Following up on last month’s tribute to Exciter‘s Heavy Metal Maniac, in his latest Spine of Overkill column, Chris “Woody High” MacDermott takes us back 28 years to a night seeing Exciter, Mercyful Fate and Motörhead share a bill on Dec. 14, 1984, in New York. This is one for the ages. Please enjoy:
Zeptember 1984 was a big month for me. It was the beginning of my senior year of high school but more importantly, the rebirth of Motörhead. 1983′s Another Perfect Day was a great album with Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson, but was not received well by a lot of fans. I saw them live at L’Amours in the summer of ‘83 and was thoroughly blown away. I’d seen the Ramones up close and personal at Iona College and Judas Priest/Iron Maiden at Madison Square Garden in the cheap seats but neither event prepared me for Motörhead’s live assault. My ears rang for EIGHT DAYS afterwards. After Robbo left I faithfully checked every new issue of Kerrang for the latest news on Lemmy’s next move. It was announced that two new, unknown guitarists were to join the band — Phil Campbell and Wurzel. They looked dirty enough for the job. Then it was announced that Philthy Animal Taylor was leaving to go play in Robbo‘s new band. I was relieved to find out that Pete Gill of Saxon was replacing him. Having worn out Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, I knew he was the man for the job.
On a rare Saturday afternoon in Zeptember that I didn’t have to work, I hopped on a Metro-North train into Manhattan then headed downtown to It’s Only Rock N Roll on 8th Street. My mission was to spend every cent I had in my Motörhead velcro wallet on the latest metal releases. Turns out it was my lucky day. They had just gotten in the brand new Motörhead 12″ single “Killed by Death” and a brand new compilation album called No Remorse. Holy shit, I was excited. Not just for new Motörhead jams but No Remorse was in an album sleeve made of LEATHER!! I can’t remember what else I got that day but the awesome photos and liner notes inside No Remorse helped speed up the torturous train ride back to New Rochelle. More than just a greatest hits compilation, No Remorse had four killer new songs and a bunch of rare B-sides that I hadn’t been able to track down yet. The 12″ single had two great new ones, too, both titled “Under the Knife.” Fucking awesome!
But things were about to get even better. It was announced that the new line up of Motörhead were coming to tour the US. In the year since I had first seen them I had browbeaten several of my friends into getting into Motörhead, too. We were all ready. Alcohol and weeed consumption had greatly increased and tolerance for non-heavy jams was now a thing of the past. Metal or die! Motörhead‘s return to New York was scheduled for Friday, December 14, 1984, and they were bringing two of the heaviest bands with them — Mercyful Fate and Exciter. Holy fucking shit. I don’t remember where or when I got tickets but I do recall the weeks leading up to the concert as pure hell. Who wants to go to school or work when the heaviest bands of all time are coming to blow you away?
Finally December 14 arrived and it was time to get a pint of Jack Daniels to slip into the inside pocket of my denim jacket. We met up on the platform of the Metro North station in Pelham to go space truckin’ into NYC. Other passengers were probably going to a fruity Broadway show or something but we were going to see MOTÖRHEAD, MERCYFUL FATE and EXCITER!!! I can’t imagine that we talked about anything other than how awesome it was going to be. Before heading into the Beacon we hung out in Verdi Square on 72nd St. to guzzle JD and Coke and do one hits of cheap Bronx weeed. It was freezing that night but there’s nothing more metal than partying outdoors in the wintertime. Entering the venue was pure heaven. The merch stall was loaded with killer shirts for all three bands. This stuff was really hard to find back then, even in New York City. Not a lot of retailers were interested in carrying t-shirts with slogans like “Violence & Force” on them.
