Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good Friday

Motörhead / Graveyard
The Warfield, San Francisco
April 18, 2014 


Lemmy visiting San Francisco on Good Friday was very appropriate, right?  Amen.

Thanks to Coachella's popularity and it now hosting 2 consecutive weekends of sunburned hipsters, San Francisco benefits by having some of its main bands spending the off week traveling the 500 miles north to play here as well.  This year Lemmy, Phil, and Mikkey (as well as Graveyard) made the trip.  Tonight was also #5 of only 6 Motörhead shows currently scheduled for North America this year.  Special.

[Full disclosure:  Umlaut also saw that other Coachella band Queens of the Stone Age the night before... It was around the 6th time I've seen QOTSA dating back to their club days but I'm not gonna rant about them here because there's not really much to say.  The band was good and the show was ridiculously sold out to the rafters... but the venue (the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium) is awful. Arena Rock is alive and well.. but I could easily have stayed at home.  At least I had some quality face time with friends.  Anyway...]

Before heading over to The Warfield I sat with a couple of old friends at the legendary TuLan.  Amidst the greasy spoon Vietnamese ambiance we had good food and a spirited conversation about the ironic brilliance of the lyrics and videos of Judas Priest.  I wanna go hot rockin'!  Then we few, we happy few, made the short walk over to the venue.  If only all shows were this easy:

"All Axxxes"

Tonight was sold out in advance and I'm sure many in attendance were motivated by the same thought: "This could be the last time..".  Yes, a morbid motivation but if it meant Lemmy playing in front of an adoring sold out house then so be it.  I'm still haunted by the memory of seeing what turned out to be Ronnie James Dio's final Bay Area show in this same room and it was not sold out. Blasphemy... so kudos to my hometown for showing Lemmy and Motörhead respect!  I've been seeing them in this venue dating back to 1982 and I'm pretty sure they've played The Warfield more than any other Bay Area venue.

I finally *got* Graveyard tonight.  I will admit that the last time I saw them 2 years ago I was completely bored and left early.  Yes, I'm a poser but I'm also not above admitting when I'm wrong.  Graveyard were awesome this time.  There's something about Scandinavian bands doing American-style Rock that works better than most American bands.  In order to play this type of Rock well you have to have swagger... and since Scandinavians in general have a natural swagger that's probably why around half the bands I like are from that region.  Sorry America; the foreigners do *our* Rock better.

The backstage scene tonight was less crowded and more subdued than past Motörhead shows here.  Yes, Matt of High On Fire, Phil of Machine Head, and Chuck of Testament were there to give it that local Rock Star flavor.  There were also enough old friends with the right backstage pass who made being downstairs worthwhile since we could talk and not have to yell at each other to be heard.  Old people problems...

Back upstairs at around 10:15pm the houselights went off and there was a legitmate roar from the crowd as Lemmy, Phil, and Mikkey walked onstage.  There are not many bands with an aura of legend like Motörhead and I was taken aback how emo I suddenly got seeing them onstage again.  I immediately geeked out that Lemmy was not playing his usual dark wood and elaborately carved Rickenbacker but was armed with an older, lighter colored Rick tonight.  I wonder what happened to his weapon of choice?

[Photo courtesy of Photo Ray]

Then Lemmy growled his standard introduction of "We are Motörhead!!  And we play Rock 'N Roll!" and they launched into the vintage 'Damage Case'... and then proceeded to tear shit down with 4 more vintage classics in succession:  'Stay Clean', 'Metropolis', 'Over The Top', 'The Chase Is Better Than The Catch'.  Yes, they're the same vintage songs the band has played on the last couple of tours but hearing them in the context of this time in the band's history made it a very special sequence.  Also, midway through the set Phil Campbell said from the stage that The Warfield was the first place in the U.S. where he played with Motörhead.. which would have been this epic show:

 San Francisco - 1985

Pretty cool, right?!  Yes, Umlaut was there that night... and Motörhead had the legendary Bomber lighting rig with them.  Epic only begins to describe it.

As the condensed set steamrolled towards its conclusion with a profound version of 'Killed By Death' I suddenly got caught up in the moment and panicked.  I realized this could possibly be the last time I see Motörhead for at least a long time... 30+ years of fandom and worship exploded in my brain and, since I knew from experience what songs were coming next, I pushed my way to the front for the finale of 'Ace Of Spades' into 'Overkill'.   I thrashed and banged my head like I was 17 again and yelled out the lyrics to the songs that changed my life a million years ago.

"Devil's grip... The Iron Fist.."

Throughout the set I felt that the crowd energy was on a higher level than other recent local Motörhead shows.  Rather than it being mostly the expected older crowd, tonight's sold out house had a healthy mix of younger fans, many of whom who were probably seeing the band for the first time... and it was not my imagination that tonight's show was special.  The next day the band's tour manager posted online how San Francisco had been "magic" and "one of the best shows ever" and the crowd had been "insane".  IF this was the last time (at least for awhile... knock on wood..) it warmed my heart that San Franfuckincisco showed Lemmy and Motörhead such respect and adoration.  The band and this city have a long history together.

