cliff burton

GUEST CONCERT REVIEW: W.A.S.P. w/ Metallica and Armored Saint – January 19, 1985

A treat for you boys & girls today!  A guest shot, a vintage concert review, and a significant one at that.  Remember when Metallica was just an opening act for mediocre bands?  Meat does.  And he’s back to tell you the story.  Enjoy the first guest shot of 2013, by Meat!

TALLICA

W.A.S.P. w/ METALLICA and ARMORED SAINT – January 19, 1985

By Meat

I was lucky at a young age to have the opportunity to see some great concerts.  The first concert of my life was at The Center in the Square in Kitchener, Ontario.  It was The Monks (remember “Drugs in my Pocket”?)  and I went with my childhood friend, Scott Hunter, and his mother.  I also saw the almighty Black Sabbath play the Kitchener Memorial  Auditorium, three days before my 12th birthday, on the Mob Rules tour on November 19, 1981. I saw Triumph on the Allied Forces tour play the Center in the Square, with my father not long after that.  But really my early concert experiences were mostly, and most memorably, with the aforementioned Scott Hunter.   I believe it was his uncle who had connections with a concert promotion at the time called CPI.  He would leave free tickets at Will Call for us at Maple Leaf Gardens or wherever the show was.  We saw the last Kiss tour with makeup at the time (Creatures of the Night tour) on January 14, 1983 with The Headpins opening.  Also saw the first ever Kiss tour without makeup (Lick it Up tour) on March 15, 1984 with Accept as the opening act.  As well as Motley Crue on the Shout at the Devil tour on June 10, 1984, at what is now the Ricoh Coliseum, also with Accept as support.   Many of these shows are quite memorable and monumental, but none so much as the first time I saw Metallica live.

I remember the first time Scott and I heard Metallica.  We would have a sleepover at his place every Friday night specifically because Toronto radio station Q107 had their “Midnight Metal Hour” on that night.  We would have first heard Metallica (“Seek and Destroy”) either late 1982 or early 1983, before Kill ‘Em All was even released.  Obviously it was an instant shot of Metal Up Our Ass!   Kill ‘Em All was released on vinyl and cassette on July 25, 1983.   I specifically remember  (but not exactly when) walking into a record store downtown Kitchener called Records on Wheels and buying that album, Anthrax’s Fistful of Metal and Van Halen’s 1984 on vinyl,  all during the same visit.   I also remember buying Metallica’s second album, Ride the Lightning, the day it was released.  Thanks to the World Wide Web, I know now that date was July 27, 1984. Starting grade ten that September, I was pushing Metallica on anyone that would be open to it at my high school.   There were a very select few of us who were die-hards and would have Sony Walkmans stuck to our heads at every opportunity possible.  Now I cannot recall if we got free tickets for this particular show, but I do remember how pumped I was when I knew I was gonna see Metallica live.

The bill was as follows: Armored Saint (with Anthrax’s John Bush on vocals), Metallica and W.A.S.P.  Yes you read that right.  Metallica was opening up for W.A.S.P.  I do know that further along on the tour, Metallica and W.A.S.P. would trade headlining sets due to the obvious buzz around Metallica at the time.  Here is a picture of an actual ticket stub of this show.  Note the price ($15.00) and Armored Saint being spelled wrong on the ticket.

ticket 1

One thing I will add before I go on.  Of all the concerts and bands I have seen multiple times live, it is kinda strange I only saw Metallica live twice ever.  One of the reasons for this is quite obviously that after their album Load (otherwise known as Mighty Load of Shit), I never really had a great interest in seeing the band live again.  But it is worthwhile noting that I have seen Metallica live twice and BOTH TIMES they were opening for someone else.  (The second time being the strange bill of The Black Crowes / Warrant / Metallica / Aerosmith on June 29, 1990 at CNE Exhibition Stadium in Toronto) Again, note the ticket price for this.  This was before The Eagles ruined ticket prices for all acts with the ridiculous prices for their shows.   To quote “The Dude”  I hate the fuckin’ Eagles.

ticket 2

So there we were, January 19th 1985 standing in line in front of the late great Toronto concert venue named The Concert Hall. It was freezing cold out, and windy too.   So since this was a General Admission event, standing in line braving at least -15 Celsius weather, you can imagine how cold and bitchy people were.  I recall the rush of metalheads being ushered  quickly into the venue.  The second I got in there I went straight for the merch booth and bought a Ride the Lightning tour shirt for me and a high school friend named Joe DeLeo.  After that, like seemingly everybody, I had to take a wicked piss.  After doing that, I was horrified when I tried to zip my probably really tight jeans back up, and couldn’t because my hands were numb from the cold.  My embarrassed horror turned to laughter as I turned my head to see dozens of much older and much larger long-haired headbangers all having the same problem.  Only in Canada I guess eh?

