Guns n' Roses/ Metallica Riot In Montreal 28 Years Ago Aug 8 1992, as Remembered By Perrin Wolfson
Updated: Oct 11
So, 28 years ago tonight, the greatest heavy metal show of all time hit Montreal... or that’s how it was supposed to go anyways... here’s how the infamous “Guns’n Roses Riot / Metallica's James Hetfield gets burned” incident went down, from my perspective...
The anticipation for this show was like none I’ve ever seen. This was back in the day when people would camp out, and line up, to buy concert tickets... a ritual I kinda miss to be honest. This show, 55,000 or so tickets, sold out FAST. If you didn’t camp out you either didn’t get tickets or were up in the nosebleeds of the cavernous Olympic Stadium.
The show was on a beautiful, summer Saturday August 8 1992 and the mood was festive. On Montreal’s subway line, the train drivers would announce “next stop Guns’n Roses/Metallica” as opposed to the station name. People were enjoying food, drink, and music everywhere, and the area around Olympic Stadium, in the East End of a Montreal, was alive and vibrant (which it rarely was, normally).
First up were Faith No More, who had shot to fame with their third record The Real Thing and had just released the quirky Angel Dust. They were a most anticipated opening act, but were swallowed up in a large stadium, with bad sound, no video screens, and an endless army of people moving about, buying snacks/beer/merch. A great band, a good performance, but not built for a stadium.
Metallica were on next and, at this point, were firing on all cylinders with Jason Newsted... they were a tight unit for the first time since losing Cliff. Despite being in a huge stadium, they played/sounded great, and with the use of video screens, effects, and pyro, made people in far away areas of the stadium feel close. You sensed you were in the presence of all time greats, and Metallica were certainly playing with a “good luck following us” attitude. Then it happened... intro to Fade to Black... build up to wave of pyro... AND... the sound of a guitar going way out of tune and then the band disappears... and a whole lotta nothing for a good ten minutes. I immediately said to my musician friend, “something’s wrong”. The “out of tune sound” we had heard were James’ strings and guitar melting from the pyro blast James had accidentally stood in when he missed a cue. James’ hand had been burned to the bone. The footage of this has been widely seen, but a tearful Jason, Kirk, and Lars, along with a French translator, came out, explained briefly what had happened, and promised the band would “come back to finish their show”, which they did, three months later, at the Montreal Forum, playing two nights at a very reduced ticket price. In short: Metallica were great, a horrible accident occurred, the band and crowd reacted cool and professionally, and things were made right after the fact. Metallica, who were always beloved in Montreal, became heroes that night.
And then we waited... and waited... and waited for Guns. It must have been 2 to 2.5 hours. So people are frustrated and concerned RE Metallica, tired, hot, and now annoyed/impatient. Not a good recipe. The band opened with It’s So Easy, and all is forgotten, and the night will move on in epic fashion, right? Wrong! Axl got pissy... maybe it was his monitors (as he’s said), maybe he didn’t want to be there, maybe he should have been in rehab, maybe it was getting to him that Metallica were upstaging them night after night... but he would sing each passing song with less enthusiasm, eventually just sitting on the drum riser, mouthing the words to Bad Obsession and not even moving. Between songs there would be long pauses, where Axl would leave the stage, seemingly having to be coaxed by crew/management to get back on stage, while Slash noodled on guitar to keep the crowd engaged and unaware. Before chaos ensued, Axl said “this is going to be the last you hear of us in a long time”, they played a song - I don’t remember which - and as it ended Axl slammed down his mic and screamed “I’m out of here”. The band, puzzled, followed Axl off the stage, after a few minutes the house lights come on, and....
Here we go! People had waited two hours plus for a 45 minute, horribly performed set. Strains of “fuck you Guns’n Roses” could be heard, people started throwing cups, trays, etc. Then, like army ants, people started attacking the stage and merch booths. Security could not handle the waves of angry, ripped off, tired, hot fans looking to extract revenge. Even some small fires were starting - which was my cue to leave the building, as my friend’s car was parked inside of it. We left, parked a few blocks away, and stood across the street and watched the building and Expos boutique get ransacked, cars get set on fire, and riot police arriving on buses to stop the violence. Axl had lit a hell of a match. The band were trapped in the venue for hours afterwards, and apparently partied away while “Rome” burned.
Come Monday Morning, the mayor was looking for apologies and fans were looking for refunds. None were forthcoming. Coincidentally, Axl had waited exactly 45 minutes to pull his fit, the band’s contracted minimum set time. Technically Guns’n Roses had met their contractual obligations and no refunds or compensation would be forthcoming. Metallica had left a bad situation as heroes, while Guns were despised and banned in Montreal for years, and didn’t return until the watered down, Chinese Democracy version of the band played a half empty arena 18 years later. Personally, I only recently “forgave” the band, and decided to see them live again.
So that’s how it felt and looked from my perspective. Below is an interesting article the Montreal Gazette published, on the 25 year anniversary of the incident, a few years ago!
Perrin Wolfson is a Metal Voice commentator and contributor
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