Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Golden Years

Now playing back in Umlaut's early-1980's teenage Metalhead bedroom:

Fast forward to Umlaut's 21st Century adult Metalhead reality:

Lemmy's 70th Birthday Party
The Whisky A-Go-Go, Hollywood, California
December 13, 2015

One thing led to another and on a blustery Sunday afternoon I found myself on Southwest Flight 5872 flying down to Hollywood to celebrate my Capricorn hero's 70th birthday that night.  If you had told the Teenage Me I would find myself at this event I would not have believed you.

December's child the only one,
What I do is what I've done,
I realise I get so cold,
When I was young I was already old,
My life.. My heart.. Black night.. Dark star,


Here in the 21st Century, the Sunset Strip is a mere ghost of its former glory with so many places gone and others being replaced by hotels due to redevelopment.  The steady march towards the area becoming an anonymous massive strip mall is on profound fast forward these days.  Upon arriving in L.A. I chilled for a bit before walking down to Book Soup... and across the street was this example of how time travel does exist.. at least on the outside:

It was extremely surreal to see the Tower colors flying on that iconic space again.  However, it's only temporary as the paint job had been done for the premiere of the Tower Records documentary.  It's still empty, cold, and vacant inside the space.. just like the record industry now.  Anyway, after trying unsuccessfully to get served at a crowded bar showing 3 NFL games at once (Is it baseball yet?!), I found a relatively empty bar a block away to have a beer(s) and wait for my colleague friend to text me so we could meet at The Whisky.. and it wasn't long before that text arrived.

As I approached The Whisky I could hear the soundcheck going on and, to my surprise, the front door was wide open and I just walked right in.  Donde está security? Stepping inside of The Whisky is still like stepping into a time machine.  I've only seen a few shows there but the walls really do ooze Lock 'N Loll history.  Given the magnitude of the evening's event I was shocked how mellow things were.. but it was very cool of course.  After taking a quick look around the room I realized who was soundchecking:

That would be Billy Duffy, Billy Idol, Matt Sorum, Duff McKagan, and Steve Jones.. Star power! Crazy, right?!

It was pretty damn amazing to be able to witness the soundcheck for this once in a lifetime event.  In between jams I also ran into several people who I knew (crew guys.. band guys.. industry guys..)... and it always surprises me when I see shows in L.A. that I actually know people there.  I forget.. One of them was the guy who took the band photos in Appetite For Destruction who was filming the show tonight.  Another cool jam featured 1/2 of Anthrax, Slash, Robert from Metallica, and the guy who sings in Ugly Kid Joe (currently residing in the "Where are they now" file..):

After this round of "check one two" was completed my friend and I popped out to get dinner and to catch up since we hadn't seen each other in awhile.  Upon our return we found the entrance closed and a Will Call line forming as the night became a bit rainy.  Thankfully we easily killed time when my friend Rob came over to chat with us.  It was good to catch up with him and hear how his film project and his up-and-coming band are doing.  At one point the Whisky's photographer asked to take his photo for their website as I was standing directly to his left.

I'm sure it was a big thrill for Rob to have his image posted!  Hopefully it will help generate interest in his band and give them some juice to make it to the next level.  Anyway, there was absolutely no Will Call drama and it wasn't long before we were back inside the dry confines of The Whisky.

Tonight was a private, invite only event and the guest list was limited to several hundred "friends" and associates of Lemmy.  It obviously wasn't public knowledge since there was no mob scene or paparazzi out front.. and it was funny that The Whisky's marquee listed a random battle of the bands-type event during the day.

The vibe of the event with the doors open continued to be very mellow and surprisingly not that L.A.-style douchbag at all.  I was surprised.. Maybe it was because those in attendance all understood the magnitude of being invited... especially with Lemmy himself holding court from the front of the balcony overlooking the main floor.  It was one of those classic L.A. events that was entirely a "V.I.P." audience but the upstairs area was an additional level of "V.I.P." area that required you to have a silver sticker on your laminate to enter.  Thankfully Umlaut rated the silver sticker so it was upstairs I went.

Upstairs featured a bar that was giving away beer for free for awhile and food catered by The Rainbow down the street.  Also on display next to the bar was a magnificent birthday cake:

I was surprised that no one accidentally fell into it after too many Jager shots.. but it was a Sunday school night so maybe folks were holding back.  Anyway, in this "V.I.P. V.I.P." area Umlaut rubbed shoulders with the likes of 1/2 of Metallica (the rhythm section..), 1/2 of Anthrax (the 2 members with beards..), Sebastian Bach, Ross Halfin, Dave Lombardo, other various band people whose bands I can't stand, as well as various record label types, band managers, and recording professionals.. and the guys who host That Metal Show.. among others.  Trivia:  Steve Vai is not as tall as I would have expected.