Sometime later, Armored Saint took the stage.  I remember them being great and how loud it was in there.  They were received well and that venue was filling up. While enjoying their set my buddy Scott gets my attention and points to the much-shorter person beside me.  Immediately I recognized him as Russell Dwarf from the Toronto band Killer Dwarfs. Their name was very apropos considering this band consisted of nothing but short dudes with long hair.  I can only imagine how this band got together.  Wonder if an ad went out that said.  “Metal musicians needed.  Must not be over 5 foot 6 inches tall and have long hair”.  I loved that first album.  If you don’t know of them, here is their first single and video.

It was time for the Mighty Metallica.  They started out with the first track off Ride The Lightning, the classic riff-monster “Fight Fire With Fire”.   At this point I was probably about mid-way to the stage in a sea of metalheads.  This was before the days of the “moshpit”.  This was more of a Hair Swarm packed with long-haired sardines covered in denim and leather.   It would have been about half-way through the show that I wormed my way to the front of the stage.  This was no easy task as I am sure you can imagine, however being only 15 and much smaller than the masses (with the exception of the Killer Dwarfs of course), there I was literally feet from what would become the best-selling metal band of all-time.  This brings me to a memory I will cherish forever.  The seemingly monstrous Cliff Burton was right in front of me.  I reached out and had in my hand, the bottom leg of his ragged bell-bottom jeans.  He tried to kick me in the face, and thankfully missed.  Can’t blame him either for trying to kick my head off, and honestly it was the first thing I thought of  when said legend died in a bus accident a year and a half later in Sweden on September 27, 1986. R.I.P. Clifford Lee Burton.  Check out this YouTube audio clip I found of Metallica playing “Seek and Destroy” from this exact show.  Gotta love YouTube.

Check out this set list of the show the next night in Buffalo at some place called the Salty Dog Saloon. (I couldn’t find the Toronto set list online but I am sure it is identical)

  • “Fight Fire With Fire”
  • “Ride the Lightning”
  • “Phantom Lord”
  • “(Anethesia) Pulling Teeth”
  • “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
  • “No Remorse”
  • “The Call of Ktulu”
  • “Seek & Destroy”
  • “Whiplash”

Encores:

  • “Creeping Death”
  • Guitar solo
  • “Am I Evil?”
  • “Motorbreath”

Which brings me to winding down this novel of a concert review.  How could W.A.S.P. possibly follow Metallica?  Well, I do remember chants of “you suck”.  I remember that the front was nowhere near as packed as it was for Metallica.  Maybe Blackie thought he could follow them by drinking fake blood out of a skull (which he did).  Here is a quote from Mr. Blackie Lawless comparing separate tours with both Slayer and Metallica and musing about this particular tour.

Blackie: I’ll tell you what was worse – us and Metallica.  It was our first or second U.S. tour.  It was us, Metallica, and Armored Saint.  When they (Slayer) went out with us, they were still an up n’ coming band, didn’t have a lot of fans, so there was a pocket of division every night.  With Metallica, I kid you not, it was like an invisible line was drawn right down the middle of the room, and half was theirs and half was ours.  It didn’t matter what we were doing on stage.  It looked like two opposing armies.  Sometimes we just stopped what we were doing and watched. It was a war.

I realize that the merit of music is subjective and it is all in the Ear Of The Beholder.  But lets face it.  W.A.S.P. really does kinda suck.  Some good moments but really not much to speak of.  During their set myself and others that with us were just kind of mulling about as most others were really.  It was during this time that a guy we were with named Kevin B. (nicknamed Little Dude) said that he saw Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson leaving out a side door during their set.  Now to give some perspective on this, this person was a known bull-shitter.  None of us believed him.  True story:  Kevin years later had trans-gender surgery and now is a she-male known as Treva. But anyways, we shrugged this off as yet another lie from Little Dude.  It was months later reading a Blackie Lawless interview in Circus magazine that I read this quote.  “Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were actually at one of our shows in Toronto last year…. But they were not there to see us.”    A classic example of the she-boy who cried wolf.

