Heavy Metal Riot in Montreal

On August 8, 1992, a sold out concert in Montreal by Guns N’ Roses and Metallica ended with a riot by a mob of angry headbangers. 

More than 53,000 heavy metal fans packed into Olympic Stadium for the show which was part of an ill-fated 24 city tour by two of the biggest bands of the era.  GnR was touring behind their simultaneous double album release Use Your Illusion I and II while Metallica’s Black Album was burning up the charts. 

But everything seemed to go wrong that night at the Big O which led to frustrated fans taking to the streets.

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Metallica

Metallica took the stage first and about an hour into their set started playing “Fade to Black.” Metallica front man James Hetfield found himself out of place during a major pyrotechnic display and as flash pots exploded all over stage, he was caught in a massive plume of fire. Hetfield suffered 2nd degree burns to his face, arms and hands and later described the incident as “pain I’ve never felt in my whole life and it won’t go away.”

While Hetfield was rushed to a local hospital, the remaining Metallica band members returned to the stage to apologize to their fans. They cancelled the rest of their set and drummer Lars Ulrich promised that Metallica would return to Montreal within the next few months to perform a makeup show when Hetfield recovered.

It took GNR three hours to come on stage after Hetfield’s accident and then about 55 minutes in Axl Rose walked off the stage.  According to guitarist Slash, the band was in the midst of a “typhoon of chaos.”  That particular night Axl Rose was battling with vocal issues and throughout the sound check and the concert, Rose expressed repeated concerns about feedback from the PA system and the monitors.

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Guns N’ Roses

Finally, fearing for his voice and deeply irritated by the feedback, Rose told the audience they were ending the concert early. Before he left, he said, “In case anybody here is interested, this will be our last show for a long time.”

When it became clear that GnR was not coming back, stadium staff decided to switch on the house lights. No explanation was given to the fans, who were left confused and upset. As fans filed out of the building about 2,000 concert goers angered at the shortened shows rampaged down the stadium hallways, burning band shirts in bonfires while others poured into the streets and ransacked nearby stores. 

The furious rioters smashed windows, flipped cars and uprooted a lamp post causing half a million dollars in damage. 

About 300 club-wielding police officers and 400 security guards chased rioters through the streets and fired tear gas to regain control. The police sealed off the area and shut down four nearby subway stations to prevent the riot from spreading to the transit system. By the time it was over at least 13 people were hurt, and dozens were arrested.

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The riot in Montreal was the second time fans took to the streets following a Guns N’ Roses show.   At a concert in St. Louis on July 2, 1991, Axl Rose dove into the audience to snatch away a camera from a fan. He and the band then stalked off the stage.

An estimated 3,000 fans rioted. Sixty people were injured and the Riverport Ampitheater sustained $200,000 in damage.  Rose was charged with inciting a riot but the charges were eventually dropped.

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Axl Rose mug shot

In the aftermath of the Montreal debacle, Guns n’ Roses never apologized to the Olympic Stadium and GnR was banned from performing ever again at the Big O.

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