Saturday, September 03, 2011

Damage Inc.

Dreamforce Convention
Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco
August 31, 2011

Back in June this was posted on Metallica's official website:

San Francisco Show??
June 22,2011

It all started when Kirk mentioned that his next door neighbor had invited us to play at his party in San Francisco and we figured "why not?" After all, it has been quite some time since we've played in our hometown, and we haven't exactly been getting out a lot lately. Well, it turns out that Kirk's neighbor, Marc Benioff, is the top dog at a "small" company called and his shindig actually lasts for four days and hosts over 30,000 people! So much for a little backyard barbeque . . .

Following in the footsteps of Neil Young, the Foo Fighters, Black Crowes, and Stevie Wonder, we are excited to announce that we have been invited to play at the ninth annual Dreamforce convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco on Wednesday, August 31. It promises to be quite the party . . . where else can you learn everything you ever wanted to know about cloud computing during the day and then rock out with the 'Tallica at night?

Bizarre, right? Long story short, the Metal Godz work in mysterious ways and I found myself with a pass to watch the biggest Metal band of my generation play a corporate gig. Also, for those keeping score, this would be the first show Metallica had played inside the San Francisco city limits since November 2005 when they supported the Rolling Stones at AT&T Park. Oh... and this trade show appearance also happened to fall on the anniversary of this legendary "intimate" hometown show from a million years ago:

August 31, 1985

Sometimes this blog writes itself, man. Per the pre-show instructions we picked up our passes at a Will Call table set up inside Jillian's, a sports bar a couple of blocks from the convention center. I was pleasantly surprised that a good number of old school Metalheads were in attendance and we were able to have some decent socializing before heading over to the show.

According to the Umlaut Archives this would be my 40th Metallica show. The street running in front of Moscone Center was blocked off and filled with tents and serving tables; it was obvious this was not going to be a typical Metallica concert. We flashed our passes to get past the security check point and were greeted by literally a block of tables and booths serving free food and drinks. There was also a small stage set up for some kind of entertainment. The amount of money spent on this event was already staggering and we hadn't even entered the building yet!

As we entered the convention center and took the escalator down to the space where Metallica would be playing it was obvious this was 99% NOT a Metallica crowd. Suits, business casual, and Dockers was the overwhelming dress code. Inside the space it was downright bizarre with massive video screens behind the stage and ringing the huge space.

The space was huge and I guessed there were probably at least 5,000 people gathered but they stopped letting people in at one point even though there was plenty of room for more humans. Unfortunately, the stage was way too low for such a big show... and that proved to be a bummer once the show started since the only way to see the band was on the massive video screens. To balance that out the room was lined with more free food and alcohol tables! An open bar at a Metallica concert is a good thing, right?

The band was a good 20 minutes late hitting the stage, so as I stood there I chatted with friends who were also Metallica fans in exile tonight... and overheard a guy in a suit standing behind me say how he had seen Metallica at The Kabuki (San Francisco) in 1985. I was at that show too which meant we're around the same age, so I turned around to check him out. It was obvious from his suit that he'd grown up while I'm stuck in a retarded state of adulthood wearing a Ghost t-shirt. Meanwhile, the other tech geeks around us continued to get drunk on the free booze. Then the CEO (or whatever) of Dreamforce came onstage looking ridiculous wearing WAY too much Metallica swag (a Metallica hat, jacket, and t-shirt tucked in to show off a Metallica belt buckle) and proudly announced that tonight was Metallica's first ever appearance at a corporate event. The tech geeks cheered; I threw up a little in my mouth.

Finally the houselights went down and Metallica's standard 'Ecstacy Of Gold' intro tape started with the standard Eli Wallach graveyard scene from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly accompanying it on the massive video screens. At that moment if felt like a Metallica concert.. at least for several minutes. However that vibe changed as soon as the band hopped onstage into 'Creeping Death' and the crowd action started..... and by "crowd action" I mean thousands of tech geeks holding up their iPhones, Androids, and even iPads to film the band! If someone had started a good pit I'm sure thousands of dollars of tech gadgets would have been damaged... but, alas, no one did.

The set continued with 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' and the irony of watching this song on this date in front of this crowd was almost crushing to me. Everyone knows the most iconic video in existence of Cliff Burton is of the song from that Day On The Green in Oakland on August 31, 1985... and to witness the song be reduced to basically background music at a corporate event almost made me cry.

Thankfully Metallica sounded GREAT and they performed like the pros that they are now... but the vibe of the space was wrong on every level for a "Metal" show. The audience was an elite group of whatever they do for Dreamforce and the band were simply freaks onstage performing for their amusement; it was like watching court jesters perform for an audience who ultimately didn't give a shit. I doubt the vast majority of the crowd could even relate to the music on any level... but free alcohol can make anybody a Metalhead, right? It was downright horrifying to watch drunk 20-something business casual chicks and dudes trying to dance to 'Blackened'... and I literally wanted to punch a guy wearing a lime green sweater over a blue button down shirt and slacks who was "dancing" to 'Master Of Puppets'.

Best quote: "You know, you can take your tie off.." - Hetfield to the crowd.

At one point I had to gather my sanity and wandered off to find the Men's Room. I was shocked to see how many half empty cups of beer were left everywhere around the space. The tech crowd may have shitloads of money but they are unbelievable lightweights!

When I eventually found a Men's Room I was greeted by a toilet completely covered in vomit. Lightweights!!

The highlights of the set for me were 'Fade To Black' and 'Blackened' (despite the dancers) and the first encore of 'Last Caress' because the song's "I raped your mother today" line seemed completely lost on the audience. However, when the band started 'Enter Sandman' I could literally feel the collective reaction of the casual audience as they all had the exact same thought: "I know THIS song!"... and standing next to me was an SFPD officer who tapped along to the song with his fingers on his holstered service revolver. Exit light, enter night...

As the 90 minute set ended with 'Seek And Destroy' I couldn't help but think how the song used to make me want to fuck shit up back in The Day... but tonight the song probably only made these people want to sell the shit out of Dreamforce when they got back to the office. As the band took their bows we headed for an exit but walked straight into one final "what the fuck" moment for the night. As we looked for an exit, we walked into a huge side room filled with vintage pinball machines and video games, more free food, and more open bars. The area also featured 2 giant screens that showed what was going on in the next room onstage... so those with only a casual interest in Metallica could still say they "saw" Metallica even if they didn't really give a shit about the band.

Vintage video games > Metallica

Shrimp tacos > Metallica

This was far and away the most bizarre Metallica show I think I'll ever experience. The irony of this performance happening on the anniversary of the legendary Day On The Green show was almost too heavy for me to bear... but it also reminded me how much things have changed for Metallica with their massive success since the Old Metal Days. When it comes down to it, Metallica are still my favorite band, but with that comes some mind crushing perspective.

THANKS to Toby for sorting me for the show.

There was no merch for sale. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Despite the nature of the show it was still an F-U-N Wednesday night out... but August 31, 1985 still lives in my heart... "Do you all know Cliff Burton over here?"