“If you’re putting all these Beavis and Butt-Heads in the parking lot, where are you going to park the cars?” What happened when Metallica battled the city of Philadelphia to perform in a car park

James Hetfield onstage in 1996
(Image credit: Patti Ouderkirk/WireImage)

It should have been so easy. Towards the end of 1997, Metallica were steamrolling towards the release of their seventh studio album, Reload, and the heavy titans wanted to do something seismic to drum up hype. The band decided that putting on a free concert in celebration would be both public and popular enough for the task: a seemingly simple prospect that any metal fan would pole vault over their dying grandmother to attend.

However, the road to that ostensibly breezy gig was strewn with fracas and bullshit. Angry locals, political grumbles and even a lawsuit against a stadium surrounded the notorious Metallica car park gig of November 11, 27 years ago.

The first roadblock Metallica hit along the way was the fact that, arguably, the idea they’d had was too good. In mid-to-late ’97, the band began hunting for potential spots to host their no-expenses-paid extravaganza, yet they were turned away by each one. Bigwigs at venues, airbases and everywhere else across America all shivered at the notion of putting on the show, fearing so many people would turn up that it could easily devolve into bedlam.

Undeterred, Metallica took their campaign to the people. The band opened a phone line and email address to let fans vote for where the gig should go, and the eventual victor was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to Metallica co-manager Cliff Burnstein, the band’s monolithic Black Album had sold 250,000 copies in that city alone, so the expectation was for there to be a monstrous turnout: magnificent for the musicians, but terrifying for uninterested locals who just wanted to sleep that night.

A mere seven days in advance, the show – later dubbed the “Million Decibel March”, a parody of Philadelphia’s “Million Woman March” protest the prior month – was announced as taking place in the car park of the Corestates Center stadium. MTV reported that said car park could potentially hold upwards of 100,000 people. Uproar swiftly followed.

One city councilman, James Kenney, complained (according to Ultimate Classic Rock): “You’re going to have problems with crowds in a residential area. You’ll have noise and traffic congestion. If the heavy metal rock group wants to hold a concert here, why not hold it inside [nearby arena] the Corestates Spectrum?

“And, if you’re putting all these Beavis and Butt-Heads in the parking lot, where are you going to park the cars?”

The outrage from politicians and Philly natives led the Corestates Center to rescind their invitation for Metallica to play on their premises. The band responded measuredly: by suing a 21,000-seat stadium! They quickly won the case, according to The Los Angeles Times, as U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III ruled that the Corestates Center had entered a verbal contract with Metallica.

“God bless America’s judicial system!” singer/guitarist James Hetfield said in a statement (again according to UCR). “It proves that even Metallica can get a fair hearing if you have a reasonable argument. Let’s rock!”

However, there were still debacles on the day. The event, despite being free, was still a ticketed one, to prevent overcrowding. This clearly wasn’t communicated to everybody, though, as thousands of fans rocked up to the Corestates Center anyway. Security were so overwhelmed that they just started letting everybody in.

Nonetheless, Metallica did indeed rock the car park, playing a 14-song set that bridged classics with returning favourites and live debuts. The Four Horsemen was bashed out on electric guitars for the first time since 1993, then Reload’s The Memory Remains, now a mainstay at shows, was heard for the very first time when the band rallied through it live. A series of covers – including Diamond Head’s Helpless and Am I Evil?, Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy and Killing Joke’s The Wait – reared their heads: a subliminal tease of the Garage, Inc. compilation that would come out 12 months later.

The gig was a rip-roaring success for the band, with 50,000 fans making it to the spectacle, according to guitarist Kirk Hammett. The performance was eventually released as a bootleg video, aptly entitled Banned In Philly, letting the excitement (and stories of controversy) around the concert live on for generations to come.

Metallica are still testing the boundaries of live music decades later. At time of publication, they’re midway through the M72 world tour, where they play two full-length concerts across two nights at almost every stop they make. That said – given the community furor, political mud-slinging and legal battles that surrounded Banned In Philly – we’d be stunned if they ever attempted anything like this again.

Metallica Banned In Philly setlist: Corestates Center, Philadelphia – November 11, 1997

Helpless (Diamond Head cover)
The Four Horsemen
Of Wolf And Man
The Thing That Should Not Be
The Memory Remains
King Nothing
Bleeding Me
No Remorse
Am I Evil?
(Diamond Head cover)
Stone Cold Crazy
(Queen cover)

The Wait (Killing Joke cover)
Master Of Puppets

Encore 2:
Damage, Inc.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.