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Metallica rocks out with San Francisco Symphony and over 250 Meyer Sound loudspeakers

The show took place in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the band's 1999 S&M concert and album release

Photos by Ralph Larmann

Metallica amped up their performance for two 18,000-strong shows earlier this month, with the help of San Francisco Symphony and a bespoke sound system consisting of over 250 Meyer Sound loudspeakers.

Staged in the round at San Francisco’s Chase Center for the venue’s grand opening and dubbed S&M2 (in homage to the 20th anniversary of the 1999 S&M concert and the album, S&M, recorded with the same orchestra), the shows had 70-plus musicians encircling the band.

Metallica’s show director Dan Braun commented: “We knew it would be much easier technically and logistically to do this show in an end-stage configuration, 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-list arenas with in-the-round staging, but placing a full symphony orchestra on the same stage, requiring more than 90 open microphones, added a newfound level of complexity.

“We decided from the outset that we did not want the orchestra off stage or isolated in any way,” said 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 Outwater (the conductor) as to how we would set it all up, but it worked out brilliantly.”

Metallica’s veteran FOH engineer “Big Mick” Hughes headed the main audio mix, with San Francisco Symphony head of audio Hal Nishon Soogian handling the orchestra pre-mixes and the final mix for two symphony-only pieces.

Braun continued: “I had unwavering confidence that Meyer Sound would give us everything we needed to achieve success at the highest level. 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 optimisation 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 bass. A cohort of 16 Galileo GALAXY processors linked via an AVB network provided system drive and optimisation.

A recent addition to Meyer Sound, Low-Mid Beam Control (LMBC) proved helpful in 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,” noted 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 maximising gain before feedback in this situation.”

(L-R) John Meyer; Dan Braun, Metallica show director; Helen Meyer

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.

S&M2 was filmed and will be shown in its entirety at more than 3,000 cinemas 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.