During a raucous performance the classic song “Ace of Spades” on Motörhead’s concert DVD extravaganza Stage Fright, bassist/lead growler Lemmy Kilmister gets to the infamous breakdown line, “But that’s the way I like it, baby / I don’t want to live forever.” Instead of continuing with the original lyric, though, Lemmy dryly observes, “And apparently I am.”
It’s true, the dude is unstoppable. At the age of 60, Lemmy and his (slightly) younger Motörhead mates have never sounded better, releasing consistently good albums and successfully living up to the band’s reputation as one of the finest live acts in rock ‘n’ roll, let alone one of the very loudest. With a band so adept at delivering searing, eardrum-destroying sets night after night, year after year, it’s no surprise that Motörhead live recordings are plentiful, but aside from the epochal No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith in 1981, few of the many live documents, album or video, have managed to effectively capture the raw, primal energy of a Motörhead show.
After the classic lineup of Lemmy, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clark, and drummer “Philthy” Phil Taylor split in 1982, Motörhead went through e lengthy period where members were being replaced at a near-ridiculous rate (going through six different incarnations between 1983 and 1995), but over the last decade, stability has returned to the band. With longtime guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer extraordinaire Mikkey Dee providing Lemmy with arguably the tightest accompaniment in the band’s history, the trio has been riding a wave of momentum as of late, aided by the very strong 2004 album Inferno and the successful, year-long world tour in celebration of Motörhead’s 30th anniversary. Filmed and recorded at a very crowded Philipshalle in Düsseldorf, Germany in December of 2004, the double-disc Stage Fright attempts to set the record straight, and succeeds mightily.
As the band’s crew mentions in the DVD extras, there’s not much to the Motörhead sound: no effects, no sequencers, just the three dudes, their instruments, and the volume turned way up, and when you see them in person, so intense is the music coming out of the multiple Marshall stacks, you hardly notice that they’re not the most active stage performers. Of course, on video, you do notice a performer’s stage presence, but thanks to the skillful direction of Sven Offen, whose cuts are energetic, but not, as the band says, “epileptic,” and a tremendous light show designed specifically for this single concert, the visuals are just as invigorating as the music itself, the evening’s set spanning the band’s entire career. You get the usual staples, like the aforementioned “Ace of Spades”, “Iron Fist”, “Killed by Death”, and an astonishing performance of “Overkill”, but the real treats are the lesser-known songs the band unleashes. Orgasmatron‘s “Dr. Rock” opens the festivities with a swagger, early nuggets “Shoot You in the Back” and “Stay Clean” are tremendous mid-tempo groovers, oft-overlooked ‘90s tune “Going to Brazil” proves worthy of inclusion in the 20-song set, and Inferno‘s “In the Name of Tragedy” is thunderous, having become somewhat of a baroque classic for the band. Best of the lot, though, are “I Got Mine” and “Dancing on Your Grave”, two selections from1983’s much hated, and hugely underrated Another Perfect Day album (“It’s improved with age… like cheese,” quips Lemmy), and the great B-side “Just ‘Cos You Got the Power”, a blues-drenched jam showcasing the soloing skill of Campbell.
The music is always intense, but many don’t realize just how funny a guy Lemmy is, and his unpretentious demeanor, both onstage and off, always wins us over, even when he indulges in the concert cliché of seeing who “the loudest crowd in the world” is. The concert disc also comes with a commentary track by the band, and while they’re not the most talkative bunch, their comments are informative and often hilarious, as when Lemmy comments that “Metropolis” has the worst lyrics he’s ever written, Campbell complains that Simon and Garfunkel had louder guitars, and Dee mentions how exhausting the song “Sacrifice” is, and how much he loathes playing “No Class”.
The second disc is just as entertaining, highlighted by a 47-minute documentary on the band’s road crew, a small but loyal bunch who are adored by their famous bosses, who provide some interesting insight into the preparation for each show. Also present is a look at the staging of the Düsseldorf show, Lemmy being feted in Los Angeles by his metal brethren, and a fun glimpse at the band’s tour rider, which includes, of course, copious amounts of Jack Daniels and Coke.
Presented in a thunderous surround mix, and impeccably shot, Stage Fright is easily the best concert film the band has ever put out, and deserves to stand alongside other classic live recordings such as Hammersmith and the recent Another Perfect Day bonus disc. The first thing Lemmy says onstage, and the last thing he says before leaving is always, “We are Motörhead, and we play rock ‘n’ roll.” That they most certainly do, and better than anyone else, as this outstanding DVD attests.