Saturday, July 07, 2012

Wherever I May Roam

My brain has been completely fried for almost 2 weeks now and it's showing no signs of clearing. At this point I'm just going to have to power through this post and get it out of the way. The final days of June that I'm going to attempt to rant about were some of the most action packed 3 days of my life; brain overload. Anyway... Here we go..

Orion Fest
Bader Field, Atlantic City, New Jersey
June 23-24, 2012

Back in early February Metallica announced their eclectic Orion Fest featuring a bill that was decidedly not Metal. At first I was about to dismiss the festival, especially since it was in Atlantic City. However, sometimes the Metal Godz work in very mysterious ways. Long story short, I soon got word from Umlaut's kindred spirit band Landmine Marathon that they had been personally selected by Mr. James Hetfield to play Orion Fest. Did you hear that sound? It's the sound of Umlaut's past and present smashing together in an amazing full circle moment. I can't completely articulate the magnitude of how special this moment was for me: One of my all-time favorite bands connecting with a band who have become my good friends over the past several years. Amazing... but that wasn't the end of it. Long story short (again), I was then contacted by the Metallica camp and asked if I would participate in a Q&A session with the band's fan club members about Murder In The Front Row at Orion. What the fuck... Metallica validating our book so publicly was not something we ever expected to happen! Wow.

Fast forward to June 22nd and I found myself on a flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia... Then I found myself in a car taking me from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. Then I found myself in Atlantic City. Atlantic City is a shithole, but I was wearing a Motörhead shirt and I was fist bumped, shouted out, and a bartender gave me the thumbs up because of it. I also found myself in a bizarre rain forest themed restaurant and then we met a guy named Jesse in a Trump Plaza bar who ended up being inappropriately annoying. Then the bar's DJ played 'Jessie's Girl'. I think Bruce Springsteen should be punched for romanticizing New Jersey.

Orion Day One:

The day started off with breakfast at the hotel and then it was a blur of sun and volume for the next 12 hours or whatever. After a minor hiccup with Will Call drama ("Not on the list..") I made it inside, met up with friends, and saw the tail end of Baroness on the main stage (Orion Stage) before wandering around the huge festival grounds to get my bearings. At this point The Sword were playing on one of the side stages (Fuel Stage) to a big crowd and they were a good soundtrack to my reconnaissance of the grounds. Then we made our way to the Frantic Stage in time to see Roky Erickson take the stage and it set the tone for the rest of the weekend. I really embraced the eclectic billing of the festival and it was cool to see a lot of people posting up to see Roky and the version of 'Creature With The Atom Brain' was one of my favorite performances of the weekend. After Roky we wandered back to the Orion Stage and into the vaunted Snake Pit at the very front (special pass needed... natch..) to watch some of Lucero. The band's Southern Fried sound was perfect for the heat and humidity of New Jersey and I liked them alot... but they also made me want a beer so that became my next mission. Then this happened:

Sandwiched between Metallica management and their legendary soundman Mick who has been with them since 1984. Mick was also joined by Cliff Burton's father. Crazy, man.

The Q&A session with Metallica Fan Club members was... pretty fucking cool. I was taken aback by how genuine the fans from South America, Japan, and Europe were; they reminded me of how I was back in The Day. The Bay Area takes Metallica for granted and you can't understand how massively popular the band is until you travel thousands of miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing dozens of Metallica shirts on the streets and then meeting people who had traveled to... uhhh... Atlantic City from places like Argentina and Japan to see the band was crazy. I wouldn't travel to a similar shithole city in Argentina to see a band. Just saying. Anyway, I was caught off guard about how much interest there is about the original Bay Area Metal Scene and how much people from faraway lands know about it. Anyway, that was my 15 minutes of fame at Orion. Now back to the music..

Hearing Suicidal Tendencies on the Damage Inc. stage dueling with Modest Mouse on the Orion Stage as their set times overlapped was surreal. My brain didn't know what to do so I chose to return to the VIP area for a beer and some food. I know: Poser. To be honest at this point of the first day I was kind of burned out from the heat and the first day's excitement. So much so that I chose to have another beer instead of wandering out to watch Artic Monkeys... and then we made our way back to the vaunted Snake Pit to post up and wait for the headliner's set which was to feature them playing the Ride The Lightning album in its entirety for the first time. The return of the Snake Pit was pretty cool.

