040189 Metallica/Queensrÿche, Moncton, NB

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When I was in high school I knew a metalhead named Jill.  She wore spandex pants (both on and off stage) and was the lead singer of our school’s cover/original heavy metal band (I forget what they were called but it was something very metal, like Hammerpeen or Harderfaster or something like that).  Me and some friends were in a top 40 rock cover band that played lunchtime gigs at my school and paid bar gigs on the weekends; as young players in a small city like Moncton Jill and I inevitably played plenty of gigs together despite our different musical styles. 

(The only other band I remember at my high school was The Underdogs, who eventually morphed into the quite successful Eric’s Trip.)

Anyway, Jill loved Metallica and she was frothing at the mouth to see them play live.  So eager was she that she wrote a letter (an actual letter, with paper and an envelope and everything) to Metallica’s management asking what it would take to have the band add a date at the Moncton Coliseum to their next tour.  

What it took (as I recall) was a petition signed by double the capacity of the venue.  That meant getting 20,000 signatures from people claiming they would buy a ticket to see Metallica in Moncton’s 10,000 seat venue.  And our little big-haired spandexed trouper got them.  For months everywhere I went I’d see her and her long-haired headbanging friends and bandmates with pens and clipboards, lobbying for signatures.

Metallica kept their word and no foolin’, the show was set for April 1st, 1989.  It was inspiring for me to actually see a peer get action and achieve such a lofty goal.  Good on her, big time.  I think the band sent her eight tickets and backstage passes too, which was pretty cool of them.  Unfortunately I wasn’t ‘inside’ enough to get one, though someone got me some autographs: Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield signed on the back of a sweet olde-school Belvedere pack.

Before the date arrived a local city council member who also sat on the board of education stated in an interview with the local paper that in his opinion hard rock acts like Metallica shouldn’t be allowed to perform at the Moncton Coliseum due to the violence and drinking that would come along with such events.  Of course his opinion was stupid on the face of it, and I wrote a letter to the editor of the Moncton Times & Transcript saying so.  

And whattya know, they printed it.

The morning after my letter appeared in the paper a knock came at the door of my homeroom music class and lo, city council member Mr. Betts (I believe his name was) wanted to talk with me privately.  And can you believe he tried his best to intimidate me into writing a retraction?  He insisted that due to the ongoing local election he was currently not able to write to the paper and defend his position as doing so would constitute free political advertising (or some such thing), so (he insisted) I had to write another letter to the paper apologizing for calling his opinion “stupid”.

I told him to get stuffed – albeit in the most polite of ways – and that I stood by my statement(s).  

Finally show day came and though I was never a fan of Metallica (to say the least!  When I first heard them they were so skull-numbingly heavy to my unseasoned ears I found the band almost unlistenable) with such a serious dearth of big-time entertainment available in my town of course I bought a ticket to the concert. 

Queensrÿche opened the show.  I remember huge, thick chains surrounding the drumset and the lead singer doubled over grunting in metal-approved blissful agony, and all of it in drop-D.  

When Metallica hit the stage they did so in a blistering cavalcade of open-E palm-muted sixteenth notes absolutely synched with Lars Ulrich’s double kick drum flams.  Out of the gate they were undeniably the tightest band my young ears had ever heard and I was hooked in for the next two hours.  

Metallica was touring their And Justice For All album so they featured songs like the title track and their hit (can I call it a hit?) One, and all of it in front of their huge stage prop of the tipping and nearly blindfolded Lady Justice.  

What really got me was the band’s sense of humour and playfulness.  I expected them to be all doom and gloom but I soon realized that they were a good time party band that just happened to play fast music with a heavy low end.  I remember James Hetfield passing solo cups of beer out to the sweaty front row of the GA floor crowd.

They even teased a straight-up version of La Bamba during the encore, at a time when the song’s remake was still at the top of the charts and had not yet become legendary nor ironic.

I can’t say I kept up with my headbanging peers – I really don’t know how their necks could withstand such a level of sustained thrashing – but I really enjoyed the concert.  This show was the beginning of my appreciation for Metallica, something that grew quickly when I started teaching guitar and had to keep up on my Kirk Hammett riffs.  I’ve seen the band several times since and you never know, I might just go see them some more.

Thanks Jill, wherever you are!

*Through multiple retellings I finally got this story straight courtesy one of those little headbangers (who is all grown up now and busy touring the world drumming in a metal band** called Zaum).  Turns out they didn’t collect so many signatures after all, so the little troupers busied themselves forging thousands of signatures using a series of different coloured pens and feigned handwriting styles.  Bottom line is they got the band to Moncton, and they got to meet their heroes besides.

**Sorry, make that a “mantra doom” band.

Kirk Hammett (L) and James Hetfield (R)

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