Motorhead: Stage Fright [DVD]

Everything louder than everything else. Way louder.


Stage Fright

MPAA rating: N/A
Label: SPV
UK Release Date: 2005-07-18
US Release Date: 2006-01-10
Artist website

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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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