” Ulrich says. “ ‘I want to fly over Mount Everest in a hot-air balloon’ or ‘I want to get together and cook food with a famous chef.’ That’s this whole new thing in the entertainment world, and I’m stunned at how many of the Metallica fans are embracing it. That’s something that we’re looking forward to getting in deeper with. Maybe in the future the museum will go out on its own tour. There are all kinds of possibilities for this stuff, so I feel that we’re just scratching the surface.”
— Bryan Reesman
While some fans may have been surprised by Metallica’s onstage collaboration with Lady Gaga during this year’s Grammy performance of “Moth Into Flame,” it is part of a long tradition of unusual turns by the acclaimed thrash quartet. The group has performed live with concert pianist Lang Lang and classic rockers Neil Young and Ray Davies. It also has recorded with artists as diverse as Marianne Faithful, Ja Rule and Lou Reed (on the controversial “Lulu” album).
“It’s always fun because when you go back into your own world you bring something else to it, and that makes for better Metallica,” says drummer Lars Ulrich. “I think we all believe it’s a very invigorating process to throw yourself out into these collaborations with other people. I’m always curious how other people function and how other people do stuff. We learn from that and it inspires us.”
There is a certain contingent of metal fans that likes its bands to stay true to their roots and not dip their toes in other waters, but the drummer is not discouraged by that notion.
“I think you have to make a choice within yourself,” Ulrich says. “It shouldn’t stop you from feeding whatever creative flame you have inside you. You shouldn’t douse that because you’re scared that some people may not get it. Over 35 years, we have always been pretty up for anything, and we’re curious and always ready to try something. That’s just our nature. I can’t speak for other bands, but that’s how we roll.”
— Bryan Reesman