For two shows in early September, Metallica teamed up with the San Francisco Symphony for the first event in San Francisco’s Chase Center — the gleaming new home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors — while surrounded by capacity audiences of 18,000 for each show. Staged in the round and dubbed S&M2 (in homage to 1999 S&M concert and recording with the same orchestra), the 2019 shows had 70-plus musicians encircling the band with conductor Edwin Outwater perched on the perimeter of a rotating stage. The performances were delivered at full power and with panoramic scope through a custom-designed reinforcement system of more than 250 Meyer Sound loudspeakers anchored by a LYON system.
Once again Metallica dared to redefine the possible in both musical and technical terms, yet the result, according to a review in the San Jose Mercury News, was a performance “nothing short of epic” with “music that was unbelievably rich and powerful.”
Metallica Show Director Dan Braun played a pivotal role in translating the band’s vision into a cohesive concept and finally into the nuts and bolts of staging, sound and visuals. “We knew it would be much easier technically and logistically to do this show in an end-stage configuration,” he admits, “but the band really wanted to do it in the round. It’s a much more intimate vibe. So we went ahead despite the technical challenges. But that’s typical Metallica — never afraid to push the boundaries.”
Metallica regularly tours A-level arenas with in-the-round staging, in recent years using a similar Meyer Sound LEO Family reinforcement system. But placing a full symphony orchestra on the same stage, requiring more than 90 open microphones, added a whole new level of complexity.
“We decided from the outset that we did not want the orchestra off stage or isolated in any way,” says Braun. “We wanted them on stage, so everybody would be playing together as one band. And instead of separating them on stage, we decided to place the orchestra surrounding the band, with Lars on a drum riser in the middle. It took a major leap of faith by Edwin as to how we would set it all up, but it worked out brilliantly.”
Crafting the main audio mix was Metallica’s veteran FOH Engineer “Big Mick” Hughes, with San Francisco Symphony Head of Audio Hal Nishon Soogian handling the orchestra pre-mixes as well as the final mix for two symphony-only pieces in the program.
Delivering the concentrated power of Metallica along with the delicacy and dynamics of an orchestra in an arena setting places extraordinary demands on a reinforcement system, but Braun was confident of the result.
“I had unwavering confidence that Meyer Sound would give us everything we needed to achieve success at the highest level,” says Braun. “What we heard and saw in the arena was exactly what we intended to do. We had an entire design team come together to make the sound magical, so Big Mick could work with the best possible PA for this kind of production. When you’re in my position, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Meyer Sound system was custom designed for the unique challenges of S&M2 by Director of System Optimization Bob McCarthy with assistance from Senior Technical Support Specialist David Vincent and Technical Support Manager, Digital Systems James Edmondson. The outer ring of loudspeakers, covering the seating bowl, comprised 10 arrays in five stereo pairs, each with six LYON-M loudspeakers over six LYON-W wide coverage loudspeakers. Covering the floor and transitioning deep into the lower bowl were 10 inner arrays, again in five stereo pairs, of eight each LEOPARD line array loudspeakers. The stage was ringed with 24 UPJunior loudspeakers which functioned primarily to bring the image down for the floor seating. Five clusters of 1100-LFC low frequency control elements, deployed as cardioid gradient arrays, supplied forceful yet controlled deep bass. A cohort of 16 Galileo GALAXY processors linked via an AVB network supplied system drive and optimization.
A recent addition to the Meyer Sound technology toolset, Low-Mid Beam Control (LMBC), proved particularly helpful in precisely shaping uniform coverage patterns. “We set both the upper and lower arrays so that the curve in them makes the back lobe fire upward, away from the orchestra,” notes system designer Bob McCarthy. “If you look at 250 Hz, you see it streaming off into low risk areas of the ceiling, which thankfully here is like a giant pillow. The LMBC keeps those beams uniform and steered in the right direction, both to the back and the front, which is enormously helpful in maximizing gain before feedback in this situation.”
The sheer scope of the S&M2 project demanded close coordination of multiple contributors. The full complement of Meyer Sound loudspeakers was supplied by Production Resource Group (PRG), with Systems Engineer Chris Nichols working with McCarthy on tuning. UltraSound supplied the front end gear for the symphony mix, which included the full microphone complement along with Avid Profile and Yamaha CL5 consoles. The combined mix was through Metallica’s own Midas XL8 console. Audio crew chief Paul White oversaw both audio production teams for the two performances.
The concert setlist incorporated songs spanning Metallica’s four decade history closing out with “Master of Puppets”, “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman.” San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas took the podium following intermission to conduct the symphony in Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite and then, with Metallica joining in, “Iron Foundry” by Mosolov.
S&M2 was filmed and will be shown in its entirety at more than 3,000 theaters worldwide on one night only, October 9. Metallica resumes its WorldWired Tour in mid-October with shows in Australia and New Zealand, with a South American leg scheduled for spring of 2020.