Monday, January 02, 2006

Kaiser R.I.P.

The City of Oakland recently closed the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The complex includes the 91-year old Oakland Auditorium (renamed the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center / Arena in 1985). Umlaut saw a good number of shows at the 8,000 seat Kaiser over the years:
  • Cheap Trick / Michael Schenker Group - 1980
  • Judas Priest - 1981
  • Blackfoot / Def Leppard - 1981
  • Molly Hatchet - 1981
  • Grateful Dead - 1989
  • Black Sabbath - 1992
  • Slayer - 1995
  • Soundgarden / Rocket From The Crypt - 1996
Umlaut also missed a good number of Kaiser shows over the years as well, such as Van Halen (1979 Tour) and AC/DC (Highway To Hell Tour) to name a couple. Oh well...

On Oct. 20, 1991 Umlaut was getting ready to leave for the Public Enemy / Anthrax show at Kaiser when a friend in the East Bay called to tell me the Oakland Hills were engulfed in flames and burning debris had fallen on her car. She suggested I should avoid Oakland given the inferno. Good advice, but the show wasn't cancelled. If you weren't around the Bay Area on that day, click HERE and HERE.

The local press said Oakland's Main Library may move into the space. Lock 'N Loll.

Gung Hay Fat Choy: The Dead on Chinese New Year..


Umlaut was hoping the closing of the Oakland Auditorium would cause a ripple of nostalgia amongst The Old School! Cue MSG's 'Into The Arena'...

Submitted by Timo:

MTV Headbangers Ball Tour 1989 feat. Anthrax / Exodus / Helloween

While Umlaut was "experimenting" and seeing The Dead in 1989, Timo kept it real with the METAL. Timo is, and always has been, more METAL than Umlaut. Caught in a mosh of scarlet begonias.

Submitted by Old Metal Erik:

Ahhhh, the Oakland Auditorium Arena. I remember some seriously good times there. A few that stand out are the aforementioned Cheap Trick/MSG show, the highlight of which was Cozy Powell coming out to the stage left pass gate and shaking all of our little teenage hands. Also mentioned by Umlaut was the Blackfoot/Def Lep show, which stands out in my mind as a classic. We were already huge Lep fans, having caught them opening for Pat Travers at The Warfield the year before. Monster show! Still a Blackfoot fan, but the Leps crushed 'em that night! Highlight was seeing Pete Willis of Def Leppard having his Gibson Explorer pulled into the crowd, and then jumping in after it. Classic.

A few Henry J. shows that I was surprised that Umlaut didn't mention are both Motorhead shows - one in 1985 and one in '86. Memories blur, but I remember crowd mayhem both nights, on a large scale.

The Cro-Mags show got particularly crazy. I vaguely remember smoking dust with Harley Flanagan, before launching ourselves into the pit for Motorhead, when that was still fun. After the show, the mob outside was unruly to say the least, and I saw a few bottles fly (one smashing against an Oakland motorcycle PD's helmet) before the same cops began throttling their bikes into the crowd. We headed for our beloved Bay Bridge, back to the City. Looking back, East Bay shows always had their own brand of excitement, and in the 5 years since I moved from SF to Oakland, I still get the same vibe - in the right club at the right time.

This past June, my son Danny graduated high school (Skyline - Oakland) from the stage at the Henry J. Kaiser. What a trip, imagining Lemmy, or Angus or Pete Willis or Cozy Powell up there as his name was called to receive his diploma. Time flies...and that is why Umlaut calls me ' Old Metal Erik'! Ha-HA!!

ADDED 1/3/06

Submitted by Old Metal Erik:

Oh SHIT! The memories come a floodin' back. Here's a stub from the Motorhead / Exodus show.

And how could I forget THIS one??!! The Kinks and Angel City!! Doc Neeson and Ray Davies on the same bill!! Whew!

I thought of the Foghat / Blackfoot show, and realized that we lost Rod 'The Bottle' Price in 2005. Major bummer. Also had forgotten that I had seen Ricky Medlocke and crew twice at the Oakland Auditorium!

And finally, another Cheap Trick show. Jetboy opened, and I chased my future wife around like a drunk puppy.

Submitted by Lauraloha:

EGADS! What the f**k? Why are they closing the Kaiser? Oh forgeddaboutit Umlaut, the Kaiser was not the house of Metal it was the house of the Grateful Dead!!!! How many great shows did I see in there....I mean great shows...... like Valentines Day into Chinese New Year right back into Mardi Gras all in a three day span..... Oh the memories....... I did see Nine Inch Nails there, but it wasn't near as good as the Good Ol' Grateful Dead.

I did a 12-day stint with the Rolling Stones there, practicing for Bridges To Babylon. Me, and about 5 other people witnessed 'Moonlite Mile'.

