Is Lars Ulrich playing better live now? That's a question James Hetfield addressed on a recent episode of The Metallica Report podcast.

Co-host and So What! fan club magazine editor Steffan Chirazi suggests that Ulrich has been playing some of his best shows of the last 10-20 years, asking Hetfield if he agrees with that sentiment.

"I'd say this tour in general — the last two years — we've been building up to it," Papa Het begins, asserting, "[He's] absolutely playing great."

Ulrich's ability to reliably keep time live has been a hot topic throughout his career, but performance is one part of the equation, with personal enjoyment being another.

"I hope he's having fun and not too worried about his playing," the Metallica frontman continues, "He would let his emotions just take him. Now he's a little more concerned about the click track and playing along with it, being solid. But I think as a group we are all playing really, really great, really tight."

Metallica M72 World Tour - Munich
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The idea of being loose onstage is something that doesn't bother Hetfield either. "It doesn't scare me, but I don't mind fucking things up. It's fun. There's still mistakes. There's still unique moments that happen and it's good," he says.

Of course, Metallica are somewhat infamous for the onstage gaffes, flubbing parts of songs or experiencing false starts where the band gives the song another go from the beginning. With varied sets nightly, the band utilizes a rehearsal room backstage to tighten up songs before re-introducing them onstage.

"We don't want to be that freakin' polished machine up there at all," Hetfield insists, "So, no matter how practiced, no matter how good we think we're doing, there's still stuff that happens."

Listen to the full episode of The Metallica Repost below.

Did Metallica Doctor Lars Ulrich's 2023 Download Performance?

When Metallica released official footage of their performance of "One" at last year's Download Festival, fans immediately noticed that Ulrich's 16th note triplets heard in the video did not match what everyone heard and captured on video at the festival themselves. It appears that the band doctored the footage in post-production so Ulrich's kick drums matched the performance of the original recording.

READ MORE: Rockers Who've Defended Metallica's Lars Ulrich

In theory, if the metal legends were playing to a click track on this song, this would make this edit much easier in post-production with the ability to place the kicks on a grid and stay in time with the rest of the original live performance.

James Hetfield and Robert Trujillo on Metallica Playing Fast Live

For bands who are not playing to a click track live to keep perfect time, the tempos can waver and songs are often played faster than the studio versions. It's completely natural.

"Songs tend to be faster live, like 'Fight Fire With Fire.' If I listen to the live recording, I think, 'Who's playing that?' Friggin' The Chipmunk/s [imitates chipmunks]. I couldn't play along with it. There's something that happens live," Hetfield told WRIF back in 2017.

Robert Trujillo even had to adapt his finger technique on bass to keep up with the intense demand for speed. "Actually, I developed a three-finger technique to keep up with the pace on some of the songs. When we play live, things get faster, it's a natural occurrence with Lars and the guys," he said to Bass Player, also in 2017.

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
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"No disrespect — it's just something that happens with all the energy. So sometimes I'll play a three-finger gallop technique that starts off with my ring finger and rotates. That way I can stay right in the pocket with James and Lars. But I had to learn all this. It was like I was lost when I first joined the band," Trujillo added.

Metallica Play Along Live to Hetfield, Not Lars?

It is tradition that the drummer keeps time and anchors the band, with the rest of the members' playing dictating by that timekeeping. Metallica, as we know, are anything but traditional.

In 2017, Gojira opened for Metallica on tour and frontman Joe Duplantier even got to wear Hetfield's in-ear monitors to hear what it is like onstage for him.

He recollected in an 2021 interview with Loudwire, "I plug them in and put it in my pocket and look at him and I was amazed to see that there was almost no drums in there. Who does that? What? Maybe there was some hi hat, but he was flying through the songs, playing and singing and it was only him in his monitors. A little bit of drums to stay connected to the rest, but some people need a lot of drums because they're so chaotic and are just sitting on the drums, like in my case for example."

Christian Petersen, Getty Images
Christian Petersen, Getty Images
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Praising Hetfield, he added, "This guy can do a whole show and I'm pretty sure everybody's following him, even Lars. I think Lars follows James when he plays."

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Gallery Credit: Loudwire Staff

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