A couple of friends and I managed to snag a prime table next to the soundboard and watched the beginning of the entertainment from there.  Things kicked off with a couple of bands who I honestly didn't catch the names of.. but one did originals fronted by a kid who took his shirt off for their set and the other a cover band fronted by a girl who, in all fairness, knows how to front a band.  However, the beer(s) in my hand held my attention more... as did the party favors:

Onstage Matt Sorum acted as MC for the night.. which was a nice surprise since I'm sure everybody expected Dave Grohl to be there.. and I'm glad he wasn't because when was he ever really Metal?  Honesty is my only excuse.  I was told prior to the night that the setlist would not be all Motörhead songs because that's understandably the last thing Lemmy would want to hear.. so the setlist was made up of songs and bands that Lemmy loves.. as it should be since it was his party!

The proper celebration featuring Lemmy's band friends kicked off with a combo featuring Sorum, his wife on vocals, Gilby Clarke on guitar, and I can't remember who else doing Zeppelin and Stones songs.  The rotating list of guest musicians moved on to include Sebastian Bach for a song or two and also Steve Vai and Nuno Bettencourt doing passable Hendrix covers.  Everybody knows that Lemmy famously roadied for Hendrix, right?

The combo of Zakk Wylde on vocals / guitar, Sorum on drums, and Blasko on bass did a surprisingly excellent blast of Sabbath's 'Fairies Wear Boots'.  I say surprising because I've never been a fan of Zakk Wylde.. but he won me over at least for tonight.  The only Motörhead song performed was '(We Are) The Road Crew' sung by the guy from Ugly Kid Joe (random... but evidently he's a longtime friend of Lemmy's..) with Scott Ian and Slash on guitars, Charlie Benante on drums, and Robert of Metallica on bass. Quite good.

Midway though the proceedings a screen dropped in front of the stage and a really nice video slideshow honoring Lemmy was shown.  It featured vintage photos of the Birthday Boy with audio and video testimonials from some of his famous friends and kindred spirits.

I actually got a bit misty-eyed watching it since it gave a perspective on Lemmy and his life of music, hellraising, and his sense of humor.  My Hero.  Your Hero.  Right?  At this point I also moved downstairs to watch the rest of show from the less crowded floor and in the sweet spot for sound.  However, the night hit a brief awkward snag when they announced the Birthday Boy would be taking the stage and his tech set up his Murder One rig and his Rickenbacker was brought out... However there was an obvious change of plans because the screen dropped again and Murder One removed from the stage.. but Lemmy still watched over his party comfortably from the balcony.

The party eventually closed with the best guest combo of the night featuring Billy Duffy, Billy Idol, Sorum on drums, Duff McKagan, and Steve Jones smoking through 3 oldies to bring the entertainment to a really fantastic end.  'Shaking All Over' into 'Something Else' into 'God Save The Queen' were perfect.

To be honest the end of the party was a bit anti-climatic but given that it was meant to be a party for Lemmy and not a public event the understated way it played out really was perfect.  I imagine Lemmy does not like being the center of attention all of the time.  My hero.  Your hero. Right?

As the party was officially announced as being over I mingled a bit... said goodbye to a couple of people.. met a couple of people who I'd only known via online interaction.. and then made my way back out into the rainy Hollywood night.  Before heading back to where I was staying I stopped at Mel's Drive-In for a late night meal.. and the waitress thought the Lemmy mask I had was of some pro wrestler whose name I can't remember.

Happy 70th Birthday to Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister!  It was an honor to have been there to celebrate it in such an epic way.  A really fun night.. obviously.  On the way back to The Bay Area, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.  Sorry to now get Emo, but I'm at the point in life where the heroes who inspired me in my salad days are gone or slowly fading away.  Thankfully Lemmy is still here, hanging in there, and doing what he's always been doing as best he can given the march of time.  The Golden Years are whenever and whatever you make them, my friends.  To quote Ronnie James Dio: Live for today.  Tomorrow never comes.

Lemmy.  My hero.  Your hero.  Right?!!

Photos courtesy of Umlaut's iPhone.