I think I will go into mourning.


ADDED 1/4/06

Submitted by Ted:

Lauraloha: Tell Umlaut about being on X under the bleachers and the Hippie group gropes. Only you can tell that story. Well, what you remember of it. LOL

What about the BGP volleyball games before the Dead shows? That shit simply does not happen anymore anywhere! Well honed BGP teams against teams of Hippies, and some really good teams at that. With prizes being tickets to the shows later in the run if your pickup team was skilled enough to beat the BGP ringers.

That fucking place sounded so great; the wood interior made for a real sweet resonance and when we would tape up front at Dead shows the results were fucking stunning - Some of the best indoor recordings we made. Coming from the East Coast it was hard to believe the goddamn Grateful Dead were playing a room that size. Yeah, our shows back home were full crank, East Coast energy, but damn, the intimacy of seeing them turn it out in the Kaiser... Whoa. That shit was mind blowing. Even when they sucked...but truthfully when they were playing there they hadn't begun to suck yet.

I also remember being in the Priority Line all night which was essentially a BGP invention to prevent gate crashing (yeah even Hippies would get super anxious to get a great spot and freak out and run for the doors all Who Cincy '79 style)... But all Priority Line meant was getting in line to get a number which entitled you to come back at around 4:00 or 5:00 that afternoon to get in line again, but in an orderly NorCal mellow type of fashion. However being a Beast from the East, we still found ways to scam all that stuff... Since we were taping with the state of the art gear it wasn't too long before peeps would be volunteering to get in line for us - They got to hang with us in the "sweet spot", they got to smoke the kind bud (not mine as I was off by that time) and they got to get copies right after the show as we'd go back to our Diamond Heights crashpad and crank up the tape and wake the neighbors!

And what about the Hippie Market in that little park out front; serious commerce... but before the Troll Village had taken over and became more the attraction than the music... and before the people pissing and sleeping in the surrounding neighborhoods gave the band a black eye and lost them the ability to play a venue in any type of neighborhood. It wasn't long after that the only places to see the GD play were enormo-shitholes with big parking lots - boo hoo.

Also my memory of the Slayer / Biohazard show is that it was raining so hard everyone was hellof (see I can even type NorCal!) soaked by the time we got in the place...

I was also on my way to that Public Enemy / Anthrax show when the Oakland Hills were on fire.. But being a stranger to California disasters, I freaked out and turned around and went back home.

I think that's it.. Sure wish I'd seen the Rick James show there, which got by even us hardcore music junkies as they simply didn't advertise it anywhere where Whitey would've seen it. That was a bummer for me. That near miss, and the recent Gangster Rap SOS Concert - Katrina Benefit at the Kaiser with a bunch of Oakland 'hood artists (EA-Ski, Too Short returning home from the ATL, Keak da Sneak, San Quinn, B-Legit) being so poorly organized that most of the rappers didn't perform (they were only scheduled from Noon to 4:00PM and then the evening was all older Soul and Blues artists to stave off any trouble)... Anyway, those are my Kaiser memories for now.

Submitted by Shannon:

I was at that Public Enemy show after flying in to Oaktown from SD and being swarmed by a blanket of suffocating heat (from the Oakland Hills Fire) when the plane landed. After getting home and finding out people I knew and loved were OK, but almost half of the people who went to my high school could be in trouble. I went to Skyline High, you can imagine the worry. BUT, could I miss Chuck D? I don't think so! It was amazing and I actually saw Bill Graham outside the building since we were late getting there with everything going down and I remember waving and him waving back with that huge smile of his... It was awesome. It was so weird to find out that he had died just a few days later... And the show kicked ass of course!

Lauraloha remembers:

The Oakland Auditorium (aka Henry J Kaiser) was the site of the FIRST concert I have ever been to. It was '77 or 1978 and Peter Frampton was returning to the Bay Area to say Thank You for the huge success of Frampton Comes Alive. My older sister took me. She bought some marijuana from somebody and I remember freaking out cuz she was doing "drugs".....

The next concert I went to was KISS at the Cow Palace and after that the heat was ON! I never stopped going to concerts for the rest of my life until today when I live on a deserted island.

Anybody remember seeing TRIUMPH at the Kaiser? Oh the memories..... Ted had it right. The wooden floors were sweet and the Shakedown Street in the little park across the street was the best in the world.


Umlaut's Addendum:

(From the Umlaut Archives)

The above coupon was attached to a promo Priest EP that local Rock radio station 98.5 KOME (R.I.P.) gave away at a local Tower Records to promote the gig. I coulda saved a whole dollar, but I had already bought my ticket.

