GUNS AND METALLICA STAGE METAL ASSAULT
- Gary Graff, The Detroit Free Press, 7.19.92
The prospects are ripe for unbridled aural assault.
The pairing of Guns N' Roses with Metallica for a seven- week national tour ensures long evenings of screaming guitars, thundering drums and banshee vocals -- not to mention exhausting tribal headbanging rites such as crowd-diving and precision fist-pumping.
In other words, don't take mom or dad.
The way Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich remembers it, the two bands began plotting for this heavy metal mecca five years ago, "when we first started hanging out together."
At the time the two hard rock bands were up-and-comers. With three albums out, the San Francisco Bay Area-based Metallica had already garnered a strong cult following for its jackhammer brand of heavy metal. Guns N' Roses was a club sensation in Los Angeles that had just signed a major label deal.
Now they've both transcended their genres and leapt atop the pop music pantheon. Metallica has sold more than 5 million copies of its most recent album, "Metallica," which also won a Grammy. Besides selling more than 6 million copies of its two "Use Your Illusion" albums, Guns N' Roses has cultivated a sensationalized, bad-boy mystique that harkens comparisons to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
But in all the time they've known each other -- "a really cool friendship," according to Ulrich -- a common thread would run through the musicians' conversations. "We'd sit there and say, 'We should play together,' " remembers Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash.
Adds Ulrich, "It continued over numerous late-night gatherings all over the country. I had these conversations with Axl (Rose) and Slash, and it was always 'One day we've got to go out and do gigs together.'
"So now -- here we are."
Through Labor Day weekend, the Guns-Metallica bill -- with the Bay Area quintet Faith No More opening -- is slated to visit 24 cities in North America. Using more than 30 trucks to cart around a crew of 175 and a stage that's 300 feet wide and 60 feet tall, it's an ambitious outing that pairs the kings of hard rock in a seven-hour-plus blitz of metal mayhem.
It's a tour that's been regarded with great skepticism since rumors began circulating about it late last year. The organizations were too different, naysayers chimed: Metallica is known for its precise, businesslike manner, while Slash acknowledges that Guns N' Roses prides itself in "going against the system entirely." Metallica will adhere to a relatively tight schedule; Guns N' Roses could go onstage in the wee hours and play 'til dawn, depending on the whims of its members.
Until last week, the specter of legal problems hung over the endeavor. In April, St. Louis authorities issued arrest warrants for Guns' singer W. Axl Rose on misdemeanor charges stemming from a riot at the group's concert there last summer. When the warrants were issued, the group canceled concerts in Chicago and Detroit and fled the country, but it was clear that unless Rose dealt with the problem, the Guns-Metallica shows could be in jeopardy.
After three months on the lam, Rose surrendered last week in St. Louis, with a trial date slated for October -- thus allowing him to tour.
"He's dealing with it," Slash says. "He faced it, which for me would have been a hard thing to do. But we've got this tour happening, and we don't need any outside (interference) happening."
Rose's situation was just one factor that made the tour difficult to book, according to Alex Kochan, the Guns N' Roses booking agent. The group's reckless image, combined with industry skepticism about the tour and heavy metal's reputation for rowdy crowds and heavy damage to concert venues all factored into greater resistance than you might expect for a superstar pairing.
"Venue management and city politics have actually been the biggest obstacle to getting into the stadiums," Kochan says, describing curfew restrictions and other barriers to booking the tour in many cities. The 24 sites on the itinerary, he says, represent "just about every place that would have us," and a Sept. 5 show in Dallas is still up in the air.
But Ulrich says the problems, including Rose's, never caused the musicians to have second thoughts.
"One thing we've learned is that you can always sit around and speculate and bring up this whole thing of 'what if' until you're green in the face," Ulrich says. "You can watch your whole career go by just because of the 'what if' question.
"But when something has felt right, we've always jumped on it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation, having the two biggest bands in the world go out on tour together. We said 'Let's just go for it and not second-guess our decision.' "
After years of "we should do its," the Guns-Metallica tour came down to a phone call just before Christmas last year. The Guns camp made the call. Metallica's management relayed the request. The musicians' response, Ulrich says, was a resounding "(expletive) yeah!"
While the groups went about their separate tours, no fewer than two dozen managers, agents, attorneys and production personnel worked out logistics. Compromise was the order of the day, Ulrich says: "Both of our bands have different ways of approaching things in terms of how we run our band on a day-to- day basis. It was 'Look, let's sit down and check our egos at the door.' We all had to make sacrifices to make this happen.
"But we have a lot of mutual respect for each other, so it wasn't a problem. The real reason this is happening is a genuine desire between the main guys of both bands to make this happen. That makes it stronger than what the lawyers or booking agents or managers would throw our way."
According to Slash, the musicians kept things on keel by "getting together as often as possible" to discuss matters. That included a dinner meeting before the tribute concert for the late Freddie Mercury last April in London, a show that marked the first time Guns and Metallica shared the same stage.
"You really have to feel each other out on it -- what's their trip, and what's ours?" Slash explains. "It's really simple when you actually sit down and talk about it amongst friends. When you let management deal with it, all of a sudden it becomes corporate."
By way of compromises, Guns N' Roses, which likes to play two or three shows a week, agreed to perform three or four times, while Metallica scaled down its five-shows-a-week schedule.
Metallica also agreed to let Guns close the show each night "because they don't want to take the risk of having us go on late and making them perform at some crazy past-midnight time," Slash says with a chuckle.
The guitarist does, however, acknowledge concerns about his band's tendency for unusually late shows. "We've come to a happy medium where we haven't been going on that late," he says. The late starts were forced out of their system because at "some of these gigs we did in Europe, there was a 10 p.m. curfew so we'd go on at 5 or 6 p.m."
Still, booking agent Kochan notes, this type of cooperation between acts -- particularly of this magnitude -- is rare.
"You hardly ever find two groups of this stature being able to put their shows together and go out like this," he says. "This was something that was definitely artist-oriented; they thought of it and gave us the direction to go put it together. They were the motivation for the whole thing."
Before it all starts sounding too warm and fuzzy, however, the musicians are quick to say that, come show time, they plan to yield no quarter.
"You know we're going to go out every night to play our best," says Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, "and they're gonna be determined to go out and play their best because they have to follow us. And you know who will win -- the fans, because they'll see two real kick-ass shows."
ON STAGE: Guns N' Roses, Metallica and Faith No More will perform at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Pontiac Silverdome, Opdyke Road and M-59, Pontiac. Parking lot opens at 2 p.m. Gates open at 4:30 p.m.