Best quote of the night: 

English Bob (to Lemmy as he walked past us after the set):  "You rule, Lem!"

Lemmy (without missing a beat):  "If I did I'd be a rich man."

HAHA, right?!!  Lemmy still has it!!  My hero.  Always.

The sobering reality was that tonight was Motörhead's last announced headlining show in North America this year.  This was around my 25th Motörhead show and who knows what the future holds.  I just want to urge everyone reading this to see your old heroes now while you still can. No, it's not 1982 and, yes, the band is older but Motörhead were still great. I was down front at one of their shows again for the first time in a very, very long time and they turned me into that Teenage Metalhead again for around 70 minutes.

If you bought one of every Motörhead merch item you would have paid around $400.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.  It is not an overstatement when I say that Lemmy and Motörhead completely changed my life in an almost supernatural way.  Discovering Motörhead when I was an isolated teenager set me on a path in life that my Inner Teenage Metalhead could never have imagined.  This EP was one of the first Motörhead records I discovered in a record store import bin circa 1981 and I was fascinated by the band photo:


They looked dangerous... and Heavy Metal.. and they were English.  Yes, I still have that copy of this record; it's followed me through life all of these years.  The first time I met Lemmy was in 1982 and I was completely intimidated... He was my hero.. and he still is... When I ponder and obsess about it, when it comes right down to it, Motörhead are my most sacred band.  Born To Lose - Live To Win... always.

"The only way to feel the noise is when it's good and loud.."

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Dark Granulating Satanic Mills

The Decibel Magazine 2014 Tour
Carcass / The Black Dahlia Murder / Repulsion / Gorguts / Noisem
The Regency, San Francisco
March 26, 2014


Tonight was one of those magical times when everything became one with The Metal.  The blessings from the Metal Godz began when I found a parking space that was literally only 70 steps (yes I counted..) from the venue's entrance.  Hail!   There was also zero Will Call drama and the Will Call person was a Murder fan.  Praise be..

Once inside I was disappointed that Noisem were already finishing up their set due to the early start time.  Sorry I couldn't get there earlier, guys... but the brutal 5 minutes or so of Noisem that I did catch was better than some full sets I've seen by other bands in recent times. Next time for sure.

I should mention that tonight was sold out, which gives me hope that (1) The Kidz actually like the good Metal bands and (2) The Kidz actually read the good Metal mags like Decibel.  Full disclosure:  Decibel is the only music magazine that Umlaut subscribes to... which means I pay for it in order to support.  Comps are for posers.

During the changeover, the bar / merch area of the lobby filled to capacity.  The Regency was packed tonight and it was kind of inspiring seeing so many kidz in the house but not as many of the regular Metal faces.  Maybe there really is a "Metal Scene" lurking in The Bay Area that embraces the present instead of simply clutching onto its glorious past after all.  I caught myself thinking "Where did all of these people come from?"  While it was cool seeing the tribe gathered, I was thankful most of the punters didn't seem to know about the bar on the other side of the lobby that was comfortably empty.  It's also the bar that serves the better beers.  I guess it's not a "secret" anymore... Ooops.

Gorguts obliterated The City By The Bay.  Not since the return of Voivod has a Canadian band made me bow down and made me avert my eyes to their greatness.  Technical.  Precise.  Progressive.  Aural density that was heavy as fuck.  My brain thanked me for bringing it into the presence of this thinking person's Metal sledgehammer. 


 Gorguts 


Gorguts are the type of crushing cerebral Metal band that keeps my jaded self from giving up on Metal.  I usually start feeling that way when I see a shite band like Five Finger Death Punch being hailed as today's "Metal Gods".  Thank dog for Gorguts and their unorthodox onslaught led by the virtuosos on the 7-string guitar and 6-string bass.  My favorite band of the night.

The Regency is the one local venue where you can completely escape the stage area in between bands by going through closed doors.  It's like being back in school and having recess in between classes.  This gives shows there a more social vibe than other spaces.  It's not the best space, or even my favorite space, but I've grown to enjoy seeing shows at The Regency much more in recent times.  Tonight was also a rare occasion when my Murder In The Front Row co-author Harald O. and I were in the same room at the same time.

 Murder Unmasked... and 'Shandi' was not in our setlist.

It was mind blowing that Repulsion were on the bill for only the San Francisco date; their highly anticipated set lived up to all of the expectations and history.  It was impressive how confident and blistering the veteran band was despite their limited recent live appearances compared to the other bands on the bill.  Also, the full circle nature of having them sharing the stage with Carcass in San Francisco of all cities was pretty damn cool, man.  The room was overrun with the vintage aural stench that Repulsion spewed one song after another... and the room reacted with crowd action worthy of such a legendary band.
 
