Tuesday, December 29, 2015
In April 1981, my brother Paul and I had tickets to see Ozzy Osbourne on his first solo tour. It was at the Tower Theatre just outside of Philly. Randy Rhoads on guitar. Lots of Sabbath songs in the setlist. It was the sort of thing the kids call "epic."
The opener was this band Motorhead, on their first American tour. I knew about them from my days as an avid reader of Trouser Press (RIP), my fave rock mag ever, but neither of us was prepared for what hit us.
Despite some familiarity with Lemmy from the couple early '70s Hawkwind songs that he sang, to quote Bob Dylan, we had "no idea what kind of shit was about to go down." From the seventh row at the Tower, it was like we were witnessing a biker gang on speed playing instruments with the accompaniment of a 747 taking off -- right next to our eardrums. The setlist went like this.
I was 18. Paul was 15. I wasn't wearing earplugs. Paul wasn't either. No one was wearing earplugs. In 1981 earplugs could get your Man Card revoked in seconds flat. As a result my Man Card is far better shape than my hearing these days.
I wish I could say that either of us fully and properly appreciated Motorhead that night. But, literally, I've never been so completely freaked out by volume in my life. "Punishing" is too tame of a word. Within seconds of the band launching into "Ace of Spades" my left ear began this whistling howl that never happened before or since. We hung in there for a few songs, but both of us could feel our hearing actually shutting down.
We did something neither of us has ever done since: we ducked just into the lobby to escape the volume. We were not the only ones by any means. There was a crowd of people doing the same, but we still wanted to see the band. So we stood at the doorway between the lobby and the theater and took in the spectacle. I've seen a lot of punk rock over the years -- and let's remember that Motorhead were at least as much a punk band back then as a metal band -- but I still don't think I have ever witnessed that level of attack on a stage. It was the kind of thing you survived as much as enjoyed. Moreover the sound mix sucked. Ozzy's mix later on was perfect, but you can just imagine Ozzy's soundman fucking with the Motorhead mix just a little to make sure his boy wasn't smoked off the stage by these renegade tough guys. Phil Taylor's drums sounded like a train going over Niagara Falls in perfect time. And Lemmy and Fast Eddie never let up for a second either.
Then we went back to our seats and Ozzy blew our minds -- and the rest of our remaining hearing -- so much that on the walk back to the train station, when the roar had subsided, two things became evident: (1) I was not going to hear a word anyone said to me that night unless that person was on my right side (my left ear was stone fucking deaf), and (2) the hearing that remained in my right ear was limited only to higher tones at that point. The low end had been mostly smoked by Motorhead and Ozzy had finished it off. Everyone's voice sounded like the product of a massive hit of helium.
Two days later, my hearing was back. The human body is an amazing thing.
I didn't see Motorhead again until 2005. It was their 30th anniversary tour at the Tower Theatre and I was psyched, armed with earplugs and hanging out with my buddy Robert Wisdom (R.I.P.) whose musical taste was self-described as "I am a tempo junkie, Steve. Will it be fast? I am there." This one was perfect. My hearing survived. No, the setlist wasn't nearly as great as in 1981, but it was no slouch either. And the sheer level of attack? Still there. Only Lemmy remained from the 1981 lineup at that point. But they blew the doors off the place. Redemption was mine.
Now Lemmy's gone. Robert died a little over seven years ago. My hearing, from years of drumming without earplugs, until I finally got on that train in like 2009, is, shall we say, less than optimal. Or as my wife says, "You are *so* fucking deaf sometimes." The world keeps moving.
Regret nothing, my friends. Regret nothing.