Music News & Reviews

What was Metallica’s best concert in Sacramento? It might have been in a parking lot

A taste of Metallica as they head to Sacramento during world tour

Metallica, arguably the most famous metal band of all time, announced its first Sacramento concert in nine years on Monday as part of a 34-city tour. The band will be here in December 2018.
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Metallica, arguably the most famous metal band of all time, announced its first Sacramento concert in nine years on Monday as part of a 34-city tour. The band will be here in December 2018.

Metallica will hit lucky 13 Friday night at the Golden 1 Center. The heavy metal superstars have previously played in Sacramento a dozen times, with the most recent show coming on its “WorldWired Tour.”

Given Metallica’s roots in the nearby San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento’s been a regular stop as the band’s risen from the thrash-metal underground to arena rock stardom. They’ve rocked a number of local venues over the past three decades, ranging from dusty parking lots to its biggest arenas.

So, turn up your Mesa Boogie amplifier to “11” and throw a devil horns salute. Let’s take a look at five of Metallica’s most memorable shows in Sacramento:

Sacramento Memorial Auditorium (1985)

How much a difference 33 years makes when you’re Metallica. Back in the winter of 1985, Metallica made its Sacramento debut as an opening act for Y&T at the Memorial Auditorium. Now, Metallica is on another touring lap of arenas while Y&T will headline the downtown club Ace of Spades on New Year’s Eve.

Looking back, 1985 marked a pivotal year for Metallica. Boosted by a show just a few months earlier at the Day on the Green festival in Oakland, where legend goes that Metallica upstaged everyone including headliners the Scorpions, Metallica was breaking out fast from the heavy metal underground to superstar status.

The band’s 1985 show in downtown Sacramento was part of its “Ride the Lightning” tour, a crusher of a show that kicked off with the now-classic “Creeping Death.” In those pre-Internet days, Metallica had to build its fan base one mosh pit at a time, and Sacramento was definitely sold after this show.

Arco Arena (1988)

The second incarnation of Arco Arena was barely a month old when Metallica came to town that year. Talk about a way to christen the former home of the Sacramento Kings.

With the 1988 release of “… And Justice for All,” (CQ) Metallica graduated from opening act status to a headlining force at arenas. This tour, dubbed “Damaged Justice,” took the band’s production to A-list levels, including an oversized replica of Lady Justice from its album cover.

The opening act, Queensryche, riding on its Pink Floyd-ish hit “Silent Lucidity,” was a quick afterthought once Metallica launched into its set with a one-two punch of “Blackened” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” While some fans may have wondered if the band’s live show would ever be as ferocious following the 1986 death of bassist Cliff Burton, this Sacramento gig barely took a breath following the one-two punch of “Blackened” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Tower Records parking lot (1996)

No permit? No problem.

Metallica was on a DIY-styled mission to promote its album “Load.” Those plans included throwing a free show in the parking lot of the former Tower Records on Watt Ave. A proper permit to host the show never came through — but that’s just a mere technicality when you’re the world’s biggest heavy metal band.

Metallica played on, setting up its gear on top of a flatbed truck and cranking out a 30-minute set for 3,000 fans. As the band whipped through “Creeping Death” and “Sad But True,” the Metallica diehards moshed and crowd surfed in spaces that might normally be reserved for minivans.

Cal Expo parking lot (1998)

Metallica, it seems, really likes to play parking lots. Just a couple years after its makeshift show in front of Tower Records on Watt Ave., Metallica was back in the lot — but this time at Cal Expo.

The Cal Expo Amphitheatre, one of Sacramento’s major concert venues, had closed just about a month before Metallica came to town in 1998. The amphitheater was the site of previous Metallica concerts in 1989 and 1994, but it wasn’t an option this time. So, the dusty parking lot turned into a makeshift concert venue where the band charged through such signatures as “Master of Puppets” and “One,” while also treating fans to acoustic versions of “The Four Horsemen” and a cover of the Misfits’ “Last Caress.”

Arco Arena (2004)

Metallica were grizzled veterans once they arrived for the Sacramento stop of its “Madly in Anger with the World” tour. Bassist Jason Newsted had bailed from the band, and there was enough inner-group dysfunction to fuel the 141-minute documentary “Some Kind of Monster.” Even frontman James Hetfield took a moment in the show to thank everyone “who’s stuck with Metallica through all the rough times.”

There was no phoning it in from the band that nearly broke up. In fact, Metallica sounded renewed with the addition of bassist Robert Trujillo and his flying fingers. Metallica dug into some of its speediest tunes, including “Battery” and “Hit the Lights,” as the crowd headbanged away. No doubt, Metallica was here to stay.

If You Go


When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Golden 1 Center

Cost: $250 and up (resale tickets available through Ticketmaster)