Repulsion

As I mentioned earlier, tonight was not only a gathering of great bands but the atmosphere in general was on another level as well.  It didn't feel like this was just another generic Metal show.  I don't know if it's because I'm an old man, but more often than not at Metal shows it just feels like people are simply "there".  There's no underlying sense of a higher common cause; tonight was not like that.  Blame Decibel Magazine I guess.  It's how all Metal shows should feel like; a gathering of the tribe.

I've seen The Black Dahlia Murder around a half dozen times and I've never connected with them.  Part of it is probably because I have a hard time taking bands with more than 3 words in their name seriously; I'm just old fashioned that way.  However, the kidz love Black Dahlia and I decided before the show that I would embrace the night and watch every band which goes against my usual jaded self.  Anyway, three songs and I was out, but the kidz love Black Dahlia.   Not surprisingly, The Black Dahlia merch table had the longest line.

I love Bolt Thrower, but Carcass are England's greatest Metal band right now.  The most pleasant surprise of the night was that the crowd did not thin out after Black Dahlia as I expected.  Good on the kidz! Although it had only been 48 days since England's finest had last been on this very same stage, their set tonight was more triumphant and all conquering.  The classic 'Buried Dreams' made the first incision and it was a quintessential Carcass evisceration for the next 90 minutes or so. My favorite song of the set was the new 'The Dark Granulating Satanic Mills' with its infectious chorus of "Six, zero, two, six, nine, six, one". 


Carcass


I also appreciated how Jeff Walker wore an Electric Light Orchestra tee onstage.  I'm at the point where I've seen Carcass close to a half dozen times now and tonight's set solidified them as one of my all-time favorite bands.  This year is a strange year already as my interest in Metal has flat lined (again) and it doesn't feel like it did 4 or 5 years ago when almost everything "Metal" was exciting to me again.  Yes, Umlaut is fickle but all the gratitude in the world to Gorguts, Repulsion, and Carcass for plugging the Metal side of my brain back in again at least for another night.  Metal is a war and not just a battle and it's one battle at a time for me right now.. Hope I die before I get old.

There was so much merch for sale, but if you bought one of every Carcass merch item you would have spent around $265.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag... but at least I only had to walk 70 steps.  Before my return to Casa de Umlaut, one thing led to another and I found myself parked on a San Francisco side street eating drive thru food after the Metal show.  How old am I? 

"No thanks.  I don't need any crack."

All show photos courtesy of the great Photo Ray!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Desert Cruiser

Truckfighters / Crowbot
DNA Lounge, San Francisco
March 20, 2014


The day started with me taking an 8:00am flight to Los Angeles and then spending all day in LaLa Land working.  Then I was back on a 7:00pm flight home. I was also in the throes of a Randy Rhoads nostalgia trip since the anniversary of his death was this week.


"Feeling like I should have kept my feet on the ground.. Waiting for the sun to appear.." 

Then at 9:30pm I was driving to the DNA to see Truckfighters who were due to go on at 10:30pm.  It was one of those surgically precise days that Umlaut has not pulled off in awhile.  Tonight was in the upstairs small room of the DNA.  It was cute how the DNA staff outside asked me twice what band I was there to see to make sure I didn't wander into the other event in their big room by mistake.  Regardless, the small upstairs room was nicely packed for Truckfighters which was a pleasant surprise on a school night. 

Crowbot weren't necessarily bad, but I think it's safe to say they have a lot of Monster Magnet on their iTunes.  During the first song the guitarist copped Steve Vai's stage move of flipping his guitar around his back in between riffs not once but twice... and then he did it a couple of more times.  Someone should have tapped him on the shoulder at that point and told him to stop; it was cute once, maybe twice, but unless you're Steve Vai just play, please.  I would have been really into them in 1994 but here in 2014 I had a private conversation with a beer during their set.

Admittedly, I did not know much about Truckfighters going into the show.  I also didn't find out until the next day that, despite having been a band for 13 years, tonight was Truckfighter's first visit ever to San Francisco.  I will cut to the chase and say that Truckfighters are my new favorite Swedish band.  They are bringing the power trio back!  How do you say "power trio" in Swedish?  I'm also thankful I was able to see their first S.F. show so I don't feel as much of a poser for not knowing about them, like, 9 years ago when their debut album came out.  It's the little things in life...

The band is definitely a high energy live act, but tonight they might have been tempered a bit by the small stage and the low ceiling of the DNA Annex.  It didn't matter because the band's strong songs, musicianship, and attitude more than made up for any jumping around they might have done otherwise.  I was impressed with how the dynamics of their songs wrapped the room with tones intertwining with riffs intertwining with a thundering bottom end and a profound fuzzy groove.

[Photo courtesy of Photo Ray]

The great Stoner Rock bands have a distinctive guitar tone that locks in with everything else, and that's exactly what Truckfighters have going on.  All of the bands use the same template, but the great ones add their own special sauce.  How do you say "special sauce" in Swedish?  Their attitude and personality also reminded me of another great Swedish Rock band The Hellacopters.  I'm enamored how the Truckfighters' heaviness isn't obvious until it crushes you like a 16-wheeler running without its headlights on as you cross the street at night... and then they serenade your crumpled body like a melodic breeze through the trees... only to run you over again.