Photo courtesy of

Watching Metallica from the Snake Pit was not unlike watching the Blue Angels perform. I’d catch something out of the corner of my eye and it would be, like, Kirk running past. I have a vivid memory of driving to Tower Records in Mountain View in the Summer of 1984 to buy Ride The Lightning on import when it came out. It's a sacred album to Umlaut and it's still weird to see my name in the liner notes. I saw 4 shows on the Ride Tour so it was special to be in New Jersey to witness this performance... and it included another full circle moment as quite a few of my co-author Harald's photos from Murder In The Front Row were used in the intro film that was played before the band launched into 'The Call Of Ktulu' (YES, Metallica asked permission to use the photos).

Pretty fucking cool, right? Yes, the headliner played their iconic 2nd album in reverse order, which was a brilliant move as the pacing completely worked! Seeing Metallica perform 'Trapped Under Ice' was something I can finally cross off my bucket list... but I felt VERY dubious about being there to witness the first ever performance of 'Escape'; it's been my least favorite Metallica song since 1984. However, it seems that the younger generation of fans have no such baggage about the song and I have to admit it was cool to see James, Kirk, and Lars cracking up while they played it. Also, ironically 3/4 of me was caught in one of Metallica's official photos of The Snake Pit from the night... Good thing I was wearing a white t-shirt (on the left):

Photo courtesy of

I will also admit that I still get chills during the intro to 'Fade To Black' and it just might be my favorite live song that Metallica plays. The version performed in New Jersey was stunning.

As the dust settled and the crowd exited into the balmy New Jersey night, we returned to the sedate backstage area, chatted with a couple of friends, and had another comp Budweiser. I also met one of the filmmakers responsible for Lemmy: The Movie, which was pretty great (Hey Wes!)... Then realized I was starving. Fast forward to 1:30am and I found myself in an establishment called the Chelsea Pub & Inn with a cheeseburger and Heineken in front of me while drunk patrons fed the jukebox and played Motörhead, Scorpions, Metallica, and Pantera. Atlantic City is not without its charms.

Wes Orshoski (Lemmy: The Movie)

Then less than 12 hours later it was...

Orion Day Two:

The second day was less hectic and more enjoyable since there were more bands playing who I wanted to see. After another decent breakfast at the hotel the 12 hour or so blur of sun and volume started all over again. Here's a quick rundown:
  • Liturgy. I texted a friend during their set and they told me Liturgy recently lost 1/2 of their lineup including the drummer.. which explained why "the band" only consisted of 2 guys and a drum machine. Liturgy are a polarizing "band" with people either liking them or hating them. I have to say I fall in the latter category; Liturgy seems to take the piss out of Death Metal by presenting it with a safe Hipster aesthetic that ignores the legitimate mythos and traditions of the Death Metal genre. Fuck that.
  • A Place To Bury Strangers. I lasted about 5 minutes into Liturgy before I wandered back out into the sun and over to the Fuel Stage to watch APTBS. I was glad to see the band's great fuzzy volume again, but it didn't have the same impact in the daylight as it does in a dark club. Still, Oliver Ackermann's guitar strangulation was a perfect way to be woken up on this balmy Sunday.
Next came the two bands who meant the most to me and who's inclusion at Orion Fest had me the most jazzed. Ghost is my favorite band at this time in my life for a myriad of reasons. I was curious about seeing them in full daylight, but the band has been playing this time slot all Summer in Europe and they stepped things up by changing their stage gear to white. This color move was fucking brilliant and made them stand out magnificently onstage. The highlight of the set was Papa Emeritus taking a "Pope Walk" around the entire Snake Pit stage during 'Death Knell'.

Papa Don't Preach

The Swedes played a 60 minute set that was identical to the headline set they played on their debut U.S. Tour back in February. However, due to an ironic bit of scheduling I had to bail away from Ghost a couple of songs before they finished so I could make it back to the Damage Inc. Stage for the set that I wanted to watch the most in Atlantic City.

