San Francisco Berkeley Community Theatre

The band (the 78-piece one) strike up a [B]James Bond[/B]-esque theme, and one-by-one the band (the massively rich one) take their positions among the orchestra...

Wolfgang Amadeus Hetfield lets fly once more the devil laugh, and offers a smile to the Principal Clarinet. "WOOOHOOO HAHAHAHAH!" he cries, in that way that is only understood by those who have cut the arms off their T-shirts. "Did you ever hear the one about the rock group who wanted to play with the symphony?"

Yet as you will know, if you have ever seen 2,000 fans attempting to flick the devil sign at a 78-strong group of classically-trained musicians, this is no joke. Maybe for the slightly troubled players ("I mean, I'd heard the name," is the open-palmed admission from many a sexagenarian familiar of the baton, bemusedly interviewed backstage). But for the conductor, Orbital collaborator and Steven Spielberg lookalike Michael Kamen? No way, Boulez. And for the band? Woahh. Dude. They're wearing suits. Uh, did somebody die?

So it is then, that for two nights only, Metallica have teamed up with the equally bitching San Francisco Symphony to collaborate on Michael Kamen's arrangements of 20 of their tunes in an attempt to bridge the gulf between orchestra pit and moshpit. One of the artists tours regularly in Europe and Asia, and was founded in 1911. The other tours regularly in Europe and Asia, and has often been photographed posing suggestively with baguettes. It is no small gulf.

But Metallica have the unequivocal bombast needed to take on the perils of classical music. 'Concerto For Group And Orchestra'? Nah: Deep Purple might have been able to get the venerated conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent, but they could never properly muster the pomposity required for a venture such as this. Metallica have songs about wars, and there are symphonies about wars. Metallica have songs about classical legends, and there are symphonies about classical legends. Metallica have songs about extreme random violence, and there are... well, maybe there aren't.

But anyway.

The venture begins magnificently. The band (the 78-piece one) strike up a James Bond-esque theme, and one-by-one the band (the massively rich one) take their positions among the orchestra. Anxious not to intimidate the classical players too much, there are no Marshall stacks, merely the might of their 'The Call Of Ktulu', accompanied by supplementary parps and a distinct audience puzzlement regarding the protocol of self-expression at such an event.

"Shall we dive when they arpeggiate?"

"No, man. Wait 'til the, like, coda."

The thing is, the notion of Metallica's songs accommodating orchestral trappings is thrown into a poorer light by their own unaccompanied strengths. They do 'Master Of Puppets', and despite having no less grand a thesis than to attempt to put a name to the dark conspiratorial forces of government, despite being 13 years old, it's an abrasive beast. And then on come the parps, padding the tune out with comfy deep-pile trimmings that leave you craving for the brief moments the band plays on its own.

The intervention of classical music is just as revealing about the band as individuals. Bassist Jason Newsted pours classically-trained sweat down his doorstop chin, lost in the worship of music. Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield seem impervious to the wealth of new bodies on board. Lars Ulrich, though, sweats his way through a couple of shirt changes as if to acknowledge the open secret that maybe he isn't the world's best timekeeper. Rock he certainly can. But his tempo's on the line.

Altogether, the event conjures up new possibilities for the previously unthinkable rock/classical crossover, as well as at least one valuable truism. There is an intermission (How civilised - imagine, "SEE YA AFTER THE INTERVAL, MOTHERF--ERS! SPRITZERS ARE AVAILABLE IN THE FOYER!"). At the band's request, the air-conditioning has been turned off, which could be a way to enliven the frigidity of much minimalist composition. And there's another thing. 'Wherever I

May Roam' may well be a Metallica song, and its genre may be metal. You put strings on it, suddenly it sounds like The Verve.

You put strings on a conker, it sounds like The Verve.

It is a massive undertaking. Two full conducted hours of classical thrash later, the orchestra have played 'Battery' and learned what it's like in a rock band. The group have played 'Battery' and learned what it's like to play it wearing a suit jacket. And both parties sure they never heard a note the harpist played.

In the fragrant night, there's no riot going on. Just the kids. And they're playing air bassoon.

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