If Stoner Rock had been born in a Swedish desert Truckfighters would be huge; fuzz with an accent.  Also, $12 tonight for Truckfighters seemed like a way better deal than the $50 for Queens of the Stone Age here next month.  The next day I went out (okay.. online) and ordered all of Truckfighters' albums.  It seems like a lot of things are done better in Sweden.  Why is that?

I didn't do a Truckfighters merch audit, but I only had $20 left on me and spent it on the vinyl of their Mania album.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.  It was really cool for jaded Umlaut to be won over by a band again; there is hope for me yet.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Home Cooking

Children Of Bodom / Death Angel / Tyr
The Fillmore, San Francisco
February 28, 2014


No offense to the other bands on this bill, but the only reason I was at The Fillmore on this Friday night was to see Death Angel on their home turf.  Only 20 days earlier, the band had made a brief homecoming to play their old friend's Horror Convention and then the next day they were off on down that Lock 'N Loll Road again.  Tonight found them back in their home area code for another brief time as part of this odd bill sandwiched between 2 Scandinavian bands.

Umlaut arrived earlier than expected and passed the time watching the enormous merch line snake from the back of the main room all the way to the stage.  Impressive... but as Tyr begin their set I knew I wouldn't be long for the main room.  Tyr have very good musicianship but their neutered brand of Metal is something that mystifies me.  The early crowd assembled for them reminded me of being at ComiCon and when a nerdy guy in the lobby wearing a Tyr shirt said loudly "I've never seen this many Tyr shirts in one place before!" he kind of summed it up perfectly.  Anyway, after a couple of songs I found myself sitting in the upstairs bar with other bored Death Angel fans.


A minute or so later around 6 bored Thrash kidz walked into the room and they immediately endeared themselves to me as they debated each other on "real" Metal bands with one of them saying "I've seen Motörhead twice, dude!"  It was like looking into a mirror back at my 20th Century self; those kidz are going to be alright.  Dog bless them.

I was curious to see how a Children Of Bodom crowd would respond to Death Angel, but I didn't anticipate how much home cooking would influence tonight's set.  As the houselights went down I was standing down front at stage right and realized I was pretty much surrounded by Death Angel friends and family members... and the energy level from the first note was completely off the hook.  It was obvious tonight was going to be very special.


[All photos courtesy of Photo Ray]



The new song 'Left For Dead' set things off and the set seemed longer than the mere 45 minutes Death Angel were allotted.  However, when it's a band playing at the level that Death Angel is here in 2014 it's simply a matter of all killer and no filler. Quality over quantity.  For the entire set I wasn't sure if it was just me who was caught up in the emotionally charged fury.  However, as I looked around at the crowd and watched the pit action I realized the smell in the air was the sweet smell of home cooking.  I could tell the band was digging into the home cooking profoundly as well.

I was impressed that the set was mainly new songs but it did not matter at all, so when Death Angel started up the DeLorean and took us back in time to the vintage 'Mistress Of Pain' things went completely nuts.  It's not often you see a support band completely take over a stage and make it their own, but tonight Death Angel did just that.  Although not on the same level of course, tonight reminded me of Metallica with Ozzy in 1986.  Not the same level, but definitely the same vibe.  There is no place like home.  The next day Mark of Death Angel posted the following message that caused me to get a bit teary eyed:

"Last night was one of my most satisfying, and gratifying San Francisco shows that we have ever played!"

If you had bought one of every Death Angel merch item you would have paid around $110.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Despite my previous intention of staying for the headliner, as they blazed through their set I was at the Mel's Drive-In on Geary where I had the weirdest and least satisfying chicken fried steak ever.  Hmm... obviously not all home cooking is good after all.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Sign Of The Wolf

Pentagram / Radio Moscow / Kings Destroy / Bedrücken
Bedrücken
Bedrücken
Bedrücken
DNA Lounge, San Francisco
February 25, 2014


Okay, this rant is just under 2 weeks after the event so I appear to be getting caught up with this space.  I'll cut to the chase and say this was the SHOW OF THE YEAR so far for Umlaut.  I was surprised it was sold out and the space was packed with young hipster and metal types... and also hipster metal types.  This surge in Pentagram love has to be a result of the Last Days Here documentary, right?  Makes sense, right?   Prior to leaving Casa de Umlaut this happened: 


Coffee after 6:00pm can only mean one thing:  Gig.

I walked into the DNA as the first band of the night was finishing up and I was surprised to see Umlaut friend Ami Lawless onstage fronting the band Bedrücken.  I had no idea!  I'll have to pay closer attention to the bill next time.  Apologies to Kings Destroy but I spent most of their set catching up with friends outside where it was easier to chat.  Good times. 

