My Metallica Cover Story
26 years ago today, Metallica kicked off their “Shit Hits The Sheds” tour – a 51-date trek that featured smaller outdoor venues across North America. By contrast, it also included an appearance at Woodstock '94 in front of over 300,000 people. At the time the band was huge; they were three years into touring behind their groundbreaking “Black” album and were headlining massive arenas, festivals, and stadiums. They did this run of smaller venues to allow fans to see them in a more intimate setting without their normal stage show. The tour has named after their box set, “Live Shit: Binge & Purge”, which was released in November of 1993, and the fact that small outdoor amphitheaters are nicknamed sheds.
I was lucky to catch the opening date in Buffalo to write a review for the British magazine RAW. While it's a great achievement to say your coverage of one of the biggest metal bands in the world was the cover, I'm more proud of how the feature came to be and it is a reminder on how much the press has changed in this short time.
THE BACK STORY
First, here is a bit of a lesson on how the music press in the U.K. worked back then. Before the internet, fans relied on printed magazines for news and reviews from around the world. There were three major metal magazines in England at this time; Kerrang! (published weekly) RAW (who I wrote for, published fortnightly) and the monthly Metal Hammer. (Oddly enough, Kerrang! And RAW had the same publisher.) Because of the short lead time (the period of time between when the magazine goes to the printer to the time it hits the stands) each magazine tried to get big stories first, whether it be news, an exclusive interview, or the first review of a major tour. American music magazines did not bother covering news as they often had a three month lead time.
As I was the East Coast correspondent, my editor asked if I would travel to Buffalo to cover the first show of the Metallica tour. The only problem was that the feature/review was needed immediately; I had to fly up the night before, see the show and then go back to my hotel room to write. Seems the entire book was ready to go to press, except for its cover story. My pages were laid out with stock photos – remember there was no digital camera back then - waiting for my copy to be placed in.
So, in the wee hours of the early morning, I pounded out my article on a word processor - I did not own a laptop – and asked the hotel staff to fax it to my editor in London. While it was a challenging experience, I have to say I felt like a true reporter covering my ‘beat’ in an attempt to ‘scoop’ our competitors. Sadly, due to the instantaneous way news is reported online, ‘getting the story first’ is no longer a way to sell magazines. Reviews and set lists are online before fans leave the parking lot and photos are posted on Facebook during the show.
Below is the text I wrote that night between lots of coffee and phone calls from my editor making sure I did not fall asleep at the keyboard. Enjoy!
Metallica’s 1994 US tour kicked off In Buffalo, New York on May 30. GAIL FLUG brings you the first frontline report. MEMORIAL DAY, a major American holiday reserved to honour the nation’s war-dead, has become the official opening day of the summer season. So what better date for Metallica to kick off their summer tour? Coined the ‘Shit Hit The Sheds’ tour, (hey, it’s on the T-shirts!), the 50-city tour, which features Suicidal Tendencies as the opening act on all dates, Danzig in the middle slot for the first half, and Alice In Chains in the final half, will cover the entire United States in three months. Though all the venues are outdoors, they’re not the huge football stadiums you’d expect. For example, the Darien Lake Amphitheater holds 16,000, yet due to the expanded general seating area on the lawn, 21,000 fans will be crammed inside the venue. Incidentally, this Metallica outdoor show is the fastest-selling concert ever at his venue, beating last year’s Van Halen show. From the outside, Darien Lake is the last place you’d expect a metal show to take place. The amphitheater is located slap-bang in the middle of an amusement park, complete with dry water rides, arcade games, laser and firework shows, and more junk food than our stomach could handle. The park is large enough to include camping grounds, complete with electricity and a swimming pool. Unfortunately, it’s in a far-from-glamorous location, as you have to drive along a pebbled dirt road and park along the grass, trying your best not to bust your tires on broken beer bottles. Due to the national holiday, the festivities start in the parking lot. Several thousand fans arrive in the early afternoon to sit in