Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No Sleep 'Til Vegas

The last time I saw Motörhead was just over a year ago in Anaheim and after that show I realized I'd been taking the band for granted in recent years. I compared it to how I treated the Ramones in their later years, when I blew off seeing them more often than not... and now I wish I could see the Ramones just one more time. Last year in Anaheim I decided I would not make the same mistake with Motörhead.

It's weird to realize that I've been following Motörhead for well over half my life now; I was a mere pup of 17 when I first saw Lemmy onstage. I've seen the band in venues ranging from sweatbox clubs to stadiums, but I've never followed them on tour. Fast forward to the 21st Century and The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways... In recent years Umlaut has found himself with a certain level of access to Lemmy & Co. that I could only dream about when I was a teenage Metalhead. Cutting to the chase ('cause it's better than the catch): Umlaut was fortunate enough to attend 4 of the last 5 shows on Motörhead's recent U.S. Tour. So here we go...

Roseland, Portland, Oregon
October 3, 2009

Umlaut found himself in Portland for 4 days / 3 nights and amazingly it coincided with some major Metal events! The night before Motörhead I had been at this same venue for Dethklok / Mastodon, but had an almost completely different experience. During the afternoon before this show, I tripped around Portland and was reminded how much I like the city... Especially how it still has some great indie bookstores (Powell's!) and record stores... institutions that have been slowly disappearing from the S.F. Bay Area over the past decade. In honor of my visit to The Northwest, I scored the latest Yob CD at one point during the afternoon (which, by the way, RULES..).

Prior to the show Umlaut had dinner with friends at a French restaurant which served as the perfect opening act for the evening. However, the restaurant served a menu that would make my veggie family and friends cringe in horror. Although I generally love French cooking, next to the Chinese, the French sure came up with some fucked up cuisine. Bone marrow butter?

The first time I met Lemmy was a million years ago (okay.. 1983) at The Stone (R.I.P.) in S.F.. Awhile back I documented that event in this space:

"At The Stone, Lemmy was hanging out at the bar. Someone dared me to go talk to him. I had heard the band weren't playing 'Overkill' on this tour. With youthful bravado I walked up to Lemmy and asked him why they weren't playing 'Overkill'. His reply was "We forgot how to play it.." Thinking back now I guess I'm lucky Lemmy simply didn't punch me for asking such a stupid question."

Fast forward to the 21st Century and upon arriving at the venue we were escorted backstage and given a private audience with Mr. Kilmister himself; it was only Lemmy and the 4 of us alone in his dressing room (!).. Umlaut has met Lemmy several times over the years, but this was by far the most personal interaction and the fact there was no one else in the room was amazing. Long story short: Lemmy welcomed us to his backstage sanctuary and engaged us in a really fun conversation... Lemmy offered us drinks and we accepted.. and Lemmy was nothing but a gentlemen to the lady in our group.

Portland Friends meet The Ace Of Spades

The Roseland is an old school venue that reminded me of a smaller version of the now defunct S.F. venue Maritime Hall (R.I.P.). The space seemed small despite its substantial 1,400 capacity, with a nice balcony running around the room and the crowd had a good REAL METAL vibe compared to my experience the night before. The show was sold out and it was nice to have the crowd engaged and loud the entire night; the guy standing in front of me pumped his fists in the air and sang along to every song... every one of them. I was impressed. It also warmed my heart to see an Old Metalhead wearing his vintage denim vest with the tattered Motörhead patches still attached.

Due to our pre-show meeting, my head wasn't really in "concert" mode when the houselights when down... but as soon as Lemmy announced "We are Motörhead... and we play Rock & Roll!" and the band launched into the one-two punch of 'Iron Fist' > 'Stay Clean' my head was gone, man... gone... and when Lemmy stepped away from the mic and moved center stage to play his bass solo in 'Stay Clean' I was a Teenage Metalhead all over again just... like.... that. I was completely caught up in their set (Dude! 'Over The Top'!) and even liked Mikkey Dee's drum solo... and I usually hate drum solos.. and THEN they closed the main set with 'Bomber'... which is one of my favorite Motörhead songs and.. since I'm man enough to admit it... I kinda had tears in my eyes as I banged my head. Yeah, I get emotional about Old Metal... I love how Metal can transport me back to my Salad Days when life was simple and my intentions were pure. Metal keeps my mind young and vibrant... Metal makes "age" irrelevant... Hope I die before I get old.