Radio Moscow were a very pleasant surprise!  My friends and I were bagging on their name while chatting outside, but when the band landed onstage with their Blue Cheer-like virtuosity and groove I was hooked.  It was also a pleasant surprise to watch the young hipster and metal types... and also the hipster metal types.. get behind Radio Moscow's retro volume curtain that was driven by guitarist Parker Grigg's magical right hand holding the plectrum.  It's not very often that my jaded head is impressed by a band sight unseen... but thankfully Radio Moscow hit me upside my noggin tonight and made me appreciate leaving Casa de Umlaut early enough to see them.  How do you say thank you in Russian with a Cali-San Diego accent by way of Iowa?  Evidently the band is originally from Iowa but now plants their feet in San Diego, which makes perfect sense.

Having original guitarist Victor Griffin teamed with Bobby Leibling is the key to Pentagram being a relevant band again instead of merely an oldies act.  Griffin's tone isn't thick but it's distinctive.  Having that tone in place onstage next to Leibling's sorcerer aura takes Pentagram to that ethereal level that few bands ever achieve.  The explosion of energy that the opening riff of the first song 'The Deist' set off in the room scorched me.

[Photo courtesy of Photo Ray]

'Forever My Queen' was dropped as the 2nd song of the set and launched the night into a magical and mystical level where it was masterfully maintained for the entirety of the 16-song set..  The crowd taking over the vocals for 'All Your Sins' was pure uncut awesome ("You can never win... Pay for all your sins..").  Then the sublime crowd action that broke out during 'Sign Of The Wolf' combined with the downright crushing performance made my month.  The bond between the band onstage and the sweaty crowd of hipster and metal types... and hipster metal types.. was profound and gave me hope for the future here in the 21st Century.  There was more crowd action and stage diving during Pentagram tonight than at all of the Metallica shows I've seen in the past 20 years combined.  I am being completely serious.  It obviously says a lot about the charisma and power of Bobby Leibling & Co. to elicit such a fevered response out of a Tuesday night audience.


The fantastic evening closed with a stomping version of '20 Buck Spin' and I kind of staggered out of the DNA.  Pentagram here in the 21st Century are still the real fucking deal. Amen and hallelujah!

I didn't do a merch audit because Pentagram didn't have the prices posted.  Odd.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags... but at least we didn't suffer the same fate as 2 of the bands on the bill who had their vans broken into and stuff stolen during the show.  Bummer.  However, I would like to think those bad vibes were leveled out by us ending the night at Taqueria Cancun for a celebratory midnight burrito.  I've been going to this Cancun location for over 20 years now and every time I'm there I remember that night circa 1992 when a guy came in trying to sell a chainsaw.  True story.


"Stories unfold but they've all been told when he sold his soul to the Pentagram..."

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Let It Roll

Michael Schenker
Heritage Theater, Campbell, California
February 13, 2014


Again, I must point out how far behind I am with writing these days... so please bear with me as I attempt to relive events from over 2 (TWO!) weeks ago. Anyway, the legend who is Michael Schenker visited Downtown Campbell?!  Downtown.  Campbell.  If you had told me when I was a teenager that The Mad Axeman would be playing in the middle of suburbia in a former high school theater I would not have believed you.  Also, here in the 21st Century, Schenker sold out the 800 capacity venue.  I'm pretty sure this was the first time I've seen Schenker in a proper venue instead of a sports bar or other weird venue since the 80's.  The crowd was mainly the expected aging old school Rock people but the energy in the lobby was younger given how obviously special it was seeing Schenker in such a civilized space.

Evidently they ran out of beer at the concession stand, but thankfully I had one with dinner earlier in shockingly posh downtown Campbell.  While waiting in line for the Men's Room a random guy randomly asked me "Aren't you that book guy?"  Awkward.. but Murder is everywhere I guess.  Thanks, dude... but can I take a piss first?

After my brush with fame at the urinal, we took our seats up in the old man balcony section that gave us an unobstructed view of the stage.  However, as the set began the venue's past as a high school theater became obvious from the lack of stage lighting (the house lights were dimmed but the lights over the stage were left on the entire set) and the small PA... which actually didn't sound that bad but it looked funny having literally only 3 speakers on either side of the stage.


On paper the setlist was pretty solid:  Starting with MSG and solo songs, then easing into a couple of Lovedrive-era Scorpions songs, some rudimentary new songs, and then finishing up with the expected run through of UFO classics.  When they started 'Let It Roll' I was waiting for Schenker to hit the solo to see if he was really *on* tonight.. and he NAILED it. It was rather breathtaking actually.  Listening to The Mad Axeman play here in the 21st Century is as close to having a time machine as you can get.  He's still got *it*..

Unfortunately, Schenker's band on this trek bordered on amateur night.  The bassist jumped around and literally danced half the time and I swear he was only playing half the time as well because he was posing so much.  He looked ridiculous; I'm not a musician but a Rock bassist should hold things down and not jump around. The singer has worked for Yngwie Malmsteen and Ritchie Blackmore in the past but I was hard pressed to believe his resume because he said silly things between songs and tried to lead crowd cheers during a couple of Schenker solos (!?).    I'm not a frontman but a Rock singer who is basically the hired gun for a legend should know his place a bit more.  He also twice got on the drum riser and started gyrating (for lack of a better term) to the point where the riser itself was moving back and forth at an alarming rate and looked like it would fall over. The drummer looked pissed.  Given that we were in an old high school theater you'd think 1/2 of Schenker's band were still in high school.  Seriously.

