In case you're among the four Cream readers who haven't heard by now, last night Metallica put on an intimate surprise performance at The Basement in front of a crowd of fan club members, Grimey's staffers and a few lucky friends. The three decked-out tour buses parked on Alloway Street should have been a clue that this wasn't the latest indie buzz band, and the crowd of black-clad fans lined up outside was further evidence.
We waited outside while the band did their sound check, and even though it started to rain lightly, spirits couldn't have been higher. Around 7 p.m., after the band made their way back to the buses amid hearty cheers, the staff started checking people's passes and letting them in. One of the first things we noticed was a phalanx of Metro Nashville's finest, right outside the door. Seemed like a pretty natural thing...must be some cops here for crowd control, in case the word got out. (Surprisingly, the show's secret status must have been fairly well maintained, as no more than 50 or so uninvited guests waited outside for a glimpse of the band, and many of them were later allowed to listen from the smoking area behind the club. According to Basement co-owner Mike Grimes, a.k.a. Grimey, he was sweating all day fearing that word would get out and there would be a mob scene.)
(Many thanks to John Brassil for braving the front lines to get these photos.)
Anticipation (and the humidity!) was high as the band took the stage. And the Lord said, "Let there be metal." And it was loud. James Hetfield made some joke about the heat, at which a crowd member astutely shouted, "Wait till Bonnaroo!" Then Hetfield & Co. tore into "No Remorse" and the heads started banging.
Well wouldn't you know, we look to our left, and there are several Nashville cops, fully uniformed, banging their heads with the best of 'em. Of course, no hair was flying, but still, we're thinking, "Wow, you don't see that every day." We later found out that the cops weren't there for crowd control—they had gotten wind of the show, so they just showed up. When Grimey saw them outside a couple of hours before show time, he started to freak, thinking, "Oh shit, they're gonna shut me down, or the fire marshal's gonna show up." When he asked the cops if everything was OK, they said something along the lines of, "Yeah. We're just huge Metallica fans and wanted to check it out." Apparently they got their pictures taken with Hetfield and were happier than...ooh, bad analogy. You get the idea. There are some cool cops out there. Next time you get pulled over for speeding, blast some Metallica and you just might get off with a warning.
The boys continued to rock with authority—did we mention it was loud?—as their fan club members reveled in the glory, while several of Nashville's own rock luminaries shared in the love. We spotted Ghostfinger's Richie Kirkpatrick, American Bang, Willy Tyler and Ryan Norris, and...wait a second...who's that running the lights? Bobby Bare Jr.? Well, the young starving criminal managed to do alright with The Basement's minimal resources, and if he ever decides to quit music, he may have a future in lighting.
Highlights included "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," a blistering "Master of Puppets" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls." (By the way, we Googled the following two words, "Metallica" and "Sanatarium"—we know, it's the wrong spelling—and we got exactly 666,000 hits...cue Twilight Zone music.) It's easy to mock the art of metal shredding, but Kirk Hammett made a believer out of us, both for his artful ideas and his ability to play monstrously fast, yet stay right in the groove...and this over more than a few crazy math-metal beats that had us reaching for our calculators. And speaking of odd meters, drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo handled all those twists and turns with aplomb. (When was the last time you saw the word "aplomb" in a metal review? We went to finishing school.)
At one point Ulrich stepped to the mic and pointed out that there were a couple of Warner record biz types in the crowd, and said that, while the band loves playing in basements, if we told the record guys how good we thought the band was, maybe they could get a record deal. His comment was typical of the whole evening, with the band joking around, doing a few fake starts to old classics they hadn't played in forever, and just acting like a really good bar band. Which for one night in Nashville, is exactly what they were.