American heavy metal giants Metallica have released their first official acoustic set in a 2 LP package of a live performance they played on November 3, 2018 at The Masonic in San Francisco. Helping Hands...Live & Acoustic at the Masonic was a benefit concert for the band’s All Within My Hands Foundation which raises funds for charities who help the underprivileged with food banks, and also to aid in financing students through post-secondary education. The boys shed their electric guitars and ventured into somewhat newer territory, strapped with their acoustics in an intimate setting rather than the usual sold-out stadiums, they prove how adaptable they can go with stripped-down versions of some of their hits but also covering some tasty songs by other rockers.
The set opens with Disposable Heroes from their 1986 album Master of Puppets, which originally was a fast moving thrasher, but here frontman James Hetfield uses his 1966 Martin D-28 to express the body of the song, and his warm raspy voice over a quartet of backing players: on pedal steel guitar David Phillips, Henry Salvia on keyboards and percussionist Cody Rhodes give the number richer layers, yet retaining its vigor and crisp intensity. The next batch of tracks are covers such as When a Blind Man Cries, by Deep Purple, Please Don’t Judas Me, by Nazareth, Bob Seger’s Turn the Page, and Veteran of the Psychic Wars, by Blue Oyster Cult, all of which are polished anew here by the 9-time Grammy winners and their coterie of talented guests, delivering haunting versions that echo a western film style narrative with those reaching slide runs and Avi Vinocur’s mandolin.
Fans will also delight in re-adapted originals like Bleeding Me, All Within My Hands and The Four Horsemen which fit the acoustic scene, showing Metallica’s musicianship and dedication to pitch-perfect sound production. As the show slides along, they fit in Nothing Else Matters in a lovely reconstruction of the lead solo brought to new heights behind the eerie crying slide bars, then comes Kirk Hammett’s deft touch on perhaps their most famous hit Enter Sandman played on his beautifully designed acoustic/electric Godin A-12, which is the perfect tool for this setting, built with the under-saddle transducer that delivers big bold sound without worrying about feedback. It is a surprisingly fresh sound that differs from the original thrash rocker which shook arenas the world over.
The record’s finale is a song from their 2016 release Hardwired...to Self-Destruct, called Hardwired which hasn’t been reworked, but is a newly unplugged thrash style rock with a hard-driving tempo and another amazing solo by Hammett.
Helping Hands...Live & Acoustic at the Masonic is a bold and welcome addition to Metallica’s discography. It shows their willingness, like many artists have, to change speeds and styles, genres and instruments, in search of something different and daring. The explosive music and bravado they are famous for is replaced here by what seems at first a vulnerability, and a ‘let’s see what happens’ approach, but it worked out handsomely.
Whether you like the heavy rock sound or the softer closeness of your music, both are on full display on this wonderful record, by a band who knows their way around both worlds. The concert raised some $1.3 million for this admirable cause.
Hats off to Hetfield and company for a gem of a concert and album!