Thankfully Schenker was amazing and flawless but it made me wonder how much better he'd be with a more solid and professional backing band. He must really get along with these guys and it might be a trade off: No band drama instead of a better band.  It's sobering to realize that one of the greatest guitar players of his generation still charges only $20 for tickets while more mainstream guitar "greats" have ticket prices up to 5x that but they have far less relevancy now.  Of course, Schenker is still playing old high school theaters backed by 2nd or 3rd string players.  Sad... but on his upcoming tours of Japan and Europe he will have the rhythm section of Scorpions veterans Francis Buchholz and Herman "Zee German" Rarebell (!!).   Can you imagine?  I can't because I still have visions of the hopping bass player in my head..

If you bought one of every Schenker merch item you would have paid around $80 I think.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. I made the long commute to this show because I want to see my old heroes whenever possible before they're gone. However, I unexpectedly came out of the show inspired from seeing Michael Schenker's virtuosity in person again.  At least for the drive home, I felt the same as I did after the first time I saw The Mad Axeman in 1980 on a rainy night in Oakland.  Time travel does exist.

"When our nerves were razor sharp and we'd all let it roll. Let it roll.. Let it roll."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekend Of Horror

Kirk Von Hammett's Fear FestEvil
The Regency, San Francisco
February 6-8, 2014


The exciting sequel to Too Much Horror Business!

Yes, it's taken me a couple of weeks to pull this out of my brain... but better late than never.  Anyway, sometimes you have a friend when you're a teenager and that friend grows up to be a multi-millionaire Rock Star... and sometimes that millionaire Rock Star friend spends his hard earned money on insanely rare and cool things that meant a lot to him when he was a kid.  You can read more about this friend's collection HERE.

Thursday:  Preview Night
Tonight was the advance preview night for "VIP" fans and guests that featured Mr. KRK Hamster hosting a food 'n drink party in the upstairs Masonic Temple of The Regency aka The Lodge (!).  It's an amazing space and it was made even better by having artifacts from KRK's horror collection displayed effectively all around the room.  At one point this fanboy moment happened:

Carcass. Fanboy.
[Pic courtesy of Cable Car]

Yes, only half of Carcass caused me to get a "deer in the headlights" look because inside my head I was screaming "HEARTWORKCHANGEDMYLIFE!!"  Nice guys and one of my favorite bands, like, ever.   At another point I had a brief conversation with Kirk Von Hammett (aka The Host) and it was so cool that the very first thing he said to me was how excited he was to be playing with his old band Exodus.  He was genuinely giddy.  Not all Rock Stars are jaded muthafuckers.

Not Playing

Tonight was the social evening and I was able to hang out with several out of town friends who I had not seen in awhile and several local friends who I also had not seen in awhile.  Some good food was served by people in zombie makeup... but the beer selection was, for lack of a better term, lame.  Budweiser vs. Heineken.  Oh well.. It was still a really good time.  Then the next day it was...

Friday:  Exodus / Carcass
After some initial Will Call drama the Rock Godz worked their magic and this happened:


I'm with the band.

From that moment on the day and evening was pretty much a blur.  Scott Ian sat in a chair on the main stage for 3 hours having makeup applied by a Hollywood makeup artist to "transform" him into Jack The Ripper.  Three. Hours.  It was literally like watching paint dry.  Needless to say Umlaut did not watch the entire process.  The end result was pretty cool, but I wonder what the appropriate time ratio is for keeping elaborate monster makeup on versus how long it took to apply.  Maybe Scott is still wearing it..

The vendor area in the basement was interesting but I wasn't in a buying mood.  However, it was an impressive mix of the standard toy and collectible vendors as well as Iron Maiden's original artist Derek Riggs (!) and Doyle of the Misfits (?).  One of the most poignant images of the weekend for me was a throng of people crowding around Riggs' table to meet the creator of Eddie while at the table right next to him Doyle (in full makeup and devilock) sat quietly alone staring at his phone and texting.  I remember Halloween too, Doyle... I remember.

Anyway, as the time for the bands drew near they cleared out the main room so Carcass could soundcheck.  Which was awesome because there were maybe only 5 other people in the room.. and it looked like this via Umlaut's blurry iPhone:


After watching Carcass getting their levels set we few, we happy few, wandered down the street to get some food and caffeine fuel before returning for show time.  By now the main room had been reopened and was nicely full for the return of the Grind Gods to San Francisco.

