Lars Ulrich on Why Bands Should Always Change Set Lists
Lars Ulrich said it was important for Metallica to change their set list every night, arguing that it was the best way to avoid playing shows “on autopilot.”
In a recent episode of The Eddie Trunk Podcast, the drummer noted that his band had delivered different performances every night for almost 20 years and discussed what they’d discovered after taking that approach. “We’re certainly not one of those bands that lock ourselves down for like a month and do five days a week, eight-hours-a-day-type of rehearsal," he said.
“There are about 50 or 60 songs, give or take, that we've been playing for the better part of the last 15 years, and we can sort of roll into. Not necessarily at a moment's notice, but it's not like starting from scratch.”
He cited the example of recently playing three shows over a weekend at the same festival, noting promoters had laid down a “dare” to be different each time. “We wanted to do something which has never been done before, which is to have a Metallica show on Friday and Sunday of the festival, and then we would play a unique set,” he recalled. “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.
“I think anybody who knows us knows that … we're a bit of a high-wire act," he added. "We're always 10 percent under-rehearsed.” He said the result was that “you feel like you're really fucking in the moment with the rest of the guys in the band [and] with the audience.”
Ulrich compared Metallica’s approach to that of classic-era Deep Purple: “Ritchie Blackmore … he'll just keep soloing till he doesn't want to solo anymore. He'll look over at [drummer] Ian Paice, and they'll go into the third chorus and whatever. There was great impulsivity, a great spontaneity, a great momentary energy that came out of that.”
Without naming any names, he said, "I don't want to get on my high horse here, but certainly the live dangerous element has been missing a little bit. I'm not saying that we fulfil that. … 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.”