“They tried to shut Metallica down,” James Hetfield told a TV camera as his cozy tour van made its way across the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The date was November 11, 1997, and Hetfield and his bandmates — Kirk Hammett, Jason Newsted, and Lars Ulrich — were chatting with MTV’s Matt Pinfield on their way to the sports complex in South Philadelphia, where the American metal overlords were slated to play a free concert.

The gig was hotly anticipated as much as it was embroiled in controversy, and the fan club concert film Banned In Philly (which you can watch a VHS rip of below) gives you a taste of the landscape surrounding it.

Metallica had been looking to stage a massive free concert to launch its 1997 album Reload — the sequel to the previous year’s critical and commercial flop, Load — and a national radio campaign where fans were encouraged to vote for their city led them to Philadelphia (thank you, WYSP), and the CoreStates sports complex. But as we hear Hetfield grouse in the introduction to Banned, “Everything was a go, and then it wasn’t a go. Because we’re Metallica.”

A detailed history of what happened can be found over at Ultimate Classic Rock, where Delco-born rock journalist Michael Christopher breaks down the imbroglio. But in brief, the informal handle Million Decibel March — a play on the Million Woman March, which took place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway only a few weeks prior — had residents and local lawmakers intimidated, as did Metallica and their fan base’s general reputation for rowdiness.

The UCR piece digs up an old Daily News interview where then-councilperson, now-mayor Jim Kenney calls the parking lot setting of the event a mistake. “Once again, you’re going to have problems with crowds in a residential area.,” he said. “You’ll have noise and traffic congestion. If the heavy-metal rock group wants to hold a concert here, why not hold it inside the CoreStates Spectrum? And if you’re putting all these Beavis and Butt-Heads in the parking lot, where are you going to park the cars?”

“Beavis and Butt-Heads”…nice.

The CoreStates Complex took that suggestion seriously, though, withdrawing the parking lot and offering the band the 18,000-capacity Spectrum instead. Big as that venue was, it would only hold half of the people Metallica was hoping to draw to the event. A court battle ensued, with both a U.S. district judge and an appeals court ruling that CoreStates had to honor their initial agreement. The concert was on, with thousands of fans streaming into the gate, festival style, on a chilly autumn day.

In the video, we see beautiful vintage footage of Philly as Metallica makes its way to the show, and even during the show; behind the translucent backdrop, we can see the geometric patterns of Veteran’s Stadium. The setlist opens with “Helpless,” a cover of the new wave of British heavy metal band Diamond Head which at that point was only available on their storied Garage Days collection. The show was going to be “stuff pulled out of the old Metallica hat,” Hetfield told MTV, with Hammett reasoning that since it was a free gig, they were going to play whatever they wanted. “Actually, it’s going to be an hour and a half blues jam,” he laughed.

It was most definitely not that. In addition to three more covers — Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?,” from the band’s Kill ‘Em All LP, as well as Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” and Killing Joke’s “The Wait” — the setlist is definitely what you’d describe as fan-friendly. Only one song from the Black album was in the mix — the badass “Of Wolf and Man” — and its newest records, Load and Reload were repped with only two songs apiece. By contrast, three songs from Master of Puppets made the cut — the second encore was a killer “Damage Inc.” to close the show down — and two others from Kill ‘Em All.

Below, watch Banned in Philly and its document of the feverish, frenzied free Metallica concert that almost didn’t happen. For more, check out a photo gallery of the day over at Metallica.com.

Helpless (Diamond Head cover)
The Four Horsemen
Of Wolf and Man
The Thing That Should Not Be
The Memory Remains
King Nothing
Bleeding Me
No Remorse
Am I Evil? (Diamond Head cover)
Stone Cold Crazy (Queen cover)

The Wait (Killing Joke cover)
Master of Puppets

Encore 2:
Damage, Inc.