To be honest, this bit is a little more difficult to write. As I said earlier, Landmine Marathon are good friends and it was emotional for me to walk up on the stage as they prepared to play the biggest show in their 7 year history. I've seen them in empty clubs in front of less than 20 people... I know how hard they've worked and toured... Their last U.S. Tour was 37 shows in 38 days.. They've played alot of shitty shows in shitty towns... but here they were playing Orion Fest at the personal invitation of Metallica. Amazing. All of the awkward emotions that the band and I have felt for each other over the past several years were finally acknowledged as they erupted into a explosion of Metal Mayhem on the stage in New Jersey. My favorite kidz from the desert absolutely killed it in front of their largest crowd to date. It was one of those rare, special moments when I witnessed a band go to the next level with their confidence and, judging from the reaction, the crowd watching them understood this too.
Landmine has taken my sight

At one point in between songs, Ryan (guitar) stepped over to me as I stood at stage left and shouted "WE'RE PLAYING WITH METALLICA!!" with the biggest smile on his face. That said it all... and it caught me off guard when Grace (vox) dedicated to band's set to me. Awww! After the set my head was buzzing from the emotions and the Metal. A very special 45 minutes... and it will probably end up being my favorite set of 2012.

One element of Orion Fest that was intriguing was how each member of Metallica curated something based on something near and dear to them outside of the band. Lars hosted a tent that screened some of his favorite recent films. Trujillo showcased skateboarding with a Vans sponsored area. Hetfield hosted a custom car show featuring vehicles from his collection. Kirk's showcase featured his vintage Horror movie collection and also served as the official launch event for his upcoming book Too Much Horror Business. It was pretty cool... and these personal Metallica showcases were WAY more interesting than if they had been the members of Pearl Jam, right?

After Landmine's set we found ourselves being ushered in the back door of Kirk's Crypt so we didn't have to stand in the ridiculous line out front (Thanks Paschke!). We were placed in a makeshift VIP area and listened to an interesting Q&A with Kirk and the guys responsible for the restoration and acquisition of his Horror artifacts. I had no idea about the restoration efforts that went into some of the one of a kind movie posters and lobby cards. It was very interesting and informative, but we then took advantage and wandered around the Crypt to look at the displays while the rest of the crowd listened to the Q&A. The collection was fun and impressive, but ultimately I felt like I was missing out on things... so it was back outside into the heat and humidity of lovely Atlantic City.

The Geeks shall inherit The Earth

Unfortunately, I missed Torche while spending time in Kirk's Crypt... but did watch some of Volbeat on the Fuel Stage (a solid live band who attracted a massive side stage crowd) and also some of the great Charred Walls of the Damned back on the Frantic Stage. I meant to watch some of Country superstar Eric Church for the hell of it... but one thing led to another and I ended up backstage chatting with my friend Papa Emeritus of Ghost. I know I sound like an asshole, but it's the truth. Among other things Papa and I had a conversation about how 'Escape' is the most important song to him personally on Ride The Lightning. Discuss amongst yourselves.

For tonight's headline set, Metallica performed The Black Album in its entirety which reminded me that I saw 3 shows on The Black Album Tour. However, 'Shortest Straw' was my favorite song of the set. While it's not the band's most mainstream song, seemingly the entire crowd of 50,000+ was singing every word of it. It was pretty fucking cool. When it came time for The Black Album (performed in reverse order) I felt my interest level waning halfway through and it was off to take advantage of the uncrowded concession area to refuel. Is there anything more satisfying than exchanging a drink ticket for a ice cold beer on a hot evening? Nope.

After the headline set we found ourselves in the backstage area reserved for the side stage bands where much free alcohol was being distributed and annoyingly loud, bad dance music was being played by a run-of-the-mill DJ type. Although there were plenty of friends to keep me occupied the bad music was too much and I made my exit back into the balmy New Jersey night... Thus ending my Orion Fest experience on a somewhat quiet note.