After the show I was walking back to my hotel and felt something stuck in the bottom of my boot... When I stopped to see what it was I found a METAL stud from a studded belt stuck in my boot tred.

METAL. Before I flew out the next day I killed time with a local PDX friend doing non-Metal stuff like visiting a winery and sight seeing just outside of the city. 'Twas nice.. On the way back to San Francisco, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag... which makes sense I guess.

"You know we do it right, a mission every night..."

Then 48 hours later it was...

The Warfield, San Francisco
October 5, 2009

Prior to the show Umlaut had dinner with Old Metal Tim at Out The Door which served as the perfect opening act for the evening. Upon arriving at The Warfield we went backstage right away and were warned to get a beer from the coolers ASAP before a large meet 'n greet group arrived... which we did just before a herd of around 40 people from Electronic Arts, most of them young hipster types, arrived. They were there to *meet* Lemmy since he's a character in the new EA game Brutal Legend that also features Jack Black as the main character.. I quickly became annoyed with a few of the hipsters as they quizzed everyone around them with "How did YOU get back here?" like it was a fucking VIP area at a trendy club. *Sigh*... Back in The Day there would have been Hell's Angels backstage at a Motörhead show and not clueless dorks. If was such a completely different scene than Portland. Anyway... Despite my annoyances, it was nice chatting and trading war stories with friends over the crappy free beer (MGD!) and it was especially cool to hang with my Old Metal brother DeVito, since Lemmy is our mutual patron saint, both personally and professionally.

Old Metal Brothers

Halfway through Motörhead's set I realized that I first saw Lemmy and his band at The Warfield in 1984 (DOH!). However, I had to disagree with Lemmy when he said that tonight's crowd was the best San Francisco audience they'd ever had... It was obvious he'd forgotten that show at The Warfield in November 1984!

Wrong band photo for 1984... but count all the umlauts!
(From the Umlaut Archives)

Back then The Warfield had theater seating on the floor from its days as a movie theater; during Motörhead's set most of the front 3 rows of seats were ripped out of the floor and pieces of the broken chairs were tossed onstage... and at least one person climbed up on the PA stack and dove off and at least one person suffered a broken leg.. and because of the damage to the building it was the last Metal show held at The Warfield for several years. Motörhead also had the legendary bomber lighting rig with them on that tour (!).... and a woman sitting at the front of the balcony showed Lemmy her tits when he acknowledged her. Not that tonight wasn't a great show... I'm just saying no one flashed their tits for Lemmy here in the 21st Century.

The band played the same 90 minute / 18-song setlist as in Portland, which was fine with me because it was tight and well paced.. I especially liked the sledgehammer melody of 'I Got Mine' and the acoustic stomp of 'Whorehouse Blues' (with Phil on acoustic guitar, Mikkey on acoustic guitar and high hat, and Lemmy on vox and harmonica) here in my hometown on this night... and, since I'm a nostalgic romantic Metalhead Music Geek, I couldn't help but think back on all the years that this band, that front man, and these songs have been part of the soundtrack and fabric of my life. Pretty amazing... Thank dog I'm still here... and thank dog Motörhead is still here as well.

This was Motörhead's first headlining show in S.F. in over 4 years.. and given the magnitude of the event, The Umlaut Nation was out in force... so a shout out to DeVito, Old Metal Tim, Johnny, Any, Timo, Photo Ray, Sven, Jenn, Hard Rock Chick, Nikki Blakk, Photo Alan, and a few other people who I *heard* were in the house but who I didn't see.

Rock Star Sighting: Jello Biafra was backstage and wearing some "interesting" Robin Hood-style leather boots that were neither Metal nor Punk. Hmm. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.

"Don't be scared... live to win.. although they're always gonna to tell you it's a sin.."

Then 4 days later it was...

Club Nokia, Los Angeles
October 9, 2009

Prior to the show Umlaut had dinner with Radio Cuevas at Wurstküche which served as the perfect opening act for the evening. Of course, Wurstküche was a good omen for the night because of the umlaut in its name AND they had Chimay on tap. Hail! Some readers will remember Radio Cuevas from his days at KUSF's Rampage Radio, but now he's a big shot producer with NPR in SoCal. It's funny where life takes you... but no matter where you go The Metal is not far away.

