Back in the summer of 1994, I was a pimple faced teenage metalhead whose world revolved around classic rock, hard rock, and heavy metal. And like virtually every metalhead on the planet, I viewed METALLICA as the absolute infallible, invincible gods of metal. The band had taken the world by storm with the Black Album and they were in the midst of the height of their popularity.
After missing out on the first few rounds of the Black Album tour as well as the dream tour with GUNS ‘N ROSES, my time had finally come to see my first concert via the 1994 Shit Hits the Sheds Tour. To say my friend and I were stoked is an understatement. In hindsight, I really didn’t even know to expect at a metal show. Man, was I in for a surprise.
The tour’s Los Angeles-area stop took place on a huge grass field at a university, and there was definitely a festival vibe to things. There were thousands of people on the field. The crowd was a great reflection of the Los Angeles metal scene in general at the time. There were diehard fans since the 70’s and 80’s, young fans, lots of female fans, and a diverse array of cultural backgrounds represented. To this day, I have never seen such a wide array of metal shirts in all my life.
Up until that tender age, I had never smelled weed smoke before but I knew exactly what that skunky smell was right when it hit me. There were literally hazes of smoke flowing over the field the whole day. Yeah, this was LA alright.
Despite arriving in the late afternoon, the show had already started with Rob Halford’s FIGHT playing songs off their excellent debut, War of Words. Watching the Metal God stalk the stage with his big, black goatee and singing better than on the record was a truly awesome site to behold.
ALICE IN CHAINS were originally on the tour but had to pull out due to drug issues with singer Layne Staley. I was bummed out as Facelift and Dirt had greatly impacted my young life. Unfortunately, for some godforsaken reason, super shitty CANDLEBOX took their place on the tour. Their brand of soft rock did not go over well as the audience quickly booed them continuously and gave them the finger. The band eventually got butthurt enough that they were forced to cut their set short. The lame singer made sure to give us all the finger before he left the stage. We all had a good laugh about that.
As dusk settled in, Venice, CA’s SUICIDAL TENDENCIES took the stage to the roaring approval of the crowd. As soon as the first note was played, the crowd went apeshit. Gigantic moshpits instantaneously formed all across the field. Everyone was pushing, shoving, and just going crazy. I got sucked into a few pits and was too busy fighting for my life to be scared. By the middle of SUICIDAL’s set, I found myself near the front of the stage and utterly smashed like canned sardines against everyone else around me. It was hard to breathe at times and that was a freaky feeling. The band was awesome so it helped to distract you from the discomfort of elbows flying, crowd surfers landing on your spine, and lots of man sweat from strangers being rubbed on you. It was easy to see just why vocalist Mike Muir was such an icon. The man is charismatic as hell.
Once SUICIDAL concluded their set, I was more than relieved because I could finally get a breather from the madness. The grass field had been transformed into a dirt field and the air was thick with dirt and dust. I was thirsty as hell but there was no way I could get to the vendors as I was stuck right near the front of the stage.
It took at least an hour for METALLICA to hit the stage. The wait was excruciating to say the least. I hadn’t seen my friend since SUICIDAL played and figured I’d have to find him after the show. Once “Ecstacy of Gold” starting playing, the crowd was instantly energized. James Hetfield ran out on stage playing the first notes to “Breadfan” and the madness went to a whole new level. Plumes of weed smoke bellowed into the night air. Everyone was furiously headbanging, pumping their fists, singing along, moshing, pushing, kicking, punching, and any other primal behavior possible. The crowds of today in the U.S. don’t even come close to the brutality of those final years of metal’s mainstream heyday.
Throughout their 2+ hour set, you couldn’t help but think that METALLICA were indeed the gods. Seemingly endless classic song after classic song put me in heaven. And to be up so close to the band was just amazing. I could clearly see every member’s faces. Watching Lars disappear through his secret trap door behind his drumkit was hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever been to another show with so much enthusiasm. People were high fiving each other after every song and headbanging together in camaraderie while others chose to bash each other to a pulp. It was a special night where thousands gathered to enjoy the thing they enjoyed most in life, metal music.
After the show, I eventually found my friend and both of us were covered in dirt and dust. He managed to escape the moshpits by fleeing to the side of the field. My eyeglasses were bent out of shape while being in my pocket, and my shoelaces were severed. I was coughing up and sneezing dirt for days. Also, I was sore all over for days.
Since that summer night, I’ve gone to literally hundreds of shows but nothing compares to that show. It was the perfect night, time period in my life, and era of metal to have my first concert experience. Who knew that METALLICA would not only ruin my life but the lives of millions around the world two years later with their next record?