Behind the Metal Stage

Much to my pleasant surprise, Orion Fest was a completely awesome experience. I didn't see all of the bands who I wanted to catch, but I saw the ones that meant the most to me. For the most part it was well run and organized and the eclectic nature of the bill made it even more enjoyable because it meant it wasn't the usual Metal crowd. The vibe of the weekend was (not to sound all Hippie Shit) communal and mellow. I didn't see any fights. I didn't see any stumbling, passed out in their own vomit drunks.... and I think that was a good thing for once. The one thing that did kinda sorta bug me about the weekend was I couldn't believe that Metallica did not play 'Orion' at Orion Fest. Weird... However, this minor oversight was forgotten the next morning: I traded messages with the guy who wrote 'Master Of Puppets' and told him how my friends Landmine Marathon had been so excited to play the festival and they absolutely killed it in front of their biggest audience. His response was pretty amazing and I hope he doesn't mind me quoting it here:

"That's why we did this thing. Exposure. Bands mature and grow when they get big crowds to play to."

Say what you will about Metallica, but that statement is pretty fucking cool. Deep down they do remember what it was like being that unknown band playing shitty tours in shitty towns... and now look at them.

THANKS to the members of the Umlaut Nation who kept me company over the weekend (Audrey, Cable Car, Canada Dave, Dylan, Grace, Matt, Raul, Ryan, Tony). Good times.

Then 48 hours later it was...

Iron Maiden / Alice Cooper
Comcast Center, Mansfield, Massachusetts
June 26, 2012

Sometimes the Metal Godz work in mysterious ways, man. After the weekend of sun, humidity, and volume in New Jersey I found myself on a short 50 minute flight to Boston. However, not before the flight was delayed around 2 hours because of a crazy ass thunderstorm. Thankfully the real life ride the lightning arrived late so it didn't ruin the weekend.. Long story short, if only all shows were this easy:

The ice cold $9 beer was worth every penny after the drive to the venue. While in the Men's Room pre-show a woman came to the entrance and shouted "MAHRK!! GET BAHCK OUT HEARA!" in a thick Boston accent... Then all the dudes started chanting "MAHRK! MAHRK!" in their Boston accents. New England is hilarious.

Since Alice Cooper isn't on the Maiden dates out West, I was glad to be able to see the tour with him on the bill. Alice pretty much had his full stage show (robots, guillotine, etc..) and played a brief 10-song set that included the hits you'd want to hear in such a short time ('Billion Dollar Babies'...'I'm Eighteen'.. 'School's Out'..). His latest band is good and got the job done. Alice is always the classic showman onstage. Thankyougoodnight!

As they have since the beginning, Maiden proceeded dimming the houselights by playing 'Doctor Doctor' by UFO. I love tradition! As sacred as Maiden are to me, you have to sometimes take their setlists with a grain of salt because they tend to play what they want and not what fans expect. Thankfully, on this 2012 Tour Maiden have stocked the set with more old goodies than on the previous trek 2 years ago. I can't remember the last time they played 'The Prisoner' live and the fantastic mid-set 1-2-3-4 punch of 'The Trooper' into 'The Number of the Beast' into 'Phantom of the Opera' (!) into 'Run To The Hills' was... awesome.

Phantom of the Opera from the soundboard

As with my Metallica experience at Orion Fest, I was glad to finally see Maiden outside of California. The East Coast crowd sang loud and the entire venue from the back to the front was going off the entire night. After closing the main set with the standard 'Iron Maiden' my favorite English band came back onstage and after all these years I still lose my shit when they play 'Aces High'. At this point I made a strategic decision and bailed early to beat the traffic out of the antiquated amphitheater's parking lot. I was cool with my decision since I intend to see at least 2 or 3 more shows on the Maiden England Tour. Fly to live... Do or die.

The next day time was killed before the flight home in North Boston where I had a fantastic lobster roll and ice cold beers at Goody Glover's while sitting outside in the balmy East Coast Summer.. When it was all said and done, Umlaut traveled over 6,300 miles on this Musical Odyssey. On the way back to San Francisco, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. Good times... However, I hate to say it but after 8 years my brain feels like it's totally hit a writer's block wall with this space right now. Let's see if I can snap out of it...

"Rover... Wanderer.. Nomad.. Vagabond.. Call me what you will."