I Took My Friend To His First Metal Concert (MOTORHEAD & ANTHRAX) And This Is How He Reacted…
Your first heavy metal show is important – it makes an impression on what “a great show” means to you. This could probably be extended to all extreme music shows, as my early punk show experiences granted me the idea that great shows have excited fans, shout-alongs with the lead singer, mosh/circle pits, crowd surfing, and don’t make the venue too big. Granted, I’ve had some great experiences at arena-sized shows, but it’s just not the same. So when my coworker friend was interested in going to his first heavy metal show, I knew it would be important to choose wisely. Luckily enough, he did the work for me and found out that Motörhead and Anthrax were going on tour.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better first-show lineup than that. True, some more contemporary groups would be a good idea too, but for a high-level view of what metal’s about, it’s good to start off with the old vanguard, if possible. This was especially evident with Motörhead frontman Lemmy’s recent health issues. I wouldn’t go so far to say "he won’t be around much longer," but it’ll become harder for him to tour as widely and as often as the years go by. As for Anthrax, well- nothing to argue against there. My friend had picked the opportunity to see both a NWOBHM giant and one of the Big Four of thrash metal, not bad.
How do you set expectations for someone who’s never been to a metal show, with a taste mostly geared toward 90s alternative rock, and some smatterings of post-hardcore and indie?
My friend asked me, “So does the pit get nuts at these shows?”
I replied, “Well, yea, I mean it will be more fun than violent at this one, mostly push-pits and circle-pits. You wouldn’t get beat down at this one. Other more extreme shows, maybe.”
He replied, “Oh, like a Disturbed show?”
“Well…no.” We had some learning to do. But that’s ok!
But as it turns out, my companion actually knew a little more about underground shows than I’d anticipated, having spent some time going to some local Christian hardcore and post-hardcore shows back in the day (apparently they really jock that stuff in San Diego, where he’s originally from). So the experience of an underground show with a pit wouldn't be totally alien to him.
When the day arrived, we set off after work for the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford, CT. True, we could have gone to the Jones Beach show, but since getting there is a logical nightmare (and because driving on any highway in Long Island makes me question whether life is really worth it), we opted to go the other direction. Curious as he is, my friend proceeded to inquire about basically every style of metal, it’s relation to hard rock, it’s history, why the subject matter is so dark, and whether Dani Filth really is as scary as he seems in the “Her Ghost in the Fog” video (he’s not). Though it probably indulged my worse pedantic impulses as a metal writer, it was genuinely fun to outline this sort of stuff to a 28-year old, a person with already-established tastes, unlike the more malleable mind of a teenage newcomer. After grabbing some awesome burgers at Ted’s in Meriden (yes, apparently some good things come from sad places) we arrived at the venue.
And because it has to happen at every show, we had an awkward run-in in the parking lot with a weirdo twice our age who kept talking about he and his wife’s Heart cover band, and how much money he’d won while betting on football the previous night. Not that he was scary or anything, he and his wife were actually extremely cool people, but it was kind of funny to watch. Luckily we’d reached the venue with time to spare to catch both of the main acts, leaving enough time to down a couple Ynglings with our over-excited stranger friend before going in.
This might have been the best Anthrax performance I’ve ever seen. Almost without pause the band ripped into “Madhouse,” “Caught in a Mosh,” “Got the Time” and “Antisocial.” You can’t beat that as an Anthrax fan. Well, they didn’t play “Among the Living” or “I Am the Law,” but you can only ask so much I guess. Their performance of “Fight em’ Till You Can’t,” along with their tribute to Dio and Dimebag Darrell (covering Black Sabbath’s “Neon Nights”) was excellent as well.
And then they played “Indians.” I turned to my friend, “ok let’s get closer to the stage.” As is custom, a circle pit broke out as Charlie Benante started hitting the iconic tom-lines and we jumped right in. After a few chaotic rounds I found a good spot up front. But where did my friend go? It was like waiting your turn getting on the whirly-bird at school (before they all got banned in the 90s) trying to grab him out. When I did release him he immediately had that same look on his face I had at 14, “this is insane, but it’s so awesome!”