My most vivid Oakland Auditorium memory is waiting for hours in pouring rain for the Cheap Trick / Michael Schenker Group show in December 1980. Hours. In the rain. My cousin and I were stupid teenagers, but we HAD to be up front for MSG. Once inside we were up front and steam was rising from the crowd due to the heat of packed bodies and wet clothes. It was medieval. The houselights went down and Gary Barden announced "Oakland! MSG.. Armed and Ready!!" and Schenker & Co. launched into that song. Fookin' gleat. My cousin and I had been Cheap Trick fanatics early on, but my fandom was on the wane at that point... but I still had fun despite waiting in line for hours... Hours in the RAIN. I think whenever it rains hard I have a 'Nam-like flashback to that day.

Oh... There's also the 1992 Black Sabbath show on the Dehumanizer reunion tour with Ronnie James Dio on vocals. Hometown heroes Exodus were supporting and they were supposed to bring former singer Paul Baloff onstage at Kaiser for a couple of songs... but in classic Baloff fashion he arrived late and it didn't happen. Someone told me Baloff had heard I was at the show and he was looking for me (NOT to beat me up - He just wanted an Old Metal reunion..). I hadn't seen or talked to 'Loff in years and I spotted him fucked up and weaving through the crowd. I wasn't in the mood to talk to him in that condition so I avoided him as he careened near me. Ten years later when Baloff passed away I felt bad that I had purposely avoided him that night. Dio and Sabbath were in top form (Note: Umlaut believes that Dio Sabbath trumps Ozzy Sabbath..) - It was like a time machine back to 1980-82. Fookin' gleat.

Trivia: The Kaiser show was the final time Dio performed with Sabbath to date. He left the band a couple of days later before the tour ended. Rob Halford sang with Sabbath for the final 2 shows in L.A... and, after 7 years, a full-blown Sabbath 4-song reunion set with Ozzy and Bill Ward happened on the final night. So now you know.

Submitted by Rich Hellhound:

Not only did I attend several memorable shows at the H.J.K., my band HELLHOUND also played there once. After supporting SLAYER at Ruthie's Inn on New Year's Eve 1984, we (along with several other Bay Area bands) were approached by Big Daddy Spencer, who was Wes Robinson's partner in crime (perhaps literally, for all I know!).

Big Daddy looked and talked like a stereotype from a 70's black exploitation movie (pimp hat, cane and the whole nine), and he somehow booked the Kaiser for a "Heavy Metal Festival", as he called it. Each of the bands were given a stack of Bass Tickets (just like a real band!), and expected to sell them all. Big Daddy must have blown his wad on the venue, because he spent nothing on promo or advertising. It was up to us seasoned "pros" (in my band half were still in high school) to get out there and fill the joint.

Needless to say none of the bands were able to come through in this regard, and it was truly amusing to see a place that big that empty. Still, it remains the largest venue I've ever played, and I had many a geek moment that day ("I'm standing in the same place as KK Downing!" Or, "This is the same dressing room JUDAS PRIEST used! Dude, Rob Halford pissed in this toilet!"). The Super Special Surprise Guests Big Daddy kept promising turned out to be HEXX (we were originally led to believe it might be SLAYER). We laughed and didn't stick around to watch.

Years later, I would have a similar experience with METALLICA (well, just the part about laughing and not sticking around to watch). On the way back to the parking lot some pimply-faced kids called us fags, and we beat the living shit out of them. Metal!

Submitted by Brad:

Henry J. Kaiser memories are many and varied. Never thought much of the venue's layout, but the performances there always seemed better than usual.

Summer 1990 saw Exodus opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The sauna-like conditions led to an impossibly slippery floor. Saw two different kids carried out of The Pit with legs dangling in the wrong direction: one knee, one displaced fracture of the tibia ala Joe Theisman.

July 1987 saw LL Cool J, Whodini, Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy and Too Short. Helluva show. LL fucked a teddy bear on a couch during his hit 'I Need Love'. Maybe no one told him Prince had been doing that for years. Not knowing what to wear to a Hip Hop show, I went with black jeans and my DRI t-shirt. I was going to look out of place no matter what I did, so might as well look like the dork I was rather than one I wasn't.

Saw at least 3 Motorhead shows in the mid-80's where they played as a 4-piece with Wurzell and Phillip Campbell on guitar. They played nearly the same set every time despite having released the rather good Orgasmatron album in 1986. Have some odd memory of Lemmy doing a jig while power was being restored to the amps, though that might've been at The Warfield.

The following photo is Dave Mustaine and Megadeth onstage at Henry J. opening for Motorhead 1986 with me looking at the camera while in The Pit (the red eye reduction pre-flash must've caught my eye):

(Pic by Ron Quintana)

Ron gave me a copy of this about 10 years after the fact. I shamelessly treasure it despite the moronic look on my face.