Club Nokia is part of the massive Staples Center complex, which is where Michael Jackson's funeral was held in July. One side of the complex's courtyard is bordered by a billboard / fence advertising the upcoming Jacko documentary This Is It and it's become a tribute wall, with thousands of people writing their thoughts and feelings about Jacko on it. Of course, I was compelled to write something on Jacko's tribute wall as well:

Jacko Wall vs. Thin Lizzy Shirt

Umlaut's Tribute To Jacko: "666 - SLAAYERR!"

Will I ever grow up?? I'm going to Hell, aren't I......

At Will Call I discovered that I had been shorted my +1, but I didn't want to bother Motörhead's tour manager since this was L.A. and I expected it was going to be a clusterfuck for things like the guest list. So, after giving Radio Cuevas the ticket and pass that had been left for me, I went into Umlaut mode and simply flashed the laminate that I already had at security and used that time honored phrase "I'm with the band.." and I was immediately allowed entry into the building without question. Lock 'N Loll.

During Reverend Horton Heat, we made our way up to the 4th Floor VIP bar hoping for some L.A. Celebrity / Rock Star action. Unfortunately, despite the impressively L.A.-style bar scene, I saw no one I recognized as being a Celebrity and / or Rock Star... but I did run into a couple of "industry" friends and it was cool to chat with them for a bit. Always carry business cards with you... I'm just saying.

As Motörhead was setting up, Radio Cuevas pointed out how one of the roadies had arms that looked abnormally big; I wasn't paying attention and blew it off... but I was curious why they'd set up an extra microphone onstage. Then that "roadie" was saying how he'd been with Motörhead a long time and Lemmy was letting him sing a song; the "roadie" was Jack Black dressed up as his Brutal Legend video game character. He was joined by Kyle and they did a song about being a roadie. It was so L.A... but a funny, unique moment... even if the song was underwhelming in a Tenacious D. outtake sort of way.

(Posted by sku22man)

Out of all the shows I saw on this tour, Los Angeles was the band's best performance IMO.. They just seemed looser and more energetic onstage, especially Lemmy. He was definitely more chatty with his jokes and comments in between songs and it was funny hearing him say "Los Angeles! My hometown!".. During 'Killed By Death' his son Paul joined the band onstage on 2nd guitar, just like the duel axes of the original version of the song.. VERY cool, but until Lemmy introduced him we thought that maybe Wurzel had rejoined the band for the night... but my favorite part of the set was still 'Bomber' and also the barn burning final encore run of 'Ace Of Spades' > 'Overkill'..

I was also surprised by the 1984-like vibe in the crowd.. A fight almost broke out in the bathroom when one dude accused another dude of cutting in front of him despite the fact there were PLENTY of empty stalls and urinals! The atmosphere at times had an edge that's missing from alot of Metal shows I attend these days. There didn't seem to be as many Jarhead douchbags as I had been expecting, which surprised me since this was L.A... Instead there were ALOT of young Metal dudes who I could tell were into Metal for the same reasons I got into the Metal business... and as a result I was shocked that the L.A. crowd was more Metal than the crowd at the S.F. show had been. Shocking, right? Because of the lack of access to the Main Floor due to a lame venue policy (The Main Floor required a separate wrist band in addition to any ticket and even All Access band passes weren't enough!), some healthy pit action broke out in the crowd jammed into the tiers behind the main floor; that would never happen at The Warfield in S.F.! I was impressed... Also, NO ONE around me wore earplugs and NO ONE around me sent text messages during the show; I felt like a poser when I did both. L.A. more Metal than S.F.?! On this night, I must reluctantly say "Yes... yes it was..."

Unfortunately, although this was the best performance and crowd I experienced, Club Nokia was also THE WORST venue I visited on this trek! How such a modern venue (new facility, great sound system, etc.) could have such a horrible floor plan is beyond me.. The place has awful sight lines of the stage, with massive pillars blocking the views from several angles on the floor... an oversight they tried to remedy by placing video screens and monitors showing the stage seemingly everywhere, which gives the space a sports bar look and feel during a show that's completely ridiculous.

