Twenty years ago today—on July 17, 1994—Metallica played UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium. The world’s most popular heavy-metal band was still touring in support of its hugely successful self-titled release of 1991, aka The Black Album, so of course I went.
Here’s my review, which was published in the Georgia Straight newspaper’s July 22-29 issue under the headline “Sun Shines on Headbanger Heaven”.
What better way to get primed for a Metallica gig than to take a four-hour cruise around the harbour with a smokin’ blues-rock band and 75 beer-crazed party animals? None, thought I, so I hopped on board the Boomtownat noon on Sunday and we motored off towards Deep Cove, the sun peepin’ through the clouds, while Will “Smokey” Logg and the Flame Throwers laid down a rowdy Stevie Ray Vaughan-type vibe on the upper deck.
Just after we passed a flotilla of Japanese warships anchored in the harbour—a few folks shouted the obligatory “Tora! Tora! Tora!”—the rain came down, and I started wondering what kind of soaked, muddy mess T-Bird Stadium would be by the time I got there. The unstoppable Mr. Logg and his mates quickly transported their rain-spattered gear down to the bar level and carried on—they’d come all the way from Dallas, Texas, and weren’t about to be shut down by some liquid Canuck sunshine—and I was almost tempted by the band’s raucous sound to stay on board after we docked and forgo a soaking.
But I had a review to do, goddamnit!
“Sounds like really bad thunder,” said my Metallica-loving nephew, Jeff, as we trudged from the student parking lot towards Thunderbird Stadium. He wasn’t commenting on the inclement weather, though. The bad thunder was coming from California skate-thrashers Suicidal Tendencies, who were busy bringing their full-throttled noise to the throngs of backward-baseball-cap-‘n’-big-pants-wearing ‘boarders mashed into a steaming mess in front of the stage.
There was no refuge to be found in the stadium’s covered seating area, so we stood out in the field and shivered, until Jeff got the bright idea of spending $95 on Metallica T-shirts and tank tops to keep himself warm. Cool shirts, mind you. Lotsa skulls.
I became an expert at watching circles of young men play hacky-sack during the next little while, waiting for Candlebox to take the stage. Fellow Seattleites Alice in Chains had cancelled their appearance—due to illness, according to signs outside the gates—so the two warm-up acts that weren’t ill had to take up the slack. Candlebox vocalist Kevin Martin dedicated the band’s opening tune to its favourite band, Aerosmith, and another to Canadian and American Natives, “whose land we stole”.
“I do believe it stopped raining,” announced Martin early in the set, but that precipitous pause was followed shortly by an increased downpour. Since Martin couldn’t quite coax the sun from its cloudy lair, hardly anyone cheered for his band. Or maybe the audience just didn’t like the music. Beats me.
As if to spite Martin–and prove the power of the almighty Metallica–the sun appeared as soon as Candlebox was done, and the rain cut off for the rest of the night. The warm rays were greeted with enthusiastic cheers, which intensified when massive banners depicting screaming skulls were slung up at both sides of the stage. Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” was snapped off the PA at 7:45 pm, replaced by a symphonic spaghetti-western score that hailed the arrival of the show’s main attraction. Fifteen minutes later, a football field-wide ocean of fist-throwing headbangers bounced as one to the wild strains of “Wherever I May Roam”.
Things were heating up. Hell had arrived.
Without a new album to promote, Metallica offered a retrospective look at its back catalogue, and as such its set didn’t have the cutting-edge feel of previous Vancouver gigs. And the fact that it took place mostly in daylight undercut the band’s normally thrilling light show. Still, the band was in typically fine musical form–it can play circles around most metal acts—and there was lotsa stuff to watch, like the incident during “Fade to Black” when one ballsy fan came running from the back of the stage and leapt into the crowd. That’s not so unusual at metal shows, but this particular stage diver was clutching one of the band’s guitars. A roadie jumped in after him, as did a blue-shirted security guy, but I couldn’t tell whether they ever recovered the prized instrument.
Another thing I’d never seen at a rock show before came during “Seek and Destroy”, when what looked like a door-sized chunk of plywood materialized in the seething mosh pit. When the helpful crowd held the board up flat, various nutty guys would scramble on top and dance a little jig before hopping off onto someone’s head—or else too many nutty guys would climb on at once and they’d all tip over like hapless swimmers on an upturned raft.