Carcass opened with '1985', the first song off their insanely great new album Surgical Steel, and then went into the brutally iconic 'Buried Dreams', the first song off their insanely influential (for Umlaut at least) album Heartwork.  Nicely done, lads.  I will admit to being concerned when Michael Amott left the band in 2012, but the current guitar duo of Bill Steer and new guy Ben Ash were steel encased solid and surgically brilliant.  I should not have worried.  It was also very cool that Jeff Walker gave The Bay Area and Bay Area bands a heartfelt shout out in between songs at one point.  Carcass are a band that changed my life at a time when I thought I was too old and *done* with Metal.  I didn't think anything in the genre could inspire me again.  Carcass restarted my Metal heart and seeing them again reminded me of their role in my life.  However, since Carcass will be back here at this same venue in March on the Decibel Tour, halfway through the set I made my way back upstairs to say "Hi" to tonight's headliners and witnessed this:

Holt Awaits

It seemed like all of the throat-scratching fog from Carcass' onstage smoke machines had drifted upstairs because the dressing room hallway was choked full with it... (cough cough)... So I went back downstairs and witnessed the rest of Carcass' beautiful evisceration of San Francisco from stage right.  Then I think I met friends in the lobby for a beer.  I think.  Probably.  Needless to say I'm really looking forward seeing Carcass again when they play a full headline set next month.

Carcass Stage Right:  Tools Of The Trade

I missed Exodus' rare headlining hometown show in December so it was a priority for me to soak up as much of their old school energy as I could.  Unfortunately, the Umlaut Archives doesn't have an accurate count of how many times I've seen Exodus. However, it's safe to say it's around the 40 show range dating back to when Kirk Von Hammett was still in the band.  Tonight was full circle special for that history alone.

Exodus came out and played a steamroller 8-song set that culminated with their original guitarist KRK joining them on 'Pirahna' and then a very inspired (the actor who was the original Godzilla was one of FestEvil's guests) cover of Blue Öyster Cult's 'Godzilla' featuring Godzilla himself dancing onstage.  Godzilla is much shorter in person.  Later I asked Gary why they hadn't played an early Exodus song from the KRK era... like 'Impaler' or 'Whipping Queen' or 'Death and Domination' or 'Warlord'... and he said it would have been "too much work".  Fair enough.

"How does 'Impaler' go again?"
[Pic courtesy of Photo Ray]
"History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.."
[Pic courtesy of Photo Ray]

In all seriousness, it was profoundly awesome to see KRK so happy and obviously having F-U-N onstage.  Let's be honest, I'm positive that sometimes being in Metallica is more like a job than being in a band. That's not meant as a negative, it's just what comes with the territory of being in the biggest Metal band of his generation.  So it was just awesome seeing KRK being that pimply-faced kid again onstage. Somewhere Baloff smiled.

Ironically, because I had just seen them a week before and had been geeking out on them again, I happened to be wearing a Blue Öyster Cult shirt tonight.  It was a completely random coincidence; sometimes The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways.  Later at the After Party I had some quality time with a couple of old friends who I've known since before any of us could buy alcohol legally.. and this happened:

 
Holt. B.Ö.C. shirt.
[Pic courtesy of Cable Car]

Hammett.  Hanneman.
 [Pic courtesy of Photo Ray]

Right after this photo was taken KRK reminded me that he's known me since he was 19 years old.  Trippy... and pretty cool he even remembers that, right?   Then 24 hours later it was...

Saturday:  Death Angel / Orchid
Due to a prior commitment I had to forgo the Horror part of the fest and arrived not long before the band portion of the day was to start.  One thing led to another and despite my late arrival I ended up here:


Standing at stage right with Orchid I asked if they did a pre-show band bro hug before playing... and they did one right in front of me.  Awww!  I then had a special geek chat with Mark and Theo before they walked onto the hot 'n sweaty stage to pound their hometown under their boot heel of tone.  The local lads were given a full hour so they were basically able to recreate their recent European headlining set on a big stage in front of family and friends.


If I had to choose I'd have to say Orchid was my favorite set of the weekend.  The other bands on the bill are veterans with years in the trenches and who are used to having "famous" friends and admirers.  While Orchid are not kids, the deserved adulation and attention they've been getting recently is something they're not used to yet.  Their fanboy appreciation about being asked by KRK to play at his event was profoundly cute (for lack of a better more endearing term) and translated into how they took over The Regency's stage confidently and made it their own for their allotted time.  Great guys.  Great band.

Tonight was the 3rd show on Death Angel's latest U.S. Tour and it's pretty amazing how the band has come back to be such road dogs in the last several years.  All of that work has paid off as they were the most well-oiled Metal machine of the weekend despite a couple of the guys being sick with flu (cue Purell).  Thirty or more years on from the Murder In The Front Row days and I'm not ashamed to say I get kind of emo watching Death Angel here in the 21st Century.  The current version of Death Angel is so good it's frightening and it's inspiring to see a band that has survived and adapted but remained true to their roots.  It was also an appropriate reality check that tonight also happened to be Mark's birthday, which was celebrated onstage with a cake presented by some of his best friends.  Adorable!  At one point while I stood at stage left between songs this happened:

Mercyful Fate Fanboys

Okay, now get back out on that stage, Mr. Guitarist...

