On March 14, 1982, some 200 people packed into Anaheim, CA club Radio City for a hard-driving metal show. What few people knew at the time was they were about to see the first-ever performance by one of the best-loved metal bands of all time: Metallica.
For Metallica - then comprised of singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Dave Mustaine, and bassist Ron McGovney - it was a trial by fire. "I was really nervous and a little uncomfortable without a guitar, and then during the first song Dave broke a string," Hetfield later told Guitar World. "It seemed to take him eternity to change it and I was standing there really embarrassed." But set opener "Hit the Lights" would give listeners a sense of what was to come from the band, and well before the decade ended, they were on their way to drawing huge crowds in arenas and outdoor festivals.
Some four decades after their first set, here's five furious facts about Metallica's live history.
Within a year, they'd settled on a line-up. After some three dozen shows throughout 1982 and 1983 - and with the album Kill 'Em All in the can - the band's first proper tour saw Mustaine (who, of course, went on to form Megadeth) and McGovney replaced by guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Cliff Burton. (Burton tragically died in a bus accident while on tour in 1986; he was replaced by Jason Newsted, who himself left the group in 2001. Robert Trujillo took his place, a gig he's held ever since.)
They've hit all seven continents. In 2013, the band performed for 120 people in a dome outside Carlini Scientific Base in Antarctica. The band's amps were encased in isolation cabinets and the sound was beamed direct to listeners' headphones, so as not to disrupt the environment with the sound of rock. This unique gig made them the first band to play on all the landmasses of the planet.
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They rarely take a year off. The only years since the band's formation that didn't see a single show on the calendar have been 2001 and 2020 (the year COVID-19 stopped most acts from touring). The band got back to it in 2021 with some special 40th anniversary sets in San Francisco.
They once had their own tribute act open for them. Five special dates to promote the covers album Garage Inc. featured the band exclusively performing other people's songs, but fans still got to hear Metallica music. The only catch? Battery, a renowned tribute act, were the ones playing the hits.
Through four decades together, they stay innovating. Rock acts had combined with orchestras in the past, but 1999's live album S&M took the combination to a loud new level. Since then, Metallica have mixed it up on tour in a lot of ways: a tour to promote St. Anger in 2003-2004 was offered to fans as digital downloads, and a 2014 tour of South America and Europe featured set lists voted entirely by the fans.