Meat

 

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Part 2: Gimme an R!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 2:  Gimme an R!

When I was growing up in Kitchener, you had only a few choices of who it was OK to listen to. In 1984, your status depended on your listening choices.

Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister were both “finished” by that point, if you liked them you were not cool anymore. Kiss were kind of cool, but only if you only liked their newest album. The stuff with makeup was “lame” and “old fashioned”.  Van Halen were passé by the time David Lee Roth did “California Girls”.  Judas Priest was OK, but the singer had short hair. And Ozzy?  He scared us.  Even then we couldn’t understand a word he said, plus he looked like a monster on his records.

Your only real choices were: Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., or Helix.

And no matter who you were into primarily, everybody liked Helix. Why? Well, mainly because Brian Vollmer lived on Breckenridge Drive. I could probably see his place from my parents’ bedroom window.

Fritz (Helix) and LeBrain

Fritz (Helix) and LeBrain

All the kids who lived on Breckenridge, like Ian Johnson, would always tell stories about Brian, who lived three doors down. Brian’s got a cool car, he’d say. Brian got a Christmas card from W.A.S.P., and it was so fucked up…something about “Slashing through the toes, in a one horse open slay…” But then again, Ian Johnson also told us he knew George Lucas and he a squad of ninjas who had a secret base in his basement.

Ian Johnson did not have a basement.

So, Helix were the band you had to like. But the stories of Brian Vollmer and his bandmates were considered heresay at best. I had never actually seen Brian in the flesh. He was considered a legend, a myth, like Loch Ness or Sasquatch. Ian, after all, couldn’t be trusted.

Well, fast forward two decades, and now Helix is now a rock institution. They keep truckin on, with new members and new records, but Brian Vollmer is still at the helm, proudly still asking us to give him an R.

Of course, in this day and age, everybody has a website, and an email. The first time I ever wrote to Brian a few years ago, I asked him if he did indeed live on Breckenridge. He confirmed for me that he did, with his first wife, during the early 80’s. Ian told the truth! (I never did email George Lucas to find out about that part of the story.)

Hell, just last night I was surfing http://www.planethelix.com and saw the very Christmas card from W.A.S.P. “Slashing through the toes”. Brian had scanned it and added it to the memorabilia on his site.

Every time you went to the grocery store in 1984 or 85, you’d take a second look at all the long haired guys. I swore I saw Brent Doerner buying soda at Zerhs, but I lost him in the crowd.  Or was it Brian Doerner?

Again, fast forward a few years. When the movie “Fubar” came out, Sum 41 contributed a version of “Rock You” to the soundtrack. I was working at the record store, and a gentleman came in and asked if he could listen to it. He used to be in Helix, you see, and wanted to hear Sum 41’s version. It was Brian Doerner, Helix’s drummer in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Brent’s twin brother. The Doerners are very distinct looking, I should have recognized him immediately. I of course identified myself as a big fan, and we had a nice chat. Brian Doerner turned out to be the nicest guy.

I saw Helix in 1987 and again in 1996, and again from the second row in 2006 (opening for Alice!), and a bunch of times in 2007. They were great every time.  It’s funny because I can’t think of too many kids in the 8th grade who still proudly listen to the same music then as they do now.  They’re all probably embarrassed that they used to listen to Mr. Mister, or Boy George.  I don’t mind boasting that I was never into the trends.  I knew what I liked then, I know what I like now, and although my tastes have grown and expanded tremendously, I never felt embarrassed by my roots.  I still love Maiden, I still love Helix, more now than then.

I remember when Paul Hackman was killed in 1992. It was the total Cliff Burton accident; he was thrown from the tour bus in a crash. My friend Mike McNeill was in a band opening for Helix at the time, he was there.  When we first met in my record store, that’s one of the first topics that came up:  Helix!

Playing the albums today, you can hear that so many of them are solid all the way through. The first two, Breaking Loose and White Lace & Black Leather have that 70’s sound, as only an indi band in 1978 could sound. I think those albums probably only sold about 2000 copies each at the time. But they are solid, the band was writing varied music. And they were always superb musicians. Brent Doerner’s a really talented guitar player, with an amazing stage presence.

