Bay Area Metal Photographer Talks About METALLICA’s Early Days In New Interview

Ian S. Port of recently conducted an interview with legendary San Francisco Bay Area metal photographer Brian Lew about the large-format hardcover photo collection “Murder In The Front Row: Bay Area Bangers And The Birth Of Thrash Metal”. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below. What’s your backstory with the Bay Area metal scene?

Lew: Basically the whole kind of big story of the book is we were all just kids at the time. It wasn’t like METALLICA and SLAYER and MEGADETH were on tour, and we just met them. METALLICA came to San Francisco to play a showcase for Metal Blade Records. I arranged to meet them. I was fortunate enough to get their demo tape very early on, so I arranged to meet them in front of the Stone on Broadway, which was their first show [in S.F.]. But we were all the same age, so it wasn’t like I was meeting METALLICA. I was meeting a band who I wanted to meet. That was sort of the foundation of the original Bay Area metal scene. When was that first show at the Stone?

Lew: It was Sept. 18, 1982. The story is, they played in L.A. and nobody got them, and they came up here and for whatever reason we gravitated towards them. The one thing about that first show — that one moment where they made a connection with us — was we’d been exposed to this underground European New Wave Of British Heavy Metal … and nobody else knew about it. And then METALLICA came to town that first show. At the time, they would just play these cover songs as if they were their own. They had their own songs that were on their demo, but then they had a couple of DIAMOND HEAD songs in their set. But they wouldn’t say, because nobody knew who DIAMOND HEAD were. I just remember my friends and I being shocked that this band was playing a song by this obscure band. We thought we were the only ones who knew about them. That was just one more thing that kind of set the tone and made us bond with METALLICA and vice versa. They realized that we were speaking the same language. What were some other memorable shows here? You were at Cliff Burton‘s first show with METALLICA, right?

Lew: Back then, a show like Cliff Burton‘s first show, the magnitude wasn’t really obvious. They definitely went to the next level as band, and you could tell that. When Cliff played something clicked, and in between the time that they moved to the Bay Area and left for New York to record “Kill ‘Em All”, it was only like six months, really. So they played maybe five shows, and so then they did their first tour… that was like late ’83. That was sort of like the moment where they were definitely something bigger, you started reading articles about them. But the real game-changer was — and there are photos of this in the book — was in ’85 … they played a Day On The Green at Oakland Stadium. And in the Bay Area, Bill Graham‘s Days On The Green, they were iconic. They dated back to the ’70s, I went to them as a kid. It was before the days of packaged tours, so Bill Graham would put together these really unique bills. And the staging would be — it wasn’t like this generic big stage at a stadium. Every Day On The Green had a theme. If it was a July 4 Day On The Green, the scrims on either side of the stage would be Mount Rushmore, and the faces on Mount Rushmore would be members of the bands. It was a uniquely Bay Area thing. So for METALLICA to play a Day On The Green, being from the Bay Area, it was like a big deal, because up until that time, only rock stars played a Day On The Green. In ’85, they were like fourth on the bill with SCORPIONS, RATT, and they came out dressed exactly the same as they had always been dressed — ripped jeans, T-shirts with the sleeves cut off — but they were playing in front of 50,000 people. And of all the shows I’ve seen of them, that was the moment where it was like “Holy crap, this is, like, what’s going on.” They were just friends, and now our friends are playing in front of 50,000 people! So ’85 they played Day On The Green and they were third or fourth on the bill, and then six years later, they headlined and they had the No. 1 album in the country, and the Black Album became the Black Album. So within six years of them being those kids onstage… they were headlining it. And headlining at Oakland Stadium, which was like 20 minutes from where they used to live.

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