Concert Review: Metallica Encore Drive-In Nights

Metallica Drive-in Concert

Well, that was a lot better than expected.

Metallica kicked off the Encore Drive-In Nights Concert series on Saturday night with a pre-recorded performance broadcast at drive-in theaters throughout the United States and Canada. Most shows were sold out and many locations added a second airing a few hours later.

So, was it worth the $115 ticket?

Certainly for those with a handful of friends, up to six per carload, to split the cost. Maybe, maybe not for couples, or even singles who added an extra stay in Reno, as a stop over to Southern California, to ensure seeing this one-off concert event at the West Wind: El Rancho Drive-In in Sparks, NV which featured Metallica on two of the four screens in front of probably 100 or so cars, most with multiple passengers.

Metallica Flags in Display at Sparks, NV drive-in
Metallica Flags were raised in Sparks, NV

OK, yeah, overall it was pretty cool.

And Metallica offered everything in their musical repertoire playing a 16 song set lasting just under two hours. It sounded like a concert even as it aired over FM radio in the car, the guys acted like they were in front a jammed packed arena (for the most part) and, just like a live show, the opening act, Three Days Grace, took the screen 30 minutes after the scheduled start time but Metallica, thankfully, taking the screen, or stage, mere minutes later and not making us wait much longer.

Metallica Encore Drive-In Nights Concert Review

Unlike Garth Brooks fans, who seemed almost duped into believing his drive-in concert from June was a live on-screen performance, Metallica made it clear this show was pre-recorded. But it didn’t feel like it, or even sound like it. Had Metallica been live on-stage somewhere else with the big screen offering those in some spill over section access to the show, I would have believed it. The camera work was well done, each member of Metallica got their screen time without a dizzying back and forth ADD style production.

A short video of Metallica getting ready to take the stage just before dusk, clearly somewhere in California wine country, showing them getting coronavirus tests and temperature takes, got the drive-in concert underway  while “The Ecstasy of Gold” played in the background before the guys opened with “Hardwired” which they also started with on their last tour celebrating the album of nearly the same name, but a song with lyrics, as vulgar as they are, so apropos. It sure seems like we are!

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“For Whom the Bell Tolls” followed and you never knew a bass guitar could double as a regular six string thanks to some clever picking from Robert Trujillo. In fact, Trujillo’s bass was quite pronounced throughout the evening, pretty much every song, more so than any concert from any band I’ve ever attended. The prominent bass line added a new dimension to the sound as Trujillo chunked away all night, but unfortunately this confined Kirk Hammett’s lead guitar which often sounded more like background enhancement, even when he soloed.

Metallica Drive-In Concert screen shot
So sue me, best screen shot I could grab!

But holy moly, singer James Hetfield’s vocals was like he was inside the car. For a heavy metal singer, Hetfield has a pretty outstanding tone, but on this night working the car radio volume helped immensely to roll back the volume when Hetfield sang and then crank it back up when the band went blitzkrieg.

Metallica played all their classics and now approaching 40 years they have many and many more, no doubt, left off leaving some fans wanting. “Fuel” followed, an underappreciated gem from 1997’s Reload then they went back in time for “Seek and Destroy” and “Creeping Death.”

Metallica kept the concert experience as real as possible. Hetfield talked to the audience, as if they were there, saying, “You couldn’t come to us so we came to you…Metallica is alive and well!” and later joked with his bandmates what drive-in audience was rocking out the hardest. Quebec won.

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Metallica incorporated an authentic stage flaunting various lighting features to augment the show, just like the real thing. Darkness slowly descended as the outdoor evening wore on and the lights became more notable. Plus, the between song breaks whether as a breather after a ripper, to switch out guitars, or let an intro recording play out, offered an unprecedented backstage pass and behind the scenes look for several songs including “One,” an unexpected entrance so early in the evening, less than an hour in.

Metallica spent nearly two years touring Hardwired…to Self-Destruct now four years old and played three songs off the record, “Hardwired,” “Now That We’re Dead” and “Moth Into Flame.” Hetfield also alluded to the band working on new material during the coronavirus quarantine but Trujillo mentioned in a 2019 interview the band was gearing up on a new material so perhaps sooner rather than later for a new Metallica album with so much downtime.

“Unforgiven” and “Fade to Black” highlighted the setlist with Hetfield embracing a stationary acoustic guitar in between riffing on the electric, “Nothing Else Matters” really shined and “Battery” was a nice surprise after the very popular “Master of Puppets.” “Enter Sandman” closed the evening – no encore – and if you’ve seen them before, actually live, you suddenly missed the fireworks and all the pyrotechnics Metallica works into their stage show. That’s what was missing.

Metallica continues to take the road less traveled whether holding a concert in Antarctica, becoming the first band to play a concert on all seven of Earth’s continents and now this, a drive-in concert experience to help bring a sense of normalcy as the threat of COVID-19 hangs in the balance while we try and live our lives, face coverings and all.

With some tweaking to the sound, I submit to you that the Metallica Drive-in Concert sets a benchmark for how concert films should be produced and recorded from this day further. But it would be so impressive if Metallica followed in the footsteps of some of the country music stars holding actual in-person concerts at drive-on theaters. We don’t need all the special effects and grandiose staging. Just the amps, guitars and drum kit. Make it easy on you, make it great for us.

Two hours of Metallica provided a respite to the world’s problems, but a pre-recorded drive-in concert ultimately serves as a reminder of things gone awry and a short term answer to anyone needing a stress relief from the world today.

Hopefully, the next time Metallica plays together we’ll all be together.

(And they better not release the Metallica Drive-In Concert on DVD next month! Unless they float the ticket buyer a complimentary copy.)

Metallica Drive-In Concert Setlist:

  1. Hardwired
  2. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  3. Fuel
  4. Seek & Destroy
  5. Creeping Death
  6. One
  7. Now That We’re Dead
  8. Sad But True
  9. Moth Into Flame
  10. Unforgiven
  11. Wherever I May Roam
  12. Fade to Black
  13. Master of Puppets
  14. Battery
  15. Nothing Else Matters
  16. Enter Sandman

I was going to rake the West Wind El Rancho Drive-In over the coals for a serious lack of communication, as in:

  • No one answers the phone
  • No email reply
  • No website form reply
  • No Facebook message reply
  • Nothing on the website even mentioning the Metallica Encore Drive-In Nights

Nothing!

An email to Encore Live was surprisingly returned within a few hours letting me know what time the gate opened. I left early expecting a long line to get in but rolled right up. El Rancho opened early and the staff were quote nice and welcoming.