Anyway, 'Seemingly Endless Time' was, as it usually is, my favorite song of the set but the new song 'Fallen' was especially crushing as well. The set and event closing cover songs jam with KRK on 'Heaven And Hell' and 'Trapped Under Ice' sealed the fact how special this event had been.  In all seriousness, it was profoundly awesome to see KRK so happy and obviously having F-U-N onstage with the band whose demo he produced a million years ago.


Let's be honest, I'm positive that sometimes being in Metallica is more like a job than being in a band. That's not meant as a negative, it's just what comes with the territory of being in the biggest Metal band of his generation. So it was just awesome seeing KRK being that pimply-faced kid again onstage.

Apologies that I all but glossed over the Horror aspect of the weekend which was just as impressive as the music side.  Actually, it was probably more impressive to many attendees but truth be told I am a very casual Horror fan.  I watch Walking Dead and read the Walking Dead comics but that's literally it for me and Horror.  I'm just not qualified to comment on it, no matter how cool it all looked to my casual Horror fan eyes.  Yes, that guy who's a makeup artist and a producer on Walking Dead was there.  Yes, the actors who were Ultra-Man and Godzilla were in attendance.  Yes, P.J. Soles was there.  Again, sorry... but I'm sure there are other places on The Internets to read about that side of this event.  Yes, this means I'm not Metal and I am a poser.


I will say that in addition to the music (and the Horror), Kirk Von Hammett's Fear FestEvil had a profound sense of community around it.   The Bay Area vibe was very thick in the air for me due to the host being a local boy made good and the double digit number of friends who were in attendance.  I'm sure this event would still be special if it were held in other cities, but there's something very special about home cooking.


I didn't do a merch audit and I forgot to score the special event tees that Carcass and Exodus did for the weekend.  Oh well... However, it was obvious that there were more SLAAAYEER shirts than any other band shirts amongst attendees.  Interesting.  On the way back to the car all 3 nights, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.  Full disclosure:  Writing this blog entry felt like a homework assignment and was a real struggle as I wrestled and did hand to hand combat with the words and sentences.  Writing can be hard.

Click HERE to see more of Photo Ray's awesome photos from the weekend.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dominance & Submission

Blue Öyster Cult 
Slim's, San Francisco
February 1, 2014


Long story short, I saw Blue Öyster Cult for the first time since 1994.  It was a good show.. They opened with 'This Ain't The Summer Of Love' into 'The Golden Age Of Leather' which I took to be a homage to San Francisco since Slim's is located in SoMa (aka The Leather Daddy 'Hood of S.F.).  The band's catalog from 1972-81 is pretty sacred to me and B.Ö.C. were the first concert I ever saw in 1979 so I'll always have a soft white underbelly for them... but part of me was bummed that it was only 2/5 of the original lineup.  As good as Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma can still be, tonight only reminded me and magnified how essential Allen Lanier (R.I.P.) and the Bouchard Brothers were to the magic of the original band.  


[Pic courtesy of Sensory Abuse]

I was impressed they played 'Burnin' For You' as the 3rd song of the set and got their biggest hit out of the way early... but I was bummed by the semi-drunk guy standing next to me who danced like it was 1981 again... and he was wearing a sweater at a Rock concert.  Then I was bummed by the middle part of the set that featured crappy songs that I didn't know because they were recorded after 1981.  However, my inner teenage B.Ö.C. fanatic came back to life as the rest of the set steamrolled through 'ME 262' (THE best song about World War II, like, ever... until Maiden did 'Aces High'..), 'Then Came The Last Days of May', 'Career of Evil', 'Godzilla', 'Don't Fear The Reaper'... and then encored with 'Hot Rails To Hell' and 'Cities On Flames with Rock & Roll'.  A tight ending but I was left disappointed because they didn't play my favorite song 'Astronomy'... and I must also admit it wasn't the same without Buck Dharma wearing a leisure suit onstage... or the arena stage laser light show... or the 5 guitar jam... or Bloom riding his Harley out during 'Born To Be Wild'.  Anyway... I still had a good time and a couple of beers.

At this point in Umlaut's life, it's a double-edged sword going to see my original Rock heroes because it's a profound reality check.  When I saw Blue Öyster Cult in the 70's and early 80's in stadiums in front of 50,000 people they seemed larger than life.  Fast forward to the 21st Century and it's sobering seeing Blue Öyster Cult headline a 3/4 full club with as many people as who were probably standing in line to take a piss during their set at those long ago stadium shows.   Hope I die before I get old. 

 The 2nd time Umlaut saw B.Ö.C. - 1980

If you bought one of every Blue Öyster Cult merch item you would have paid $60.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags.  I still love B.Ö.C. long time.. and then 5 days later was another reality check that was altogether different.  Stay tuned..

"It's been ten years.. Half my life.."



Sunday, February 09, 2014

From A Lacerated Sky

I have a lot to write about and am struggling to find the time and energy to do that... In the meantime I will give you this from The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco on February 6, 2014:

[Pic courtesy of Photo Ray]

After this pic was taken KRK reminded me that he's known me since he was 19 years old.  Stay tuned...