After Motörhead had laid waste to the stage, I had to go backstage solo since Radio Cuevas' pass wasnt good enough for security... although it was a pass that the band's tour manager had told me WAS "good enough". Oh well, what can you do? You can't argue with venue security... but I tried anyway. As I tried to sort out "the pass situation" I ran into some other "industry" friends who I hadn't seen in while, so it was nice to chat with them. However, I couldn't resolve "the pass situation" even when I was given a different pass that I was told was "good enough". WTF... but, rather than argue with venue security anymore, we once again returned to the 4th Floor VIP bar... which was beyond boring! The only Rock Star who made an appearance was Phil Campbell, but we'd just seen him onstage... Oh, and Blaine of Nashville Pussy was there too.. but I'd missed their set again anyway. So, after another drink, we left the building in search of some late night food in The City of Angels.

It had been a surprisingly normal and low key show off stage, but onstage Lemmy & Co. had burned hot and I was really looking forward to the U.S. Tour's finale the next night in Vegas. On the way back to the hotel, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.

"Breaking up or breaking through... breaking something's all we ever do..."

So the next day it was...

House Of Blues, Las Vegas
October 10, 2009

Appropriately, the final night of Motörhead's U.S. Tour was in Sin City and it was only right that Timo took the private Umlaut jet down to be my wingman for the show. At LAX it took 40 minutes for me to get through security and I did it without coffee! Yayy LAX.. Then the flight was delayed for 30 minutes... Hmm... I hoped this wasn't an omen of things to come... but arriving in Vegas couldn't have been more surgically precise as Timo landed within 5 minutes of me and we met up in the terminal almost immediately... It was almost too easy.

Prior to the show we had dinner at RM Seafood which served as the perfect opening act for the evening (I know.. seafood in the desert.. Livin' on the edge, man..). The House Of Blues in Vegas is one of the most bizarre venues I've ever visited... It's located in the middle of Mandalay Bay Casino in between hundreds (thousands!) of slot machines, across from an escalator, and next to a Starbucks. It was such a weird place to be seeing a Metal show... but it was entertaining watching the Motörhead shirts walk past the restaurant or come down the escalator during dinner. However, as the meal was winding down, I received a bombshell text message from Motörhead's tour manager:

Hi brian
We had to cancel tonite. Lemmy got a vocal cord inflamation and can't do tonite's show

HOLY SHIT... At that point it was only about 30 minutes before the show was scheduled to start! HOLY SHIT.. As we walked over to the venue, the reality of the cancellation still hadn't registered in my head because Lemmy had sounded so good and been in great spirits the night before.. It was weird walking up to the venue knowing what was going down, but most of the arriving fans had no idea what had happened until they saw the message from Lemmy that was posted next to the cancellation notice:

They had made copies of Lemmy's message and posted them around the venue's entrance and were handing them out to fans as well. I felt really bad for the fans, but the only person who I saw get angry was a tweaky guy who went off how he'd driven 600 miles to be there and that the cancellation was "bullshit"... and then he tried to get a chant of "bullshit" started but nobody would join him.. so he stormed off into the casino. I talked to another guy who said he hadn't seen Motörhead since 1981 (old school!) and he had brought some things for Lemmy to sign if he happened to meet him.. Such a bummer.

I can't remember the last time I saw so many Motörhead shirts in one place.. Vegas was definitely flying their Motörhead colors more than the other cities and that combined with the trashy, drunk nature of the crowd would have made for an awesome show. I got even more bummed at that point, but I kept it to myself. Perhaps the most poignant and heartbreaking image was the stripper-type chicks wearing Motörhead laminates who had the saddest looks on their faces. Sad strippers... all of those end-of-the-tour band and crew per diems backstage that wouldn't be spent on lap dances tonight. Heartbreaking.

Despite the headliners dropping off the bill, the support acts (Reverend Horton Heat / Nashville Pussy / Chelsea Girls) still played. So, fans had the option to get a full refund or, if they didn't want to completely lose their night, a partial refund got them in to see the other bands. Since I was still on the guest list, we opted to stick around and watch the other bands since, aside from a few songs, I'd ignored them at the other shows.

