Does anyone else remember that time Metallica played a secret show as a Ramones cover band?

Metallica onstage in 2002
(Image credit: metfan4l via Youtube)

2002 wasn’t exactly the best time to be in Metallica. In January the preceding year, longtime bassist Jason Newsted fockin’ left the band, sending the remaining three horsemen into a tailspin of self-doubt, therapy and, for singer/guitarist James Hetfield, a stint in rehab. The future of metal’s most successful outfit was suddenly under extreme threat.

Nonetheless – on June 4, 2002 – Metallica were able to pull themselves together just enough to perform their first show in 18 months, not to mention their first show without Jason since 1986. The band were in the middle of a revamp, rebuilding themselves following the hellish turmoils of their immediate past, so it was something of a ragtag affair. The gig was a secret show under the pseudonym Spun, and it took place in a minuscule San Francisco dive bar called Kimo’s, as opposed to the stadium-sized extravaganzas that James, guitarist Kirk Hammett and drummer Lars Ulrich had held for upwards of a decade. The band’s longtime producer, Bob Rock, filled in on bass, while James had to play the gig sitting down as he was recovering from a recent neck surgery.

The setlist saw Metallica retreat to their roots. As was befitting of the scabby and intimate environs they were performing in, the quartet elected to begin the night as a Ramones cover band.

Despite Metallica coming to prominence in the early 80s for introducing a mesh of instrumental technicality and accessible yet monstrous melodies to the heavy metal scene, the members claim to have been hugely influenced by the more loosey-goosey punk of the Ramones. Lars told Howard Stern in 2020: “From the first album, right when it came out [in 1976], it was like, ‘Wow! Look at these guys!’ I remember showing all my friends the album cover and being like, ‘Look at these guys! Queens dudes in their tattered jeans and leather jackets, it’s so fucking cool.’”

Kirk added: “It was so inspiring to see the Ramones, especially as a teenager, because I didn’t look like Robert Plant! I looked more like [bassist] Dee Dee Ramone!”

Plus, earlier in 2002, Metallica had been asked to contribute to an upcoming Ramones tribute album, so the punk icons were in the forefront of their minds. They played four songs by the band at that Kimo’s show – Commando; Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World; 53rd & 3rd; and Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue – footage of which can be seen below.

Despite Metallica’s hodge-podge lineup – as well as James’ inability to be his usual, power-stancing self – the four sound at home playing the scrappy punk jams. Papa Het’s bark is the perfect punctuation of the raw guitars and drums. Even when the band screw up 53rd & 3rd to the point of needing to restart it, it only reaffirms the punk rock rawness of the night; it also shows Metallica in refreshing good humour during a famously tumultuous period.

Ultimately, all of these Ramones redos would resurface as studio recordings. Metallica’s rendition of 53rd & 3rd made the tribute album, released in 2003 with the title We’re A Happy Family, whereas the others made it onto the b-side of the St Anger single. Many of the covers didn’t grace a setlist beyond 2003, but they’ll always be part of the much-needed glue that kept metal’s juggernauts together during their darkest days.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.