♠ Drinking With Motörhead ♠
(And living to tell about it!)
By Tim Shöckley
Congress Theatre, Chicago, IL, USA
February 19, 2011
It’s always a special occasion when Motörhead comes to town. My wife and I have known the band and crew for over two decades. She met them on their very first US tour, way back in 1981, when they opened for Ozzy Osbourne on their “Tour of the Colonies.” Ever the straggler, I didn’t meet them ‘til ’83, during the short-lived, though vastly underrated, Brian “Robbo” Robertson era, on the less than accurately-christened “Another Perfect Tour.” After several personnel changes, both in the band and crew, we’ve remained good friends for longer than all of us care to admit!
We got to the Congress Theatre at 4:00 for sound check. In their 35-year career, Motörhead have never played the 85-year-old venue. Alas, all good things come to an end! Not to sound harsh, but the Congress is akin to a urinal with speakers. Just a month prior, living legend Chuck Berry almost died here onstage! Talk about a tough act to follow!
I warned Motörhead’s soundman, Arnie, days in advance the acoustics in this overgrown outhouse would be a challenge for the ages! Arnie may have the hardest job in putting on a Motör-show. Not only does he have to supply the sheer volume to keep both the band and fans happy, but, even more importantly, it has to be feedback-free and clear enough for the band to hear their onstage monitors! Add the fact that all venues are different and, well, I think I’d rather just carry amps! Arnie replaced Hobbs, who had been with the band for the better part of three decades! It’s a wonder Hobbs or the band themselves can still hear at all!
During sound check, when there were no masses to absorb the music, the echo was ridiculous! A single “Check” became “Check-check-check-check-
After sound check, we went to guitarist Phil Campbell’s dressing room to hoist a few ciders and relax. Phil’s become a close friend over the years. I may be wrong, but I think he, as well as the rest of the band, appreciate the quiet times, which can be hard to come by when you’re traveling in an endless, 24/7, chaotic rock n’ roll circus! It’s kind of tricky being both a fan and friend. While I always bring their latest CD to get signed, I never actually get around to asking for their signatures! I mean, would you ask your friend for his autograph?!
We always bring our own booze since there’s usually more than a few hangers-on backstage who take great pride in devouring everything that isn’t nailed down! Sorry, that’s just not our style. We bring Strongbow cider for Phil, Maker’s Mark for Lemmy, and Jack Daniels for Lemmy’s bass tech, Tim. Tim had not yet joined the tour, so we gave the bottle to Arnie! He was a most gracious host who deserved it. In the past, we’ve brought LaBatt’s Blue beer for drummer Mikkey Dee, but we couldn’t find any this time! Sorry, Mikkey! Instead, we gave Mikkey a t-shirt of Johnny Cash giving the finger!
The dressing room was somewhat tiny and completely heat-challenged, so we opted for the comfort of the band’s luxurious tour bus. Though, I suppose “liquor store on wheels” is a better description! I can wager with the utmost confidence that the Motör-men can out-party just about any human on the planet! But, make no mistake- the majority of that occurs after the show! Both band and crew insist on being on top of their game for their loyal fans. No slackers here!
Showtime was nearing, so in we went to assume our positions. The cold, empty building was now a sold out, jam-packed sweat fest! Per what seems to be a tradition with Motörhead, we missed the opening bands! In this case, Valient Thorr and Clutch. I snaked my way down to my favorite place on earth- the photo pit! As the diehard fans smashed against the railing can attest, the energy level, not to mention, volume, is off the charts down in front!
Lights down, a nervous degree of excitement in the air, and a familiar, gruff voice stating the reason we were all there- “We are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll!” And with that, we were off to the races, once again! Opening with the less than subtle “We Are Motörhead,” the loudest trio in the world put on a clinic like there was no tomorrow. Front man Lemmy may be older than your dad, but, no one, and I mean, no one, rocks harder than him! It’s obvious he was born to perform onstage and will continue to do so, as long as there’s an electrical outlet in which to plug his “Murder One” Marshall stacks!
Likewise, band mates Mikkey and Phil seem to flip an invisible switch, then it’s “Louder! Faster! More, more, more!” God, if this was a drug, we’d all OD!
If there’s one thing evident from this hard-working outfit, it’s their dedication to putting on the best show possible. To a man, there’s no “going through the motions” with this lot. They know how fickle the music industry is, and are aware there’s always some new band out there gunning to take their place. Thirty-five years on, I still put them at the front of the line!
Of course, the 90-minute set was an absolute blinder that, sadly, seemed to fly by in a minute’s time! The wide-ranging show spanned all phases of the band’s long career, from 1979 (“Stay Clean,” “Over The Top,” “Overkill,”) to their 2010 release, The Wörld Is Yours (“I Know How To Die,” “Get Back In Line”).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there was a bit of a lyrical snafu during “Rock Out,” that I mention solely for accuracy in reporting. Fortunately, only the diehards caught it. If anything, it proved one’s heroes are human beings, too, like everyone else. ‘Nuff said!
This was my 30th Motör-gig. That may not sound like many by European standards, where a band can play 5-6 shows in a small country in a week’s time. But, in the US, that means never missing a single tour in thirty years! And apart from one, perhaps ill-advised show in 1982, I can honestly say Motörhead have never disappointed me or put on a bad performance. It’s all or nothing with them. They’re beyond “going to 11.” Hell, they sleep at “12!” That is, if they even sleep at all!
After the show, we hung out on the tour bus for awhile, cracking open that bottle of Jack Daniels! After a few more ciders, it was time for the traveling circus to leave town once again, this time headed to St. Louis.
As always, our immeasurable thanks and gratitude to the entire band and crew, particularly Phil and Arnie, as well as their publicist, for the hospitality, great show, and, of course, my annual worst hangover! Curse you, cider, beer, bourbon, and Jagermeister! Will I ever learn?
We Are Motörhead
Get Back In Line
Over The Top
One Night Stand
Rock Out> Guitar Solo
Thousand Names Of God
I Got Mine
I Know How To Die
The Chase Is Better Than The Catch
In The Name Of Tragedy (Drum Solo)
Just ‘Cos You Got The Power
Going To Brazil
Killed By Death
Ace Of Spades> Introductions