I would guess around 300 people decided to stay for the show (capacity was around 1,500). After a visit to the bar we settled down on the main floor to see what could be salvaged from the night. We hadn't been standing there for very long when a guy completely sucker punched a kid wearing a vintage W.A.S.P. shirt right in front of us. Vegas! The kid hit the floor hard and security immediately tackled his attacker and dragged him out the nearest exit... Meanwhile, the kid wearing the W.A.S.P. shirt held his head and staggered off towards the bar wondering what had just happened. Vegas! Not good for the kid, but to me it wasn't a bad way to start a Metal show at all, but I wished Lemmy had been there... especially after the support bands started playing.

Chelsea Girls - As the 4 women in the band took the stage I recognized the insanely tall bassist as Corey Parks, an original member of Nashville Pussy... and I thought the guitarist looked familiar; I later found out it was Allison Robertson of The Donnas. Then the oh-so-skinny blond singer with the boob job took her place and the band launched into..... a cover of Priest's 'You've Got Another Thing Coming'. Oh shit... A COVER BAND. The worst thing that Umlaut could be subjected to on a night like this would be a fucking cover band; sorry, but I'm just not into them.. Anyway, the girls strutted through a set that also included nuggets like Danzig's 'Mother'... Dio's 'Holy Diver'... Quiet Riot's 'Metal Health'... You get the idea. At one point, Blaine of Nashville Pussy came out and sang Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen' with them, which was alright. However, they sent me back to the bar when they kicked their spike heels into 'Master Of Puppets'.... Are you kidding me!? What fresh Hell is this... Of course, they ended 'Master' halfway through (before the instrumental bridge) and went into Mötley Crüe's 'Livewire'.. which was ironic of course. As their set mercifully ended, the oh-so-skinny blond singer with the boob job instructed the crowd to "Stay Metal!!" Oooo-kaaay, thanks for the advice... Beer me, Vegas!

Nashville Pussy -
Nashville Pussy followed and attempted to salvage what was left of the night properly. To be honest, I haven't followed the band in at least 10-11 years since they were on Amphetamine Reptile... but, unlike the cover band before them, their brand of Southern Rock was something that could raise Umlaut's sprits.. However, sometimes The Rock Godz (and life in general) insists on dog piling you with reality. About halfway through the set I looked over and in the reflection from the stage lights I saw a face I recognized standing maybe 30 feet from me.. Long story short: It was someone who I hadn't seen in several years and someone that is practically the last person I want to talk to ever again. Oh man.... I knew this person was now living in Vegas... but what are the odds, right? Since the crowd was small I figured it would only be a matter of time before the person saw me as well... and I simply wasn't in the mood... so after another song or two we bailed to see what else Vegas had to offer.

After leaving the show our night was punctuated by an unusually large number of people celebrating their 21st birthday; I remember when I had my first drink. Why does everyone say "Vegas, baby!"? Just wondering... 'cause I'm positive I've never said it. Anyway, the next morning, we saw the oh-so-skinny blond singer with the boob job of Chelsea Girls waiting outside of our hotel as her band's van was being retrieved and also the band's insanely tall bassist going into Starbucks.. and THAT was the closest thing to Rock Star action we got in Vegas... Sad but true.. Then, in an appropriate ending to the trip, my flight home was delayed an hour... but it was that kind of trip so what could I do.

It was a bummer that the Vegas cancellation overshadowed Umlaut's Motörhead Tour... but the disappointment is already fading. Hopefully Lemmy is on the mend, which is ALL that matters. Despite how my tour ended, it was fucking cool to have access and be able to follow one of my all-time favorite bands like this; more great memories for my Music Geek Archives. As Timo said when we learned about the Vegas cancellation: You have to see people whenever you can, because you just never know what might happen. WORD.

A huge THANKS to Motörhead management and to Dan and Eddie of the Motörhead crew for going out of their way to make sure my guests and I were taken care of at the shows... and godspeed to Lemmy and to his full recovery. Respect... always. On the way back to San Francisco, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag... which makes sense I guess.

"The only time I'm gonna be easy is when I'm killed by death.."

Umlaut's All Access Laminate
(color removed to make it harder for sneaky fucks to counterfeit)