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It's Metallica week by the Bay.

And fans have come from all over the country to celebrate the occasion, which marks the group's 30th anniversary. They were drawn by the promise of seeing the Bay Area's most legendary (still active) band perform at the Bay Area's most legendary venue.

Metallica plays the Fillmore in San Francisco.

That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

This is an act that usually plays arenas and stadiums, performing four nights at a 1,200-capacity venue. No wonder it was so tough to get tickets, which were offered up only to fan club members. The price of the tickets? A pass to see all four concerts was $19.81 -- a figure that honors the year the band formed. (Individual shows cost $6.)

Yeah, that's a bargain. Just ask longtime fan George Good, who flew in from Bloomington, Indiana, to see opening night of the run.

"I'm as happy as a clam," said Good, who was attending Monday's show with his friend Jeff Brodner of Santa Rosa. "They could've charged me $800 and I would've bought it."

That summed up the overall sentiment of fans -- who acted like the rare opportunity to see their favorite band perform in such an intimate setting was darn-near priceless.

The first night of the run -- which continues with shows on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday -- was truly designed for the die-hard fan. The set list wasn't built on hits, but rather with lesser-known songs, "deep cuts" and other rarities. Some of the tunes had never been performed live before.


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That may have been a thrill to the Metallica aficionado, but it also could have been bummer to those hoping (in vain) to hear such hits as "Enter Sandman" and "Nothing Else Matters."

The nearly three-hour set -- which started at around 11 p.m., roughly four hours after the venue doors first opened -- got off to a triumphant start as Metallica performed an absolutely blistering version of "The Call of Ktulu." This fan-favorite cut from 1984's "Ride the Lightning" was only the second instrumental track the band recorded — the first was "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth" from the 1983 debut Kill 'Em All" — but the version performed at the Fillmore made it seem like instrumentals could be Metallica's specialty.

The quartet -- vocalist-guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo -- would then slay the exuberant crowd with the "Kill 'Em All" cut "No Remorse," which stands as one of the best offerings in Metallica's songbook. The songs that immediately followed, including "The Shortest Straw" (from 1988's " ... And Justice for All") and "Leper Messiah" (1986's "Master of Puppets"), were nearly as strong.

The overall feel of the concert was very informal -- more like a bar band (albeit, an unusually talented one) performing before family and friends than that of a multiplatinum act playing for salivating fans. In that sense, it felt so drastically different from the well-rehearsed product one gets with Metallica's regular arena show.

The band members took long breaks between many songs, casually talked among themselves and with the audience, and invited several guests onstage — including one fan, who played guitar on "Wherever I May Roam," and former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted.

More guests, varied set lists and other surprises await fans as Metallica week continues at the Fillmore. Fans can also download recordings of these shows at www.livemetallica.com.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.