How Monsters of Rock Became America’s Super-Sized Tour
Launched on May 27, 1988, the Monsters of Rock tour brought together some of the greatest hard rock and heavy metal bands of that era for a day-long rock 'n' roll celebration. But why that name, exactly?
Back in England, the Donington Monsters of Rock festival had become a highly anticipated annual fixture of the international rock circuit since first being staged in 1980, typically comprising a one-day event featuring seven, eight or even more major bands. But in the U.S., where far greater geographical distances made producing a single, massive concert much less practical, it was decided to apply the highly respected Monsters of Rock brand to a full-fledged tour. Featured acts would include Van Halen, the Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come.
Van Halen were, at the time, near the peak of their career's second act with frontman Sammy Hagar, following the release of the hit-filled OU812 album. The Scorpions, too, had enjoyed a steady, decade-long climb up the U.S. arena-rock hierarchy, and despite being absent for the better part of a year while recording the recently unveiled Savage Amusement LP, they could draw thousands of fans of their own accord. The oftentimes quarreling members of Dokken, meanwhile, were living on borrowed time from the most successful album of their career in 1987's Back for the Attack – thanks in no small part to the song "Dream Warriors" being included in the popular Nightmare on Elm Street horror-movie franchise.
Then there was the lineup's sleeping giant, Metallica, whose manifest destiny to become the world's biggest heavy metal band had yet to be revealed. There were readying the fall release of their fourth album, ... And Justice for All, by touring the U.S. for the first time with bassist Jason Newsted in place of the tragically departed Cliff Burton. Finally, rounding out the bill came Led Zeppelin clones Kingdom Come, then enjoying a bright, but all-too-brief, flash in the pan success that nevertheless saw them shifting a million units of their eponymous debut in very short order.
Metallica played a couple of shows at Los Angeles' Troubadour club on May 23-24 in anticipation of the tour, which kicked off for real in East Troy, Wis., on May 27 and took in 28 dates over the ensuing weeks before concluding on July 30 in Denver. Over that span, the super-sized Monsters of Rock operation crisscrossed the U.S. like a well-oiled machine, suffering remarkably rare travails along the way – including a bit of fan violence here, a muffed performance there, and an epic audience food fight somewhere else.
Unfortunately, the subsequent career trajectories of four out of the five bands involved tended to point downhill in years to come – with Metallica being the lone, obvious exception. Still, each one left an indelible mark upon hundreds of thousands of hard rock and heavy metal fans who retain fond memories of attending the Monsters of Rock tour during that hot summer of 1988.
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