The Most Disastrous Tour in Music History
In the summer of 1992, two bands at the absolute top of their game — two of the biggest bands in the history of music — came together for one of the most anticipated tours in rock. Metallica and Guns N’ Roses were set for a summer of sold out stadiums across North America. What could go wrong?
In reality, all it took was for Metallica’s frontman to be engulfed in flames to turn what looked on paper like a complete home run of a tour into a cop-car-churning, souvenir-burning, international-news-flaming reality.
On Aug. 8, 1992, 55,000 people packed Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The biggest tour of its era was coming to the largest indoor venue in Canada, with the hugest egos in hard rock compacted onto one bill. People said it could never happen. Well, they weren’t far off.
The beginning of the show seemed to go off without a hitch. Openers Faith No More performed their full set with a ton of energy. Metallica hit the the stage to follow, and despite playing in a huge stadium, sounded great and played for more than an hour. They were certainly playing with a “good luck following us” attitude. Then it happened... the intro to “Fade to Black” hits… there’s a wave of pyro... and the sound of a guitar going way out of tune.
What had happened was that frontman James Hetfield lost his place among the pyro flash pots, a stadium-wide series of which had just gone off. James accidentally stepped into a 12-foot torch of fire. “The pyro guy doesn’t see me that I've walked back out there. A big colored flame goes right up under me, and instantly I squint and turn,” Hetfield recalled in an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. “So I’m burnt all my arm, my hand, completely down to the bone. Side of my face, hair gone, part of my back … This is pain I’ve never felt in my life. And it won’t go away. I’m freaking at this point. Anxiety. We gotta get moving.”
Back at the stadium, Guns N’ Roses took the stage two hours and 15 minutes after Metallica departed. GN’R would go on to play nine songs. The band looked unfocused, and frontman Axl Rose kept muttering into his mic and stalking the wings rather than center stage.
“We had just stopped the tour because I had throat problems,” Axl remembers. “Came back, and I realized I’m going to hurt myself. So I told Slash, two more songs, if we can’t get it fixed, I gotta go. Then we did more than two more songs, and finally I was just kinda like, I don’t know what to do.”
The band, puzzled, followed Axl off the stage. After a few minutes the house lights come on, and the screens in the stadium flashed the words, “The show has been cancelled, please check the media for news.”
The ensuing riot would rage until 1AM. There were 300 police officers and 400 security personnel on the scene, pricey T-shirts were blazing in bonfires, souvenir boutiques were looted, cop cars were being overturned, and a half-million dollars of property was being damaged. In total, police estimate about 10,000 fans…or ex-fans, took part in the riot. About 10 people were injured and at least six people arrested.
Looking back on this tour, it’s almost surprising there weren’t more incidents like this. By the end, Metallica made a chunk of money, but Guns N’ Roses reportedly blew all their profits on backstage parties and paying for fines for showing up late onstage.
Check out the full story of the most disastrous tour in music history in the video below.