Metallica are known for switching up their set lists each night and, in a new interview on The Eddie Trunk Podcast, drummer Lars Ulrich spoke about what still makes that such an exciting element of the band’s live performances, how it keeps everyone “invigorated” and why being “10 percent under-rehearsed” is a positive thing.
This year marked Metallica’s real return to the stage after laying low in 2020 amid the early outbreak of the pandemic and making spot appearances on television and other events through through the wonders of video technology that allowed them to remain put at their headquarters in California.
For almost two decades, the thrash icons have made the effort to not repeat the same set each night and, Ulrich in particular, takes pride in this, notoriously researching past set lists in certain cities where Metallica are set to play again, ensuring the crowd will see something different than they did the last time.
He credited Metallica’s decision to offer fans downloads of each live show as the catalyst for actively trying to create unique set lists each night on tour — a move that is still paying dividends to this day.
“There’s about 50 or 60 songs, give or take, that we’ve been playing for the better part of the last 15 years that we can sort of roll into not necessarily at a moment’s notice, but it’s not like starting from scratch,” said Ulrich of Metallica’s live repertoire (transcription via UCR).
This summer and fall, Metallica took the stage at multiple festivals twice in the same weekend, which presented its own challenges. “We pride ourselves on, obviously, going deep, but there are some songs — “Enter Sandman,” “Master of Puppets,” “One” — that are kind of mainstays of the set,” Ulrich noted, inferring that removing one from the set list, which would be the case for these festival-bookending sets, was not at all a simple task.
Embracing the idea, the drummer continued, “We took the dare all the way to the finish line and didn’t repeat any of the songs. So, I guess, we were 34 songs in by the time we were done, which was super fun. It was super fun, but I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t challenging.”
Ulrich had pointed out that of those 50 to 60 songs that are in the repertoire, the band doesn’t have them all down to perfection, which can makes these nightly adjustments a bit loose and edgy when it comes to the show.
“I think anybody that knows us well knows that … it’s a bit of a high-wire act. We’re always 10 percent under-rehearsed. The energy of the moment, you feel like you’re really fucking in the moment with the rest of the guys in the band and with the audience… If you lose your focus, falling off the high-wire, it also makes it feel sort of more alive or more real or more just kind of crazy-cool,” he explained.
A lifelong Deep Purple fan, Ulrich referenced Ritchie Blackmore’s command of the show in the moment, soloing for as long as he’d like before giving a nod to drummer Ian Paice to return back to a chorus.
“I don’t want to get on my high horse here,” the Metallica skinsman cautioned, “but certainly the live, dangerous element has been missing a little bit [from the music scene]. I’m not saying that we fulfill that, but I’m just saying that for us to be able to go out and play different songs every night keeps us sort of invigorated, keeps us sort of in the moment and I think it’s a way to make sure you don’t drift off on autopilot.”
Metallica’s next two-set festival appearance will be Nov. 12 and 14 at the Welcome to Rockville festival in Daytona, Florida. See all their upcoming tour dates here.