That Time Metallica Played a Free Concert For Over 1 Million Fans

Metallica (Live at The O2, London, England, 22 October 2017): Kreepin Deth, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
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Back in 1991, Metallica took part in one of the most extraordinary live events to ever take place in rock and metal. As part of the past annual series known as Monsters of Rock, Metallica flew over to Moscow, Russia and took part in the country’s first-ever open-air rock and metal concert.

There were 1.6 million people in attendance at this concert, and the show was free.

This concert also took place during a very intense time in Russian history; specifically, it took place one month after the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt failed, that failed coup leading to the dissolution of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

During a recent conversation, comedian Conan O’Brien brought up this historic concert to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. O’Brien starts off by talking about Metallica’s fanbase and the huge number of people the band plays to. Eventually, O’Brien says (the following was transcribed by The Pit): “The number of people that you play to – you played one show in Russia to 1.6 million people. I believe it was a free show – I think that was a mistake [folks in the room laugh].”

Ulrich replies and shares some context behind the show, saying:

“I don’t know if the money at that time was worth anything. But it was right in the wake of Perestroika and that transitional stuff. So it was negotiated between – I think it was [former Russian President Mikhail] Gorbachev, maybe [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin was coming into power at the time. It was negotiated between the students and the people running the uprisings and the demonstrations and the government in that period of transition that part of what the students wanted was a rock and roll show.”

Ulrich goes on to share how Metallica and AC/DC were touring at the time and how eventually both bands made their way over to Moscow for this show. This performance is one of the most remarkable live shows to ever take place in music history. Below you can listen to the conversation between O’Brien and Ulrich talk about this historic moment and you can also view footage of that 1991 Metallica Moscow show.

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