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Last Gigs: Cliff Burton

Originally printed in Guitar World, November 2008

September 26, 1986 - Stockholm, Sweden

The line "he played the performance of his life” is certainly a well-worn one, but it more than aptly describes the show Cliff Burton put on with Metallica at the Solnahallen club in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 28, 1986. By dawn of the next day, only hours after leaving the stage, Burton would be dead, pinned under the band’s tour bus that was lying on its side in a ditch after a horrific accident in a small Swedish town called Ljungby.

From all accounts, the show at the Solnahallen was a towering success. Metallica, fresh from supporting Ozzy Osbourne in the States, was on a headlining run, spreading the gospel that was Master of Puppets, their breakthrough album, and they were on fire. Five songs into the set, Burton launched into a frenzied, five-minute solo that blended Hendrix-wah-distortion (with a good portion of “The Star Spangled Banner” thrown in, just in case anybody didn’t get the reference) with sweeping Van Halen–esque hammer-on runs (at the time, still a relatively new technique for bassists to explore). The overflow crowd roared euphorically. Burton was an instrumental genius who dazzled the senses.

He was also quite the showman, one who wasn’t shy about showing his bass who was boss. Recalls Eddie Kercher, Burton’s bass tech, “We were on the Ozzy Osbourne Ultimate Sin tour, and Cliff had just gotten an endorsement from Aria Guitars, so they sent us three basses. After a few shows, Cliff took off the bass and started smashing it against the side-fill monitor, which made a dent at the top of the neck. He told me I’d better start ordering more basses, because he liked whacking them around every night. Even after destroying a few side fills, putting holes in the stage, and throwing the bass out into the crowd, he was still using that instrument through the very last show he played in Stockholm. That thing never went out of tune. That was Cliff Burton!”

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