Friday, October 4, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Fake Marshall Stacks

My first concert was Judas Priest at the Erie County Fieldhouse.  An Australian band called Heaven opened up.  This was on Judas Priest’s “Screaming For Vengeance” tour.  This was a seminal moment for me.  It was inconceivable that the mighty Judas Priest was coming to our hometown to play the songs that we listened to at every keg party for the previous three months.  We lived in Erie PA for God’s sake.  Coming here?  The very idea that a metal band from England that had videos on MTV and records at Record Den would be rocking out at the same place where the Erie Blades minor league hockey team played was mind blowing.  What next?  Are you going to tell me that Demi Moore was coming to Homecoming?

Five very overstimulated teenage boys drove to the Fieldhouse that night in a large American car drinking Michelob Light which had been painstakingly acquired thanks to a deal brokered with an older guy in our school named Randy.  Randy had a beard like a Greek sailor by age 14.  Randy could be counted on to be able to buy 12 packs from a bar named Haggerty’s without incident as Haggerty’s had stopped asking this wayward Greek sailor for his obviously forged ID months ago.  They must have assumed Randy had a very serious drinking problem as he was at Haggerty’s almost daily buying three or four different brands of twelve packs.  Looking back, a bar that existed primarily by selling cases of domestic beer that had been razor bladed in half to sell out the back door probably wasn’t too concerned about a very hairy high school boy.

I was sitting in the back seat as we all screamed over the blaring Judas Priest on the car stereo.  This was a key component of going to a concert that I think may have disappeared over time.  The drive to the show had to consist of nothing but the latest album of the artist in question played so loudly that even basic communication in the car was next to impossible.  This was full-on pregame.  Knock back a couple of beers and get psyched by listening to “Electric Eye”.  As we rolled up onto the gravel parking lot Erie’s metal community could be spotted walking to through the haze of dust and red tail lights to the building entrance.  It looked like a post apocalypse as skinny guys in jean jackets with metal band patches slunk into the building in small packs of three and four like gangly trolls.  It was an ugly outsider’s version of Oscar Night or a Heavyweight Title Fight.  Without question, it was the biggest concert of the year for Erie.

This was all new to me.  I wasn’t really sure how to play it cool.  Everyone else seemed to know how to act.  The scenesters standing around posing in their special concert outfits.  The packs of girls with hair sprayed out impossibly high.  The raw teenage energy of expectation was heavy in the room.  My friends and I were all like deer in headlights as we attempted pretend it was all just another day at the office.  I can only imagine what dorks we looked like (and were for that matter).  Miraculously we bought beers from the concession area.  The well trained and professional concession staff at the Erie County Fieldhouse must have served literally anyone.  The drinking age in Pennsylvania was 21, and I looked about 11.  I think it was Stroh’s.  They were draft beers in wax paper cups, the kind that you have to drink quickly before the bottom literally falls out. 

We entered the arena itself.  I use the word “arena” in the loosest possible sense.  It was in actuality a big tin shed.  It had metal walls and a metal roof.  We stood on the floor on boards which had been placed over the ice of the rink and stared at the stage.  An enormous wall of Marshall Amps lined the entire backline with a ridiculously large drum kit that sat atop an enormous riser.  This was the age of metal, and the lighting and props were so over the top it would be fall-down laughable now.  Even those guys in The Darkness couldn’t have imagined a more ridiculous set up.  The best part was that in front of all this gear was a tiny area with a few amps that Judas Priest graciously allowed Heaven to attempt to put on a performance.  One of the guys that I went to the show with leaned over to me and said, “We are going to get blown away.”

Heaven started playing, and I had never heard anything as loud as that in my life.  The sound was absolutely horrible.  The drums boomed.  The voice was lost in delay.  The guitars were distorted.  The whole thing bounced around the tin walls and ceiling making it sound like a squadron of F-4s were landing simultaneously.  The spectacle was awesome.

Heaven’s set was nothing but an obstacle to endure until Judas Priest came on.  We didn’t know any of the songs.  We couldn’t make out any melodies, hooks, or lyrics.  It was all a loud fuzzy explosion.  The singer guy yelled out about “partying” once in a while, and people seemed to like that.  I noticed the move appeared to be to raise both hands in the air and scream out “Woooooooo!!!!” whenever “partying” was mentioned.  I had to remember that in the future.  I drank my Stroh’s needing to take a piss, but afraid of never being able to return to my precious area close to the stage.  There were probably about 5000 people there.  4998 of them were smoking.  It was a real scene.

Judas Priest pulled all the rock star moves.  They made sure Heaven sounded like shit in the mix.  They waited about an hour before coming out to play.  I didn’t know the drill then.  Had I been there now I would have groused and complained.  “What the fuck.  We’re standing around on a fucking ice rink.  Get out here already you assholes.”  Finally the house lights went down.  They, of course, started with the instrumental “The Hellion”.  It was so fucking loud.  I had been totally unprepared for what a metal band of means could do with a ton of gear and a good soundcheck.  Holy fuck.  That’s them.  When the instrumental section ended and “Electric Eye” started singer Rob Halford came out and people went totally fucking crazy.

Let’s get this on the record.  Not one of us in that arena had any inkling that Rob Halford was gay.  I understand that idea seems totally ridiculous now as a man in leather bondage gear and little leather hat couldn’t have been any more obvious about it unless he was fisting Liberace on that stage.  The concept that homosexuality could have crossed into the masculine world of metal was absurd.  There is no way we could have wrapped our heads around that idea.  Freddie Mercury?  Clearly gay.  Rob Halford.  All man.  Tough guy.    

We were a bit naïve.

The show was awesome.  They played all the hits.  Glenn Tipton and KK Downing played guitar solos for a week that were even more stupid than Spinal Tap.  Halford rode out on the motorcycle for “Hell Bent For Leather”.  (How did we not know he was gay?  Right?  Hell Bent For Leather?)  Then it was over.  I had never seen anything like it.  “Oh, I want to do that again” immediately went into my head.  We drove home screaming over the Judas Priest being played on K-104 the terrible local rock radio station.  The guys dropped me off with my ¾ length sleeve “Screaming For Vengeance” baseball shirt, which I would wear to school the next day as was the social custom.  My ears rang for five days.    

This week I saw a picture of a metal band playing a festival with “prop amps”.  Their entire backline was literally a two dimensional prop, wooden facsimiles of giant Marshall Amps to give the impression that they were a powerful rock band.  What a damn shame to have been a kid attending that show as his first concert.  Maybe things really were better back in the Good Old Days.  Back in the days when men with leather fetishes sang to oblivious teenage boys and caused hearing damage in tin barns.  When those same teenage boys drove home drunk reeking of pot and cigarette smoke ready to take on Geometry 2 the next day.  When an amp was really an amp…


At October 23, 2013 at 11:29:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing that memory back. I also saw Judas Priest on that tour, in Pittsburgh, but Krokus opened here.

A few 8th and 9th graders, a corncob pipe dumped in a panic into a bathroom trash can, said offender was forced to dive for it.

Same ear ringing, and somehow I still have that concert tshirt in a box in the closet, ironic - insert chuckles here.

At October 23, 2013 at 11:30:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing that memory back. I also saw Judas Priest on that tour, in Pittsburgh, but Krokus opened here.

A few 8th and 9th graders, a corncob pipe dumped in a panic into a bathroom trash can, said offender was forced to dive for it.

Same ear ringing, and somehow I still have that concert tshirt in a box in the closet, ironic - insert chuckles here.


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