Download 2004 should have been a regular Metallica festival gig. The only problem was that Lars Ulrich had been taken ill with an anxiety attack on the plane over and was in hospital. The good news: Lars would be fine. The bad news: Metallica were down a drummer and the set looked like it wasn't going to happen.
Enter Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, who – along with Slipknot’s Joey Jordison - stepped in for Lars at the 11th hour to make sure the show went ahead. We caught up with Lombardo almost 20 years later to get his memories of a Metallica show like no other.
Slayer and Metallica both started in 1981 in Los Angeles. When did you first hear about them?
“I remember a live demo tape being passed around, and we’d listen to that – we were blown away. Slayer got to play with Metallica really early on at a club called The Woodstock in Orange County [on Oct 22, 1982]. I remember standing between James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine, watching them. That was an amazing experience.”
How did you end up playing with Metallica 22 years later, at the 2004 Download festival?
“Slayer had played in the tent earlier in the evening, and I was somewhere backstage when I was approached by management. They said, ‘Lars can’t make it, and Metallica was wondering if you’d be able to sit in?’ It was a bit of a shock. My first thought was, ‘Is Lars OK?’ But they said, ‘He’s OK, he’s at the doctors, he’s just having a bit of a moment.’ So I said I’d do whatever I could to help.”
Did they bundle you into a rehearsal room with the other guys to learn the songs?
“Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. I knew a few of their songs well enough to play them, but I just didn’t know all the detail of some of the other songs. So we agreed that I’d do the first two, Battery and The Four Horsemen, then Joey [Jordison] would jump in, ’cos he’d been in a Metallica covers band and he knew all those songs inside out.”
It’s five minutes before you’re due onstage. What’s going through your mind?
“Excitement. I love challenges: ‘Alright, let’s do it, we’ll work it out and make it happen.’ I was thrilled to be up there with those guys, but it was surreal seeing James and Kirk and Rob in front of me. Like, ‘Is this really happening?’ But I couldn’t question the moment, ’cos there was something more important at stake, which was to help Lars and the band deliver these songs, and deliver a show for the fans.”
Did you watch Joey play?
“Yeah, he was awesome. He knew the songs front to back, and he nailed it. I thought I was gonna jump in and play one of the songs during Joey’s section, but they decided to keep him for the rest of the set, which was totally cool with me. It took the stress off of me, like, ‘I know this song, but I really don’t know it as well as Joey does.’”
Did briefly stepping into Metallica’s world give you a different perspective on what they do?
“Oh yeah, especially with the live show. They were headlining, so the energy there was just intense. I definitely had to retain my composure and think, ‘This is going to be great, stay positive, let’s rock.’ After it was all done, we all took a bow at the very end. They were really grateful – they appreciated the help.”
How do you look back on it today?
“For them to even ask me was an honour, and I’m very proud to have helped them out when they needed it, and just been a small part of their history. Come on, I got to play with Metallica!”