30 years ago this week, “The Monsters of Rock” summer stadium tour launched, featuring Van Halen, the Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come.
From The New York Times, May 29th, 1988:
The Monsters of Rock Open a 23-City Tour
America’s stadium-rock season opened here today with a bang – or, more precisely, the nine-hour roar of Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock Tour. Drums boomed, singers shouted and howled, guitars blared and shrieked as Van Halen, the Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come, five top heavy-metal bands, performed from midday into the night.
The tour, which will visit 23 cities by July 31, started comparatively small with the first of its three shows at the Alpine Valley Music Theater. The sold-out music shed and lawn held more than 40,000 people (many of them truant students), which is fewer than the stadiums where the tour will continue; the total audience could reach two million. The 971 tons of equipment that will travel with the show, which may be the costliest tour yet mounted, were cut back slightly at Alpine Valley. But there was amplifier wattage enough to make bass notes rattle listeners’ ribs, and Van Halen, the only band to perform after sunset, had all the candlepower and fireworks it needed.
The Monsters of Rock Tour covers a good part of the heavy-metal spectrum, from pop with loud guitars to brute-force scenarios of terror and from innovative to laughable. While heavy metal is thriving commercially, it’s going through a musical and social identity crisis. Since the 1970’s, heavy metal has been the music of white male teen-agers. It revels in unabashed excess, blasting away adolescent uncertainties with taboo-busting lyrics, cocksure voices and raucous guitars; its concerts are flashy, audience-participation rituals. Most of its lyrics, now as in the 1970’s, boast about ”Bad Boys Running Wild” (a Scorpions song title) , or yearn and dream, or name and explore private terrors.
In the 1980’s, heavy metal bands have either decided to move toward pop or defy it more abrasively than ever. Meanwhile, just about every band has had to reckon with Led Zeppelin, which anticipated most heavy-metal gambits a decade ago.
Van Halen, who played a two-hour-and-20-minute set, has become one of the most popular bands of the 1980’s by juxtaposing wild virtuosity with pop instincts. Eddie Van Halen, the group’s guitarist, builds on Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin) and Jimi Hendrix, using sheer speed and an arsenal of effects to create guitar lines that streak and shimmy and squeal. Sammy Hagar’s vocals wail like blues guitar lines, and the rhythm section of Michael Anthony on bass and Alex Van Halen on drums can bash away at breakneck tempos. Every so often, Van Halen slows down for a ballad with dreamy sentiments about love, while the uptempo songs strike typical party-animal attitudes – but the music, reveling in its muscle and noise, says more than the words. The set still includes unaccompanied solos for each band member – the bane of heavy-metal concerts – but now they’ve been dovetailed into songs.
Along with Van Halen, Metallica galvanized the audience most with its hourlong set. James Hetfield’s lyrics are about terrors – of death, war, lunacy – and Metallica punches them out in fast, choppy rock that doesn’t even offer a regular beat for reassurance. The music is both blunt and complex, pummeling its messages at punk-rock tempos; now and then, a song breaks into floating, quasi-ballad passages that are eventually swept up in the music’s doomy anger. The audience sang along, verse and chorus, recharged by Metallica’s worst-case scenarios.
The other three bands are weaker. There’s an hour of Dokken, a Los Angeles band that tries hard to be the next Van Halen but at half-speed and one-tenth the wit. The Scorpions, alloted about 90 minutes, are a hard-rock show band from West Germany. They play chugging, efficient minor-key rockers, repeating one or two phrases like pop songs; wearing wide show-business grins, they swing their guitars and dance in unison. They even form a human pyramid for a finale. Unfortunately, their lyrics are generic – ”big city night,” for instance – to the point of unintentional self-parody.
Kingdom Come, a five-man West German band, picks the Led Zeppelin corpus clean, playing Zeppelin-derived bluesy stomps and guitar-heavy ballads. But it has none of Led Zeppelin’s musical quirks or verbal enigmas; it accepts the style readymade and links it to cliches. That’s not flattery; it’s grave-robbing. Luckily, it only lasts about 40 minutes.
The Monsters of Rock Tour will be at Giants Stadium June 26 and 27.
NBC News segment & interview:
MTV News segment:
Watch the Van Halen segment of MTV’s ‘Monsters of Rock’ Special:
Van Halen – Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI May 28th, 1988 Complete Audio Concert of opening night of “Monsters of Rock” Tour.