Lars Ulrich has offered his best guess on when Metallica and other bands like them could return to playing large arena concerts.

Saying such gigs will be "the last thing" to return from coronavirus lockdowns, the Metallica drummer and co-founder sided with various health experts who've predicted that live, in-person gigs won't return until fall 2021. And that's "at the earliest," the veteran metal musician estimated.

Still, in an interview from Tuesday (Nov. 10), the drummer delivered the sober assessment in a manner that might stoke excitement among Metallica listeners and future concertgoers. Once the group finally returns to the big stage, he indicated, the COVID-19 pandemic will be mostly in the rearview.

"The good news on the live concert front," Ulrich told CNBC, "when Metallica and other bands like Metallica play big arena or stadium concerts again, then you can pretty much count on the fact that COVID, as we know it now, is over."

But what about drive-in concerts, where attendees watch a live or simulcast gig from the comfort of their vehicles? Metallica staged one of their own this summer, but Ulrich doesn't see it as a viable way forward for the outfit.

"It was a success, but at the same time, I don't know what kind of legs that kind of experience will have because I think it's more of a one-off event," the Metallica figurehead explained. "I don't think it's something you could do too often. The burnout factor is too big."

That said, it's clear the Hardwired rockers anticipate a full year until the return of big concerts. To wit, Metallica spots at festivals such as next year's Aftershock (scheduled for October 2021) are already on the books. But such gigs will be the final piece of the puzzle, the Metallica drummer surmised.

"As we unfortunately have to come to grips with, the last thing that will happen are big concerts, you know 20,000 people in an arena, 50,000 people in a stadium," Ulrich said.

He added that sporting events will likely resume before concerts since they're "slightly more orderly" than a rock show.

So far, according to the CDC, over 10 million people in the United States have contracted COVID-19. More than 237,000 Americans have died from the disease. And this winter is poised to bring the country "a whole lot of hurt" as far as the virus is concerned, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious disease expert, told the Washington Post last month.

That's why Metallica are giving such a roomy estimate on their full live return.

"What we know now compared to three months ago, six months ago, is that the wait is unfortunately going to continue to be long," Ulrich added. "I would say … third quarter, fall of next year, at the earliest, is what we're betting on right now."

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