[15 May 2002]
When I found out that Motorhead were playing a show at the World, the WWF’s Times Square entertainment complex, I was delighted. Wrestling and metal: analogous to the fated romance of peanut butter and chocolate. I thought about what sort of review I wanted to write. It was important that I didn’t beat the one-horse joke black and blue (I’m not a nose-in-the-air NPR pundit out to make examples out of those preciously provincial metalheads; I’m a rock ‘n’ roll kid cursed with a better-than-average vocabulary). I brought along a notepad and tried to document whatever I could, and I would save the cultural studies for later.
Amazing how something can be so high-tech and lowbrow all at once. Its interior is black and sleek, like that of a futuristic car; TV screens large and small line the walls, hang from the rafters, stand behind the bar with the call-brand liquors. The place is state-of-the-art, top to bottom; even the railing I leaned against to write my commentary was backlit with a soft orange glow. So why is such a snazzy venue New York City’s go-to for trash culture? Well, jeez, it’s not the freakin’ Met. The Met doesn’t have a big-as-the-Marshall-stacks logo on stage of a tiger, seemingly ripped out of the pages of a tattoo parlor’s flash portfolio. And I’m sure the mohawk count is fairly low. (That’s cool, though. Every grouping has its own code, its own Jungian persona to live up to. The opera kids wear Dolce & Gabbana; the metal kids wear Deicide T-shirts. And so what? We’re all naked when we get out of the shower.) But I’d go out on a limb and call the Met’s opulent decorating scheme far more schlocky than the World’s.
The hecklers are right. Speedealer and Morbid Angel do suck. I credit the Motorhead audience with being smart enough to recognize unoriginal, lunkheaded speedcore when they hear it. Scanning the room, though, I make an optical checklist of every metal-up-your-ass stereotype I’ve ever known. I can’t help it.
And so on. The tallies get higher—13 men with prominent facial hair, seven Jason Lee look-alikes, two (no, three) items of clothing displaying skulls, dozens of people wearing black. After a while, the Chronicle O’ Stereotypes becomes boring, and as it turns out, somewhat misleading. There are indie hipsters too: a guy in a porkpie hat, one with Weezer glasses, one with a Warhol-albino dye job. A “Red Meat” T-shirt. Black guys. Asian girls. I focus my attention to the music.
Speedealer and Morbid Angel
Insufferable. Unmelodic, tired, boring. I’m here to see a band that plays as fast as these clowns, with twice the crunch, three times the munch, and none of the pose (dry ice, musicians’ hair flying in unison like choreographed dancers in an Ike & Tina revue, singer that grunts “Let’s keep this fucking shit rolling!”). I’m so bored and annoyed I fall into my nervous habits: smoke a few cigarettes, write until my wrist aches (“nu-metal meets crust-punk: this fucker looks like such a homophobe”). The sound’s good—high end’s a bit tinny at first, bass is maybe too reverby, but when Motorhead take the stage, it’s pristine and nicely balanced. The drums are miked well; they’re clear and resonant, good midrange. The lighting looks expensive. Orange spots. Blue spots. Orange spots now. Fancy that.
Some normal-seeming people here, too. Normal, meaning: non-metal, non-goth, non-punk, non-bridge/tunnel/hick, not accessorized or decorated in any distinguishing manner. I spot the fish-out-of-water “rock critic” in the crowd. While waiting for Motorhead and listening to the piped-in AC/DC music, I write “There’s something tragic and sickening about spending all this dough on a wrestling arena. I mean, of all the things the American economy could pour money into . . . what totally fucked-up priorities we have. In the Bronx, they have cockfights in social clubs . . . cruel to animals, but undoubtedly kinder to humans than this pageantry of indulgence and greed.”
But now the latecomers are packing in. The requisite tall guy finds his spot in front of me. The stereotype-goons are becoming increasingly impatient, and the potty-mouth aphorisms reach fever pitch. The lights darken in 10-minute contractions. The pot smoke wafts in from the east. And then—Motorhead.
Motorhead: the great crossbreed of the metal and punk audiences, the great equalizer. Lemmy Kilmister looking terribly sexy and tougher than leather. He says cheerfully: “Is it loud enough for ya?” Crowd goes wild. “I don’t wanna hurt your ears.” He pauses. “I wanna destroy them completely.”
Unlike the frontmen from his opening bands, Lemmy’s voice doesn’t quite evoke an anvil-necked wrassler stricken with emphysema. It’s the battle cry of a Guinness-addicted thousand-year-old fetus scratching away tirelessly at the walls of a mummy’s womb. Motorhead is ferocious, never half-assed for a second. Their cover of “God Save the Queen” is a coiled, controlled fist—not a shaking, taunting one (as the Sex Pistols’ original was). “R-A-M-O-N-E-S,” perhaps Motorhead’s best interspecies mating call between metal and punk, is topped off with a guttural tribute to “Joey fuckin’ Ramone!”
I’ve moved to a more sparsely populated bar in the back of the upper tier, and I’m watching the band on one of the myriad TV screens—the World is a gigantic home-theater system, or if you like, a showroom at Circuit City. People see me smoking and writing (not out of boredom this time, but because I can sprawl out and put my things down); they introduce themselves and bum cigarettes from me. We chat, marveling that Lemmy’s 56 years old—and shit, he’s looked and sounded the same for the past twentysomeodd years! It’s remarkable that the band’s speed riffs carry so much weight and manage not to exude any sort of Euro-doom silliness. If Black Sabbath were heavy metal laced with strains of blues and jazz, Motorhead are pure-bred metal, and concurrently, pure-bred hardcore punk (English speed-metal and Orange County hardcore both emerged from the same era in rock history, and they’re strikingly similar).
“Just ‘Cos You Got the Power (Doesn’t Mean You Got the Right)” steals the riff from Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold.” It’s unbelievable—I’m listening to this sphincter-loosening rock ‘n’ roll, and a couple yards away from me are these designer oversized martini glasses at the bar. Someone could take a bath in ‘em! It’s anomalous and puzzling, and to dwell on it is gluttony for punishment. (I divert my attention back to Motorhead, but not before I make a mental note of Mr. Circle-A Denim Jacket over in the corner. His grasp of 1989-retro-chic bears acknowledging, I think.)
Apparently, Motorhead’s live sets are notoriously short, and this one couldn’t have lasted longer than an hour and a half. It went by in a blur, and even though it was the most rocking thing I’ve seen all year, I feel like those circumstantial distractions kept me from enjoying the full Motorhead experience. But hey; Lemmy will live forever inside that ancient sarcophagus of his; and I’ll gladly follow him from one World to the next (hopefully, “the next” won’t be a sleek, shiny wrestling emporium).
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/motorhead-020430/