Elbo Room, San Francisco
August 17, 2011
This ranks as one of the most surreal shows ever for Umlaut. Thirty years ago Diamond Head were one of those hallowed underground European Metal bands that ushered in a whole new world for me. Plus, all of the Old Metalheads know that Metallica copped pretty much all of their early sound from Diamond Head. Fast forward to the 21st Century and Diamond Head are touring the U.S. for the first time ever... 17 cities although with only 1 original member (guitarist Brian Tatler). I hate cover bands and, despite the sense that I would be seeing a Diamond Head cover band (especially since Sean Harris would not be singing the band's iconic songs), my Inner Teenage Metalhead still told me to go if only to honor the ancient Metal Days of my youth.
The line to get into the Elbo Room was like a high school reunion with so many people who I've known since we were teenagers hanging out. This pre-show scene was the highlight of the night for me, which included Ron Quintana and I meeting Brian Tatler on the streets of San Francisco. Although we later found out that Tatler did not have his white Flying-V with him (For the newbies: Tatler was always shown playing a white Flying-V back in The Day..), for some reason he was carrying a white power strip when we met him (?). Anyway, Ron and I meeting him was 30 years of Diamond Head fandom coming around full circle; kind of an epic moment.
Slough Feg has been touted as the 2nd coming of Old Metal for years... but they've never clicked with me. Tonight was no different. Sorry... honesty is my only excuse. Evildead is led by the guitarist from the 80's L.A. Metal band Abattoir, who I saw back in The Day supporting Megadeth and Slayer... but it was hot 'n stuffy in the space so we went outside to get some air during their set. Sorry... honesty is my only excuse.
It took 30 years, but Diamond Head finally made it to San Francisco, the American city where they unquestionably had the biggest following back in The Day. Unlike most, The Bay Area Metal kidz knew about Diamond Head before they were made famous by Metallica. The very first time Metallica played in San Francisco in September 1982 they covered 'The Prince' and 'Am I Evil'; my friends and I flipped out because we couldn't believe there were others who even knew who Diamond Head were... Kids these days with their Internet probably can't comprehend how isolated it could be in ancient times when you had to hunt for information and the music of bands you liked... but that effort made me value the music and bands that much more. Hence I was standing in the crowded and sweaty Elbo Room at midnight on a Tuesday night to see 1/4 of the original band.
This was a very weird show for me and I have to say it came 30 years too late in many respects. In a perfect world Diamond Head would have played the Lightning To The Nations album all the way through and not broken the classic songs up with their later material. As it happened, they played all of the songs off that album except 'Sweet & Innocent' during the set... but I couldn't get past the overwhelming cover band vibe. It's an age old debate: If you use a band's name even though most of the current members weren't in the original band are they still *that* band? Of course, in a few cases it might work... but in most cases it doesn't. If a band is special it’s because the individuals involved create a creative chemistry that’s unique.. you might be able to replace one or maybe two members.. but the results might be dubious. In this case, simply calling the band "Diamond Head" doesn't make them the iconic band from my youth. Sorry... honesty is my only excuse.
On paper the setlist was pretty solid and I tried to get past the fact that only 1/5 of the band onstage mattered to me… but it was difficult. They opened with the oldie 'Play It Loud'... and 'The Prince' and 'It's Electric' were fun to hear.. and when they played 'Helpless' I did toast the dead friends who never got to see the band (Sam, Rich, Cliff). It was funny how I recognized the songs off the Borrowed Time and Canterbury albums (which I literally have not listened to since 1983) but the newer latter 20th Century songs sounded so dated. However, it was pretty fucking cool to finally see Brian Tatler play 'Am I Evil' in San Francisco (with a shout out to Metallica of course..) after all these years. "I'll split you to the bone... Help set you free.."
When it was all said and done, this was a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" show for me. If I'd passed on it I would have regretted it... but attending didn't set my world on fire either; I'm such a jaded Old Fart. Meanwhile, back in the 21st Century...
If you bought one of every Diamond Head merch item you would have paid around $60; Healy bought one of the band’s USB drives in a tin box that was supposed to have their entire discography on it plus bonus music... and it was EMPTY! On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. If you bought one of every Diamond Head merch item in 1981 you would have paid around 17 quid: