photo by Bev Davies
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 6, 1999
By Steve Newton
I’ve seen some funny things at rock concerts over the years, but one of the funniest goes way back to 1981, when the original Motörhead opened for Ozzy Osbourne at the acoustically absurd Kerrisdale Arena. Lemmy Kilmister and the boys were in full flight, creating the kind of brain-curdling noise they’re famous for, and I had left my seat to search for Ozzy T-shirts or something. I remember glancing out the front windows of the place and seeing some guy standing near the entrance doors, peering through the glass, with his index fingers crammed into his ears. The guy was outside looking in, and he still couldn’t stand the volume.
Now that’s what I call a Spinal Tap moment.
Some 18 years later, Motörhead still likes to torture the eardrums, as can be heard on its latest CD, the double live Everything Louder Than Everyone Else. It includes such classic ear busters as “Ace of Spades”, “Iron Fist”, and the wonderfully titled “Killed by Death”, and on it Kilmister’s patented croaking growl sounds as ravaged as ever. Joining him in the aural debauchery are guitarist Philip Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee, who became full-fledged Motörhead members in ’83 and ’92, respectively.
The trio brings its preview of World War III to NewMusicWest ’99 on Thursday (May 6), playing the Rage with guests Hatebreed and the Dropkick Murphys. It’ll be the band’s first Vancouver show in many years, as a previous gig booked for July of ’97 was cancelled—though not, as Kilmister is quick to point out from his L.A. home, through any fault of his own.
“We never cancelled a show in our lives,” claims the 53-year-old legend of leather, “it’s always the promoter. The band always gets the blame, you know. I mean, if you think about it, why would we cancel a show when we’re already in Canada? Why would we? You know, it’s stupid.”
Motörhead’s current headlining jaunt—which began May 3 in Edmonton and ends May 30 at the 93X Edgefest in Somerset, Wisconsin—is its first road trip since last summer’s Ozzfest tour. “It was all right,” says Kilmister of his latest warm-up for His Ozzness, “but we were on the small stage, so it wasn’t as good as it could have been.”
It seems a tad unjust that a band that has contributed as much to metal as Motörhead would be relegated to the second stage at any hard-rock festival. “If it wasn’t for Lemmy and Motörhead, there wouldn’t be a Metallica,” says Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich in Everything Louder’s liner notes. And as Mike Usinger, my punk-loving colleague at the Straight, notes, Motörhead was also a band that green-haired punk-rockers could relate to during the late-’70s backlash against established rock ’n’ rollers.
“We always had more in common with punk than metal,” concurs Kilmister. “The music, anyway. We just had long hair, so it confused people, ’cause we didn’t fit into any stereotype. And people like stereotypes, you know, it makes them more comfortable. They don’t have to answer any awkward questions.”
When he’s asked what he likes to do in his spare time—when he’s not out touring the world with Motörhead or sequestered in the studio making records—a bit of the scandalous punk comes out in Kilmister. “I like to fuck women, mostly,” he declares, leaving me to wonder if perhaps that penile pastime inspired the “Orgasmatron” tune of ’86. “No, no,” counters Kilmister, “that was about all the things people who don’t have sex do to achieve orgasm instead—like politics, religion, and war.”
Aha! Perhaps I’ve been wrong in assuming that Motörhead is a group best turned to for a quick, hair-whipping fix of speed-metal riffs; maybe there’s some underlying substance to its lyrics after all. The thing is, whenever I listen to Kilmister sing, the only words I can clearly make out are the song titles. I can decipher his bellowed urgings to “eat the rich” and “love me like a reptile”; it’s the other phrases in those songs that I have trouble with. Then again, maybe Motörhead is a band that transcends lyrics, which could be why it goes over so well in places like Germany, where Everything Louder Than Everyone Else was recorded. “They still have loyalty to what they like in Germany,” reports Kilmister. “They don’t change because of fashion, you know, or because of what the media dictates.”
“How ya doin’, Hamburg!” roars Kilmister at the beginning of Everything Louder. “We’re Motörhead. We’re gonna kick your ass.” Then the rough-looking dude puts his signature Lemmy-model Rickenbacker bass through its thundering paces, Campbell and Dee doing their part to help prove that filthy-sounding raunch rock is still a force to be reckoned with (or run away from). Twenty-five gruelling tracks later, and it’s clear that Lemmy is the hardest-working middle-aged metal maniac around. Forget about Ozzy Osbourne, who hasn’t performed well for 10 years or more. Kilmister is the real deal, and he’s considerate, too. “This is a very fast song,” he warns in the intro to “Take the Blame”. “Don’t dance to this, you’ll fuck yourself up.”
After its current North American tour, Motörhead plans to record its 20th studio album. How many bands do you know that have 20 albums under their belts? Some can’t even keep it together long enough to record that many songs. So what’s the secret to staying alive in the wayward world of heavy metal? It’s simple, according to Kilmister.