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32 Years Ago: Cliff Burton Plays 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 toward 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 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 were already staking their 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 singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine toward 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 it 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” gathered at the Stone to mosh their night away.

Lucky for the rest of us, Lew was in attendance, as was fellow thrash enthusiast and photographer Harald Oimoen. Their written and photographic evidence of this historic night was reproduced in the book Murder in the Front Row, which recounts Metallica’s performance that night. The presence of hometown boy Burton won over the crowd, according to Lew:

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 was any lingering doubt that Burton’s live debut remains one of the most important events in Metallica’s history, consider 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.

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