Metallica Makes History

Metallica played two sold-out shows at Shanghai’s  on Aug. 12-13 in front of more than 20,000 fans, many of whom had traveled far to see the metal kings play their first gigs in China.

Photo: Ross Halfin
Metallica in front of Oriental Pearl in Shanghai. 

It was a historic event in more ways than one.

Frontman James Hetfield was quoted as saying that he hadn’t expected “the energy … would be so intense” and that the crowd would “become part of the show, which is what we really love.”

In more practical terms, the concerts confirmed that major international acts really could do as well in China as they do in the West, something that many people have yet to be convinced.

Organizers say the first Metallica show sold out in six minutes, faster than any other Western act in China – or any Chinese act in China, for that matter.

Adam Wilkes, senior vice president of AEG Live Asia, which promoted the shows, told Pollstar that Metallica “was among the first Western artists to penetrate the [Chinese] market in the mid-’80s. There is now a thriving local rock scene in China that started in Beijing and which has spread across the country, and much of it can be attributed to passionate Metallica fans.”

Nevertheless, even AEG wasn’t quite prepared for the group’s popularity.

“I think all of us on the promoter side were scratching our heads trying to figure out exactly what just happened,” Wilkes continued. “I would say that Metallica’s vast popularity here is a unique situation. They cannot be interchanged with other artists from the same era or genre.”

To Wilkes, the two concerts “felt like a national event,” because it appeared that people came from all over the country.

On a feature broadcast by NPR about the show, several fans said they flew to Shanghai specifically to see Metallica.

Mercedes-Benz Arena GM Michael Enoch told Pollstar the shows were a “particularly challenging event for us because of the security concerns of the Public Safety Bureau [police].”

These concerns went beyond matters such as scalping and the selling of bootleg merchandise.

“In the end, all of our planning and effort resulted in an event with virtually no incidents, of which we are very proud.”

Enoch added that the concerts were a kind of watershed for the Chinese market. “Public assembly in China has been tightly controlled in years past,” he said. “Proving that major international artists can play here with the same production values, the same level of safety and similar levels of financial return will help encourage more of these artists to venture into China.”