Metallica’s 1985 Tour Took Them to Kansas City For the First Time Ever
Over the course of their career, Metallica have performed in or around Kansas City 15 different times. Most recently, they performed at the Sprint Center (now known as T-Mobile Center) in Downtown Kansas City on March 6, 2019, and set an attendance record of 19,646.
With nearly every single major tour surrounding a new album, Metallica have made it a point to cover the Kansas City area on their travel itinerary, including a 2008 stop on the World Magnetic tour, a 2004 stop on the Madly In Anger With the World tour and 1997 and 1998 stops for the Poor Touring Me and Poor ReTouring Me tours. They even joined Soundgarden, Ramones, Rancid and Screaming Trees for Lollapalooza '96 at Longview Lake in Missouri.
Their biggest audiences in Kansas City came in '88 and '92 when they played Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs; the first date was part of Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock festival and the second was a stop on their massive stadium tour with Guns N' Roses (James Hetfield was still recovering from an injury in Montreal and so he focused solely on singing while John Marshall covered rhythm guitar).
Playing to a much smaller crowd though—about 1,100 people—Metallica's first-ever concert in Kansas City was Feb. 16, 1985, at the Uptown Theater, about six months after the release of Ride the Lightning. They were joined on the road by headliners W.A.S.P. and openers Armored Saint, both of whom were celebrating the releases of their debut albums, W.A.S.P. and March of the Saint, respectively.
Sitting In the Balcony at the Uptown Theater
Longtime Kansas City radio personality Johnny Dare was at that show on Feb. 16 and remembers it vividly.
"Back in the day at the Uptown, if you were underage, you sat in the balcony," he recently shared with Ultimate Metallica. "So you'd go to these shows and the floor would be full but the balcony would be absolutely packed with kids because we were all underage."
Not only was the separation between the floor and balcony crowds kind of weird, but Dare remembered how odd it was seeing Armored Saint open that particular show.
"They were the only band I had ever seen that wore leather gear, full-on gladiator stuff," he told us. "But they were totally heavy, not glam. And then Metallica gets up there. They play faster and harder than anyone we had ever heard, but they all looked like the road crew who just set their shit up. I remember thinking it was cool that Hetfield had a Flying V because it reminded me of Randy Rhoads. And Cliff Burton, he was probably 24 or something with his sideburns and bellbottoms, but he looked like an old biker to a 17-year-old."
Having seen Metallica many more times throughout the years, Dare recalled now how little showmanship the band had at that '85 gig compared to today.
"There was almost no stage banter," he said. "James was saying metal stuff like, 'This next one's gonna be fucking fast,' shit like that. It was a great show. So much fun. W.A.S.P. closed, which was a crazy show with Blackie [Lawless] and all their shenanigans, but you knew you were seeing something completely different than anything the '80s had given you when you saw Metallica."
"Big Mick" Hughes, Metallica's live audio engineer in '85, concurred with Dare's assessment in a short essay he wrote for the Ride the Lightning deluxe box set.
"[Metallica] co-headlined, flip-flopping shows with W.A.S.P., but the W.A.S.P. posse didn't like us one bit. It was a war of dirty tricks; they would turn the power off if it looked like we were having too good of a show. We basically trounced them every night."
People Still Talk About That Tour
At a three-night residency in Brooklyn a few weeks before playing Kansas City, the shows with the bands were dubbed "The Metal Massacre," a moniker that could easily describe the rest of their dates in early '85, too.
While Armored Saint frontman John Bush recently said "people still talk about that '85 tour to this day," not everyone was as enthusiastic about "The Metal Massacre" coming to Kansas City.
"Three equally hyperactive West Coast metal bands—each dedicated to the proposition that their guitars are created to be played too loudly and with lack of imagination—flirted with sonic suicide," Brian McTavish wrote in the Feb. 18, 1985, edition of The Kansas City Times. McTavish took issue with the "suggestively titled tunes" of Armored Saint and the "shameless Ozzy Osbourne imitation" of W.A.S.P.'s Blackie Lawless—and he wasn't impressed with Metallica either.
"James Hetfield seemed to have as much fun screaming obscenities at those crammed on the floor in front of the stage as he did dotting songs with throaty explosions that would have ruined any accomplished singer's voice," he claimed.
While there aren't many other details online about the show—Metallica's official website doesn't have the setlist for the night—there are plenty of other reviews shared from those dates in 1985, most of which don't share McTavish's negative perception of 'Tallica and their touring mates and instead reflect Johnny Dare's personal experience of witnessing something special.
"They started out with the first track off Ride the Lightning, the classic riff-monster "Fight Fire With Fire,"" noted one reviewer about seeing the tour at the Concert Hall in Toronto on Jan. 19. "I was literally feet from what would become the best-selling metal band of all-time...the seemingly monstrous Cliff Burton was right in front of me. I reached out and had in my hand, the bottom leg of his ragged bell-bottom jeans. He tried to kick me in the face, and thankfully missed."
Though the tour was supposed to start on Jan. 9 in Boston, Lars Ulrich faced some passport issues that took him back to Denmark, forcing Metallica to miss that opening night. Their first performance was on Jan. 10 in Scotia, N.Y., and as John Moore put it, they "were the gods of all gods in 1985."
Making Strides in '85
In his biography of the band, Enter Night, Mick Wall seemed to agree with the "gods of all gods" assessment of Metallica: "It was the start of the band’s longest tour yet: 48 shows in 68 days that would establish them as the hottest new street-level band in the U.S.A."
Metallica's setlist at that concert in Scotia resembled most of their following shows on the Ride the Lightning tour in 1985:
- "Fight Fire With Fire"
- "Ride the Lightning"
- "Phantom Lord"
- "The Four Horsemen"
- "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth"
- "For Whom the Bell Tolls"
- "No Remorse"
- "The Call of Ktulu"
- "Seek & Destroy"
- "Creeping Death"
The day after their Kansas City debut, Metallica headed south to play the Cotillion Ballroom in Wichita; at that particular show, Metallica followed up their regular set with an encore that opened with their cover of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?".
For fans who want to experience what it would have been like to catch Metallica on this tour in '85, they should turn to the remastered deluxe box set of Ride the Lightning as the band included recordings of their shows at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles on March 10 and at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco on March 15.
Watch Metallica Perform "No Remorse" Live in 1985
1985 ended up being a big year for both Kansas City and Metallica. The Kansas City Royals won the World Series in seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals, marking the first time they were crowned the MLB champs, and Metallica proved to a watching world that they were poised to become, simply put, huge.
Following their shows with W.A.S.P. and Armored Saint, Metallica took a few months off and then performed at Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington for the first time ever—"hilariously stuck between Ratt and Bon Jovi," as described by Ben Apatoff in Metallica: The $24.95 Book.
About two weeks later, they played their first Day on the Green in Oakland, Calif., a concert that still lives on to this day as one of the most unforgettable live concerts put on by Metallica, ever.