Submitted by Tour Manager Doug:

In 1986 I was working for Ron Boutwell selling shirts for Yngwie J. Malmsteen (not one of those other Yngwie's). KJ had gotten me the job, but by this point I think he had quit and gone on to a real life.

The Yngwie / Saxon / Black 'N Blue tour played the Kaiser on 12/19/86. It was the 11th show of the 12 date tour, but the last Saxon show. It seems that Salinas was not way up on their list of places to go, so they were bailing on the last show.

Saxon had a 30 or 35 minute set each night, not nearly enough to play all the hits, especially when they wasted time playing the crap new material. Every day they got a soundcheck, which is kind of weird, in that usually the middle band of a 3 band bill doesn't get a soundcheck. Must of been something in their contract that guaranteed one.

Anyway, everyday they played a different classic song during the check and they sometimes varied their set to include a different hit, but they never played 'Dallas 1 PM'. I asked Biff about playing 'Dallas' one day in catering. He smiled and said, "Oh, you know that one do you". But still they didn't play it.

Every day I made sure I mentioned it to him, and every day they didn't play it. 'Motorcycle Man', 'Denim and Leather', 'Heavy Metal Thunder', 'Strong Arm of the Law', '20,000 Feet', 'Wheels of Steel', 'Machine Gun' - They played them all, at least during soundcheck, and there I was enjoying every minute, but 'Dallas' they avoided.

I got the idea that they (Biff) were fucking with me. "Haven't we played that one yet?" he said with a grin one day. The day of the Oakland show I had to run over to the airport to pick up a shipment of shirts from air cargo. I got back to the venue just after Saxon finished playing. As I walked into the front lobby, I ran into Ron Quintana who told me how great 'Dallas' had been that night. Of course, I had missed it.

I went into the dressing room area backstage and when Biff saw me he asked what I had thought of the show. I felt like a dork telling him that I had missed it. When I suggested that they would have to go to Salinas to play 'Dallas', he grinned from ear to ear and said, "Looks like you're shit out of luck, mate."

More From Timo:

Blackfoot @ Kaiser - 8/22/80 (supporting Foghat)

Michael Schenker @ Kaiser - 12/21/80 (supporting Cheap Trick)

1981 - Ranger = Early incarnation of Night Ranger I think

KISS / Queensryche - 1985

Alice Cooper / Megadeth - 1987

Slayer / Testament - 1991

ADDED 1/5/06

Submitted by Jim:

Bummer--I saw many many shows in that room, but, like Laura, they were mostly Dead shows rather than Metal. The one run that always comes to my mind is the five nights they did there in early '86 that encompassed Chinese New Years, Mardi Gras and Valentines Day in a single swoop. The Mardi Gras shows particularly were raging--the Neville Brothers opened both and sat in with the Dead to varying extents on both nights. In fact, the second set of the Feb 11 show was one the most amazing performances I ever saw by that band--truly guided by a higher spirit. (And it wasn't even close to sold out--anyone who took a mind to could have been there.)

Another Dead-related memory of the old Oakland Aud is of the bar they used to open in a room in the basement, underneath the lobby. The line to get in would queue up on the ramp that led to the balcony, and we'd race back there as soon as the set was done so as to not have to spend too much of the break in line. We'd down 2 or 3 beers as quickly as we could, until the strains of the band tuning up upstairs meant it was time to run to the loo and then reclaim a spot on Phil's side (Jerry's was always too jam-packed, because it was Jerry's side, natch. But you could see him just fine from the audience-left side of the room, and have more room to dance to boot.)

I was at that Kinks / Angel City show that someone else recollected, but surprised that no one mentioned the show Keith Richards did there in December 1988 with the X-Pensive Winos -- Steve Jordan, Ivan Neville and Charley Drayton. Was so cool to see Keith out front, fronting a killer band and out of Mick's shadow. He did 'I Wanna Be Your Man' -- the Stones' first single, I think, penned by a couple of other British dudes.

And finally, Kaiser was the only place I ever got to see a true show biz legend -- Bob Hope. When he produced something like 3 or 4 shows on one day in November 1989 as a benefit for Loma Prieta Earthquake Relief, Bill Graham cajoled Hope into flying up and appearing at the Kaiser and Cow Palace shows. I was at the former and got to witness Hope, never the most liberal of thinkers, flip off a heckler who was getting on him about his ultra-conservative affiliation with Reagan.

And the place always had a very distinctive smell--it was sort of a comforting scent, kind of like the eucalyptus at the Greek. No hall ever smelled the same way. I'll miss that, even though I haven't been there in years. Wonder if the library that goes into the space will carry on the olfactory tradition?