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Revisit Metallica's first-ever gig in 1982 and reflect on a piece of musical history


As time continues to roll by as time tends to do, we thought we’d use today to take stock and look back at Metallica’s first-ever gig in California way back in 1982. The gig would be the starting point for one of the biggest bands the music world has ever known.

Metallica has a following unlike any other. Their fans are somewhat rabid in their love for the thrash metal forefathers, and it feels unfathomable that at one point to consider that they were as few and far between as ballads in Metallica’s back catalogue. The group’s fast tempos, instrumentals and aggression would go on to crown them as one of the founding ‘big four’ bands of thrash metal, alongside Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. However, as all bands do, Metallica had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was the stage of Radio City in Anaheim, California.

The gig was an unusual proposition as the band, who were just a few months away from their recording debut on the first Metal Massacre compilation, performed mainly covers. The only two original songs, according to sources, were ‘Hit The Lights’ and ‘Jump in the Fire’. The set, therefore, included versions of Savage’s ‘Let It Loose’, Blitzkrieg’s ‘Blitzkrieg’, Sweet Savage’s ‘Killing Time’ and four Diamond Head tracks.

The band had not yet become the incarnation we know and love today, but James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Ron McGovney and Dave Mustaine played their first show nevertheless. One curious result of this line-up meant that Hetfield didn’t play rhythm guitar while singing, instead leaving Mustaine to take the axe all on his own. Hetfield’s vocals also haven’t quite reached the heights of their power, but the start of something was still there.

“The first gig was at Radio City, and I was just singing,” Hetfield reportedly told Kerrang in an interview. “There were a lot of people there, maybe 200, because we had all my school friends and all Lars’ and Ron’s and Dave’s buddies. I was really nervous and a little uncomfortable without a guitar, and then during the first song Dave broke a string. It seemed to take him an eternity to change it and I was standing there really embarrassed. We were really disappointed afterwards. But there were never as many people at the following shows as there were at that first one.”

Reported by Kerrang at the time, Lars Ulrich noted in his diary: “First ever gig. Very nervous. Only band. Dave broke a string on the first song. Played 50-50!!! Went down pretty good.”

Adding: “You eagle-eyed observers may notice that there’s not a lot of ‘Tallica originals being performed here at the first outing,” says Lars of the setlist. “Almost all NWOBHM covers, most of which ended up being recorded later along the way and showing up on various Garage releases.”

This band would go on to record multiple demos together, including the incredible and now highly sought after No Life ’til Leather and Power Metal tapes. McGovney wouldn’t be part of the band by the turn of the year and would be replaced by Cliff Burton. Mustaine would then follow suit the following spring, being replaced by the Exodus guitarist and legendary Metallica man Kirk Hammett.

The rest, as they say, is history. Metallica would go on to sell over 125 million records worldwide. They would play over 2000 gigs, including a mammoth Moscow show in 1991 reportedly watched by 1.6 million people, but it all started right here.

Metallica Setlist:

  1. ‘Hit the Lights’ (Hetfield, Ulrich)
  2. ‘Blitzkrieg’ (Blitzkrieg cover)
  3. ‘Helpless’ (Diamond Head cover)
  4. ‘Jump in the Fire’ (Hetfield, Ulrich, Mustaine)
  5. ‘Let It Loose’ (Savage cover)
  6. ‘Sucking My Love’ (Diamond Head cover)
  7. ‘Am I Evil?’ (Diamond Head cover)
  8. ‘The Prince’ (Diamond Head cover)
  9. ‘Killing Time’ (Sweet Savage cover)

Listen to the band’s rehearsal in Ron McGovney’s garage from that very year below.