Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
September 7th 1992

- Michael Miller, 9.8.92

The comparisons screamed to be made Monday night, when heavy metal's biggest stadium tour of the year finally arrived in Columbia.

Down were the goal posts. Up was a monstrous, steel girder and skull-draped stage.

Nowhere to be heard were the marching band fight songs. Roaring in their place was the power-hungry crunch of heavy metal.

Instead of game programs and USC paraphernalia, booths along the concourse hawked the virtues of Amnesty International, AIDS awareness, chiropractic care and NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"Rock the Vote," shouted a vendor.

"Rock out censorship," shouted another a few feet away.

It was a sideshow, a spectacle, the huge rock 'n' roll party that many people thought would never happen.

After misfires, medical problems and onstage accidents, Faith No More, Metallica and Guns N' Roses made it to Williams-Brice Stadium Monday. And the crowd of about 40,000 was ready.

The show was originally scheduled for Aug. 2, but when Guns N' Roses lead vocalist Axl Rose suffered a case of burnt-out vocal chords, the show was canceled.

When the tour resumed a week later in Montreal, a stage prop exploded during the Metallica set, and guitarist and singer James Hetfield suffered serious burns on his hands and arms.

All the problems and controversy prompted much speculation about whether the Columbia concert would ever happen and even gave rise to questions about Irish rock band U2's scheduled appearance at the stadium Sept. 23.

"People are waiting to see the whites of Axl's eyes," promoter Wilson Howard said a week ago. "But this show is going to happen."

That realization struck like a thunderbolt at 6:30 p.m. when Faith No More erupted onto the stage.

"We are ready for this! We are ready for this!" shouted one fan who bolted out of his seat at the first sonic boom.

The Faith No More set was an ear-popper, but it was nothing compared to the explosion when Metallica, one of rock's loudest and fastest bands, hit the stage at 7:40 p.m.

Forty thousand fists shot into the air and heads bobbed frantically in time with bassist Jason Newsted. The tranquil Columbia skyline seemed to vibrate in the evening haze.

Hetfield, his left hand and forearm still bandaged from the flashpot accident, commanded center stage while drummer Lars Ulrich propelled the band through song after song.

It was easy to see why this band has developed such a devoted following. "We're here to see Metallica," said Kay Burch, who drove from Asheville with her younger brother and twin sister. "We're driving back after Metallica plays. We have to be at work at 5 a.m."

Not everyone was here strictly for the speed metal band's performance. There were plenty of Guns N' Roses fans on hand as well.

"Guns N' Roses, that's why we're here," said Pierre, who'd driven to Columbia from Beaufort with his girlfriend. "We've been looking forward to this for a long time."

Pierre also said he was prepared for a long night. The Metallica performance ended at 10:15, and the Gunners hit the stage at 11:30.

No, it wasn't a typical football crowd gathered in the venerable University of South Carolina grid temple, but then it wasn't exactly a tractor-pull crowd either.

Black was still the dominant fashion statement, but Harley-Davidson and Hard Rock Cafe emblems had replaced the trusty Gamecock logo on T-shirts and baseball caps.

Concertgoers started arriving about noon, although the gates weren't scheduled to open until 4:30 and the seating was reserved.

This didn't bother Bradley Mason, 17, of Greenville, who was first in line. He said getting to the stadium early "just seemed like the thing to do." Did he think Axl would show up this time?

"He better," Mason replied, "at $27.50 a ticket."

And there he was, at 11:30 sharp, in a lone spotlight at center stage, W. Axl Rose, gazing over the crowd.

Just a few paces behind him, Guns N' Roses mercurial lead guitarist Slash ripped off the opening salvo of "Welcome to the Jungle." If there were still any doubters in the stadium, they were rocking now.

One thing heavy metal concerts are known for is the opportunity they provide for loosening of inhibitions, and Monday night's show was no exception.

Bare-chested men and scantily clad women paraded around the stadium as if it were an everyday thing.

"It's a great place to just people watch," said Jeff Shows, who was working at a booth promoting chiropractic care. A sign behind his booth attested to Axl Rose's use of a chiropractor.

At a booth on AIDS awareness sponsored by the HIV Task Force, workers dispensed cards with an 800 number to call for information about the disease. Condoms were available for anyone who requested one.

"This is our target audience," said Julie Lumpkin, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Preventive Health. "The statistics for young people with HIV in South Carolina are starting to go up.

"Axl Rose's sister stopped by earlier and said she was glad we were here. They were having trouble getting AIDS awareness groups at some of their shows."

Meanwhile onstage, Metallica had turned up the intensity, as Hetfield prowled the length of the 80-yard-long stage and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett's flying fingers were broadcast on the mammoth video screens.

Was it all worth the wait?

"Let me put it this way," said Jeff Savage, 27, of Fayetteville, N.C. "If work wouldn't let me off, there would've always been job search. This is one good show."

- Michael Miller, 9.11.92

Notes and observations from Columbia's biggest rock concert ever: Faith No More's Mike Patton is a wild man; Metallica's intensity is mind-boggling; and there's still some gumption left in Guns N' Roses after all.

Monday's mammoth metal show at Williams-Brice Stadium was not a flawless affair, but things went rather smoothly during most of the almost eight-hour event. Each band hit the stage on time, and each performer put a great deal of effort into his night's work.

The 40,000 or so concertgoers who made it to the stadium Monday know all about the spectacle and enormity of the staging, lights and video that were part of the show. But for those who were snoozing comfortably when Guns N' Roses' fireworks finale rattled their windows, it could easily described as colossal.

Stadium tours are equal parts sideshow, music and visuals, and Monday's concert was no exception. The people parading around and through the vast reaches of Williams-Brice provided a fascinating look at an array of rock fans from the Carolinas and Georgia. The massive video images and synchronized lighting was eye-popping, and the sound, although muddled at times, was loud and impressive.

Faith No More, a punk/funk/metal band from San Francisco, didn't let their role as openers spoil their fun. Concentrating primarily on songs from their two latest albums, "The Real Thing" and "Angel Dust," FNM brought the crowd to life and set the tone for the fireworks to follow.

Metallica took the stage like they had a lot to prove and proceeded to unleash a sonic bombardment of dense, ominous hard rock for 2 1/2 hours. It was my first Metallica show, and I was impressed with their workman-like attitude and the tremendous devotion displayed by their fans. Metallica has struck the adolescent angst nerve deeper than almost any other band, and their fans' emotional release at the close of their set hung in the air like steam.

The set change between Faith No More and Metallica took less than 30 minutes, but the massive stage overhaul between Metallica and Guns N' Roses took an hour and 15 minutes. Nevertheless, the Gunners hit the stage at 11:30 sharp and were primed and ready to deliver the goods.

Axl Rose's voice didn't sound too worse for wear, and he's got to be commended for his outrageous energy. Rose sprinted from one end of the 80- yard-long stage to the other, stopping occasionally to spin ferociously around center stage with a microphone stand.

Guns N' Roses played for more than two hours and suffered only a few lapses in concentration. One of the things I was most impressed with was the playing of lead guitarist Slash, who for all his posturing and excessive string-bending, exhibited a surprising versatility.

His blues break with keyboardist Dizzy Reed was tasteful, and his evocations of Hendrix helped draw the line between rock 'n' roll generations.

All in all, a solid night of hard rock entertainment, plenty of bang for the buck and all that. Williams-Brice Stadium rocked and survived, hopefully to rock many more times in the future.