And it was, Joey Belladona put on a rousing performance, working the crowd like a true showman, and singing within his limits but unafraid to push them when he knew he could hit the notes. Scott Ian, Frank Bello and Charlie Benante look as if they’ve barely aged a day. Jonathan Donais played as expertly as ever, though he did look a little bored at times, as if he’d rather be on stage with Shadows Fall again. I think he was the only member of Anthrax who didn’t smile the entire time, but maybe there’s some personal reason for that.
A lot of noise had been made, on this site and others, about Motörhead’s failed performance in Utah, where Lemmy had to walk off the stage after only playing three songs. Would he make it to our show? Granted, Lemmy’s had a rough few years since I last saw Motörhead’s stellar performance in 2012 (opening for Megadeth at the time, another solid pairing). But as the house lights went down, that iconic bass guitar and hat emerged from the smoke as the band kicked off into “No Class,” “Stay Clean” and “Metropolis.”
Had you kept your eyes closed, this performance could have easily taken place in 1995 or 2005, as Lemmy’s voice held up just fine through his singing parts, and his bandmates Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee put on their own fantastic performances (the later giving an awesome drum solo). Lemmy looked to be in good spirits, but he was noticeably thinner than in 2012, and he had a weariness to his voice as he addressed the crowd between songs. Still, there will always be something magical about hearing the legendary man begin and end a set with: “We are Motörhead, and we play rock n’ roll!”
And even though Anthrax certainly had the volume cranked up, Motörhead was incredibly loud. Even with my earplugs on I could feel the bass blow against me like the wind of a hurricane. Along with Ministry back in 2008, this might have been the loudest show I’d ever seen. My friend had unfortunately neglected to wear earplugs, but at press time I think his eardrums have recovered. And even still, the show was so solid that he felt no need to complain about this.
In fact, the only thing I could really complain about is that they didn’t play “Iron Fist.” But again, any opportunity to hear Motörhead play “Bomber,” “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill” should be greatly appreciated. And the crowd certainly did appreciate it, as they were mostly a good-natured, rowdy host of headbangers and fans, with a minimal smattering of drunk idiots dancing by themselves in the pit. The crowning moment of their set would certainly have to be “Ace of Spades,” where the crowd immediately went wild as Lemmy strummed that iconic bassline to lead us all into chaos. After going for my once-every-concert crowd surf, I returned to find my friend exhilarated while viewing from next to the pit “dude, this is pure mayhem here, I’ve never seen anything like it!” We migrated back to the front as the band spun again and again into the intro sequence for “Overkill,” a routine which was the wonderful effect of working the crowd like a sound level display, podding down only to push the levels up once again.
At the end of the show, the members of Motörhead all came up to the front of the stage to toss out drumsticks and guitar picks and wave “thank you” to the crowd. Both my friend and I managed to obtain a pick thrown out by Lemmy himself. It sounds so cliche’ that you’d think we just went to some pop-punk concert as teenagers, but something about it just felt so perfect. We got to see two of the most legendary metal bands of all time, moshed with a great crowd and walked away with something memorable from the headliner.
Upon reflection, my friend had a few thoughts about the show:
the whole vibe of the place and the overall energy of the night stood in stark contrast to what I had associated my whole life as 'metal' and its apostles…There was something very tribal about it, but not in the pejorative sense. Rather in knowing that no one was being judged for however passé their look or how animated or low-key the person next to you might be, they were there for the music, not to be seen. There's a certain freedom in being comfortable in one's own skin, and it was clear that people here were living for themselves in that respect in a very cool way…I'd definitely go to another metal show…with both bands the axe shredding was on another level, far exceeding anything I've ever seen at a rock concert. And that drum solo by Mikkey Dee of Motorhead? Beyond epic…This was no doubt a great show, and after seeing these two bands perform, I'd love to add some more metal acts to my live show narrative.
Except this time, I'll make sure that Drew packed me a spare pair of earplugs. I've never awakened sober with my ears ringing with such ferocity.
We may have a convert on our hands!
For my part, I’d gladly see Anthrax anytime they come around again and would recommend the same to anyone. As for Motörhead, I think Lemmy shouldn’t retire outright, as I believe it would crush his spirit and purpose in life. However, it would be wise not to embark on full-blown tours anymore. There are enough Wackens, Riot Fests and Big Day Out-like festivals to give Motörhead the opportunity to continually wow audiences with their classic breed of heavy metal, but that won’t be the case if Lemmy doesn’t let himself make that tactical decision. I count myself lucky to have seen both bands last week at The Oakdale.