their cars and drink booze, cook over open fires and, of course, blast Metallica music. Local Hard rock radio station, WFOX, have their van parked here as well, as they’re staging a banner contest for fans to upgrade their tickets to the reserved seats. They’re also giving a T-shirt to anyone who presents them with a bra! According to plan, once they get enough bras, the lot will be strung together and hung across Niagara Falls, along with some of the winning banners. Despite the thousands of people getting wasted in the parking lot, security at the venue entrance is tighter than any show I’ve been to in my life. Everyone is frisked, bags are checked thoroughly (they actually checked inside my marked bottle of aspirin to make sure no illegal drugs were inside), and they wouldn’t let you in if you are wearing any kind of metal jewelry (like that gold chain grandma gave you is really going to hurt someone)
It’s a pity that a lot of the reserved seats up front were empty during Suicidal Tendencies’ set. With only 30 minutes to spare, the quintet kept it basic, with a well-rounded mix of styles. The hard, Punk-ish opener, ‘You Can Bring Me Down’, and the near-Boogie of ‘Church Of Suicidal’ came across solid and heavy, yet the anthemic ‘Suicidal Tendencies’ and ‘Suicidal’ were the best-received numbers. Vocalist Mike Muir kept his stage raps short and sweet (a remarkable feat, given that his song intros often last five minutes-plus), and he was in fine form despite being fresh off a mini-tour with his side-project, Infectious Grooves. Guitarist Rocky George eeked out some fine fluid leadwork, adding colour to the moody ‘Lovely’, and some muscle to newie ‘Suicyco Muthaf**ka’. In the end, everyone who came early enough to see the band enjoyed them. By contrast, the crowd was well primed for Danzig, who have topped up their popularity quota in recent months with their live EP, ‘ThraIl-Demonsweatlive’. As their new album isn’t getting a Stateside release till July, Glenn and the boys shunned new material in favour of tried and tested stuff, kicking off with ‘Brand New God’. ‘Snakes Of Christ’ and the driving ‘I’m Coming Down’, both entrenched in thick, Sabbath-riffs, were a hit, but it was the hit single ‘Mother’ that heralded utter chaos and a mad rush to the stage. It as a shame that security was unable to control the crowd, as I wanted to give Danzig a fair shake, something that was hard to do when so-called fans are tossing chairs in your face. Nevertheless, it was good to hear great songs like ‘Her Black Wings’, ‘Twist Of Cain’, and the powerful ‘Dirty Black Summer’ again. Perhaps a Misfits song or two would’ve made Danzig’s set complete.
At long last, it’s time for Metallica. After the taped intro music, a cover of Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’ kicks things off with a cloud of smoke and a deafening response. Old favourites start early, with an abridged version of ‘Master Of Puppets’ (coupled with a mass singalong), followed by ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’. In keeping with the tour’s ‘just get out there and play’ policy, there’s no big stage production, save some colourful lights and pyro effects. In an effort to cram in as many songs as possible, a medley of snips and riffs from ‘Seek And Destroy’, ‘Ride The Lightning’, ‘No Remorse’, ‘Four Horsemen’, ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Phantom Lord’ are pieced together, and collectively known as ‘Pile Of Shit, Part Two’. Part One was played on the last tour, featuring tracks from the ‘... And Justice For All’ opus. As the set progresses with ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ and ‘Disposable Heroes", it becomes clear that the show is slanted towards the older material. The band is constantly toying with the crowd; James says that they’ll be doing a new song written by bassist Jason Newsted, only to break into an extended version of ‘Seek And Destroy’, while Kirk Hammett’s solo featured a snippet of ‘The Unforgiven’ on Spanish guitar, before leading into ‘Nothing Else Matters’. The crescendo-building ‘Fade To Black’ was accompanied by an array of flames and was a major highlight. It was sandwiched between two ball-busters: ‘Creeping Death’ and ‘Whiplash’, the latter featuring Jason on lead vocals. Most of the encores were no surprise. The powerful crunch of ‘Sad But True’ (overshadowed slightly by the blinding bombs and gunfire effects) was followed by ‘One’ and the big one of the evening, ‘Enter Sandman’. Of course, it wouldn’t be Metallica without a big ending, and it’s the Anti-Nowhere League’s anthem ‘So What?’ that closes the night on a fun note. But as the tour itself as an unexpected treat, maybe this was the intention!