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31 Years Ago: Cliff Burton’s First Show With Metallica

Brian Lew, Bazillion Points

On March 5, 1983, a scruffy crew of acne-afflicted youths going by the conspicuous band name of Metallica took a major step towards becoming the kings of thrash metal, when they mounted a stage for the first time alongside new bassist, Cliff Burton.

That stage was located in a tiny San Francisco club called The Stone, home to many of the earliest manifestations of the now legendary Bay Area metal scene – the spiritual and geographical birthplace of thrash metal – and was described thus by Brian Lew, who was there that night with his camera, in his review of the show for ‘Metal Mania’ fanzine:

Then it was time…Metallica, those Supreme Metal Gods, those Purveyors of Raging Sonic Decapitation, those Rabid Vodka-Powered Maniacs, blew our faces off as they stormed onstage through a flurry of smoke and blinding light and got things really banging with “Hit The Lights” and it was time to DIE!!!

Clearly Metallica was already staking its claim at the forefront of the fledgling local movement, despite having only just relocated from Los Angeles a few weeks earlier – all of it motivated as much by the greater musical affinity felt by vocalist and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine towards the “Bay Area Bangers” (versus the more commercially-minded metal bands back in L.A.) as it was by Burton’s flat refusal to join the band unless they headed north.

This they did, and it was on that March night that Metallica’s Hetfield/Ulrich/Mustaine/Burton lineup first revealed their inimitable combustible musical chemistry to the world – or at least the hundred-odd “Bangers” (a.k.a. lucky S.O.B.s) gathered at the Stone to mosh their night away.

Lucky for the rest of us, the aforementioned Lew was in attendance and so was fellow thrash enthusiast and photographer Harald Oimoen, because their written and photographic evidence of this historic night would duly be reproduced in the duo’s jointly compiled visual documentary of the times, ‘Murder in the Front Row’ – including the select images below.

As recounted in the book, Metallica’s performance inexorably brought the assembled “Bangers” to a boil, but it was undoubtedly the presence of hometown boy, Burton, that won them over for good, as evidenced by the following excerpt:

The moment many had been waiting for soon arrived. Bassist Cliff Burton’s solo spot!!! Cliff built his solo from a haunting classical guitar-sounding ballad up to a crescendo of some of the fastest, most apocalyptic bass raging ever performed! Throughout his symphony, Cliff (a.k.a. God!) utilized his wah pedal to attain sounds that most would believe impossible; you could swear he was playing lead guitar, not bass. Step aside Steve Harris, Bill Sheehan and Joey DeMaio!

And if there were any lingering doubt that Cliff’s live debut remains one of the most important events in Metallica’s history, consider too that opening the show that night was the Bay Area’s most formidable homegrown thrash band, Exodus, featuring Mustaine’s eventual replacement, Kirk Hammett on guitar.

Two weeks later, the boys were back at the Stone, and you the feral glory of Metallica’s – and Cliff’s – incredible onstage power, was captured by video camera. The clip is embedded below.

Harald Oimoen & Brian Lew’s ‘Murder in the Front Row: Shots From the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter,’ is available from Bazillion Points.

Watch Early Footage of Metallica in Concert

Brian Lew, Bazillion Points
Brian Lew, Bazillion Points
Brian Lew, Bazillion Points

Next: Metallica - Top Classic Rock Songs

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