“Billy Oxygen” from the very first record , aptly titled Breaking Loose, is a marvel.  Drums:  Brian Doener.  Fast, accurate, and hard, like a good jazz drummer.  Bass solo courtesy of Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg.  Brent Doener took the lead vocal on this, a song he wrote and garner the band some of their first airplay.  The lyrics seemed to be about a spaceman named Billy Oxygen, who went to other planets looking for people to party with.  Not exactly Arthur C. Clarke-ian, but to a me, any sci-fi reference in a song was cool.  (That’s why we older rock fans love Savatage, those silly Trekkies.)

When I was in University I tried my hand at bad, bad science fiction short stories.  Suffice to say, none of it survives today with good reason.  However, Helix had a little moment in my fiction:  My spaceship was called an ES-335, named after Billy Oxygen’s ship in the song.  And only a little while ago did I learn that ES-335 wasn’t the name of a spaceship at all.   An ES-335 was a Gibson guitar.

There were other science fiction moments in Helix songs as well. “Wish I Could Be There”, from the same album, is one such song.  It’s about a guy who dreams of going to space.  That song represents their epic, their “Stairway to Heaven”.   “Time for a Change” from the second album spoke of nuclear war, if we do not change our ways, a common theme in the sci-fi of the era.

I should clarify, however, that we didn’t even know about these first albums back in 1984.  The earliest song we knew was “Heavy Metal Love”, and even that was pretty new.  We were vaguely aware that they had existed before 1984, but we didn’t know for sure because there were no music videos before that, and those records were out of print.  You couldn’t walk into Sam The Record Man and ask Al King for them.

Occasionally we would hear rumours.  Usually these “little known facts” would come from that one uncle that everyone had, the one who wore no shirt, watched a lot of football, and had a handlebar moustache.  Usually this stereotypical uncle would say, “Yeah, Helix have been around a long time, like 20 years, I saw them when they were still a country band.  My buddy was in the band too.”

Some nights I sat up in a sweat about this.  A country band?  Helix?  Sure, I didn’t hate country music, my dad played that Johnny Cash stuff and it’s alright.  (I even saw Johnny Cash live in ’83, before I ever heard of Helix.) But Helix were rockers!  Rockers were about breaking loose!  They sang about their heavy metal loves!  They told us not to do what people tell you to do, and to always be yourself!  If a bunch of country guys were now posing as rockers to make a buck, well, that would be a black mark on Rock N’ Roll.  Why?  Because it would prove that our dads were right:  Rockers were just in it for the money.  If we couldn’t trust Helix, you couldn’t trust any of them.  Especially W.A.S.P.

We didn’t speak of these things often.  It was bad to speak of these things.  But each of us dreamed—nightmared—about finding a copy of an early Helix album in our uncles’ musty collections.  And in the dream, there they were always on the cover.  A black and white photo.  And they’re wearing cowboy hats.

It never came to that.  When their first two albums, Breaking Loose and White Lace & Black Leather, were finally issued on CD in 1992, they sounded pretty damn good.  It’s classic rock, but harder, much harder.  And best of all, it sounds like home.  Everything about those two albums sounds like right here.  If I played them for you, you’d hear nothing.  But to me, I can’t understand how nobody else can hear that these albums were born right here in Kitchener,Ontario.

Brian Vollmer and I, back in in 2007 at Planet Helix!

Brian Vollmer and I, back in in 2007 at Planet Helix!

The kids from Kitchener 1984 didn’t hear about Helix until MuchMusic started throwing “Rock You” into heavy rotation.  The song was everything we needed at the time.  It was catchy, yet you and your tone deaf friends could all chant it.  Hey, maybe that’s the same reason hip-hop is popular today?

The video for “Rock You” was equally cool.  There were whips, chains, nearly naked girls, leather, guitars, and fire.  The best part of the video was when Brent Doerner comes out of the water with his Les Paul screaming the guitar solo.  And then your friends would debate:  “Could that guy really play under water?”  “No way man, he’d get electrocuted!”  “Are you sure?  That looked awesome though.”  It was catchy, but you could still be a tough guy if you liked this band, because clearly they got lots of girls.

Come to think of it, Helix seemed to get lots of girls.  There were girls in every single video that we had seen!  Granted, the one in “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” was doing ballet and stuff, but she was still alright.

Oh, and by the way, Ian Johnson also took credit for the “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” video.  He said, and I quote because I will never forget this, “Yeah, that was my idea.  I told Brian that he should make a video with a lot of girls in it.  So, he did.”

But then again, Ian Johnson also said that he wrote the Disney movie “Bambi”.

But that, dear friends, is another story.