I’m not sure if we sat in our assigned seats or not but we had a killer view in the middle about halfway up from the stage. When Exciter took to the stage I went completely berserk. These guys were my heroes. I played their two albums Heavy Metal Maniac and Violence & Force constantly and I was finally about to see them. They were so loud and so fast I don’t remember seeing much of them because I was banging my head so frantically. Guitarist John Ricci and bassist Allan Johnson were covered in leather and spikes. All I could see of drummer/vocalist Dan Beehler was his enormous mushroom cloud afro behind his giant drum kit and a gooseneck mic stand angled down so he could scream into it. When he wasn’t singing he was headbangning. “Pounding Metal,” “Heavy Metal Maniac” and some other classics were played before Beehler announced a new song. They had a new album coming out called Long Live the Loud and played a song called “Sudden Impact.” Back then I wasn’t used to bands playing songs that hadn’t been released yet but something about this one grabbed me right away. I knew exactly when it was my turn to scream “Sudden Impact” so I did. It was all over and they walked off the stage. What the fuck, that was only like 15 minutes! Man, lemmy tell you, we were PISSED!! We started kicking the seats in front of us and screaming about “what kind of bullshit is this?” etc. Still fuming, we went downstairs to take a leak and stumbled upon an unlocked janitor’s closet. The memory is foggy but I do recall knocking over some shelves full of paint cans, making a big mess while ranting and raving about the injustice of Exciter‘s short set. I mean, really? Why bring them all the way to NYC from Ottawa for 15 fuckin’ minutes? They didn’t even get to play “Iron Dogs!”
Our mood improved when we stole some money off of one of the bars to buy beer. Mercyful Fate was up next and they better be really fucking good if they were going to be following Exciter. I must admit that back then I wasn’t sure how I felt about Fate. I loved their music but found King Diamond‘s singing pretty annoying. Bob Muldowney of my favorite fanzine Kick*Ass had started calling him Queen Rhinestone so I did, too. Fate‘s audience included a lot of dudes who were pretending to be Satanists, which I thought was silly. I had heard rumors of cults in Yonkers and White Plains but the reality was that they were living with their parents and smoking a lot of weeed, just like I was. I had a job after school and on the weekends which didn’t leave me a lot of time to worship Satan. Anyway, Mercyful Fate started playing and most people loved it while some hated it. I was pretty indifferent. I was also completely blotto. King Diamond was doing his banter in between songs in that ridiculous falsetto, which I thought was totally lame. I wasn’t really impressed with his bone mic stand, either but the band was tight as shit. I don’t think I watched their entire set and probably went back to the bar to try and steal more money for beer. I actually like Mercyful Fate a lot more now than I did back then and am able to enjoy King‘s unique voice. I often fantasize about an album I’d love to produce called Diamond Meets Diamond, duets between King Diamond and Neil Diamond. Can you imagine the incredible version of “Delilah” they could do?
Once Fate was done, it was time for the main event – MOTÖRHEAD! Exciter and Mercyful Fate both had a lot of amps on stage but Motörhead’s backline dwarfed them. This was gonna be good. Back then smoking was still allowed at shows and there was always a giant cloud of pot smoke over the crowd. As we were sitting there wishing we had saved some of our weeed, a good samaritan turned around and passed us a HUGE joint. It was Jim and Pete, two friends from Pelham that were a year or two ahead of us. They must have spotted us and decided to help us out. This random act of kindness would be repeated several times over the years – Johnny Winter, also at the Beacon, Bad Brains at L’Amours, Rollins Band at CBGB. Thanks again bros, I owe you both big time.
Now that our attitudes had been fully adjusted and my insanity level was at its peak, Motörhead strolled out. Lemmy picked up an empty Jack Daniels bottle off the stage and yelled into the mic “I get hit with anything, the show’s over!” before blasting off with “Iron Fist.” Just as I had hoped, it was really, really loud. The headbanging I’d done earlier in the night was merely a warmup. “Stay Clean,” “Metropolis,” and “Ace of Spades” were mixed in with the new “Killed by Death” and “Steal Your Face.” Everyone was going completely mental. Rows of seats were now completely loose, not just from people kicking them but from shaking them violently as they clutched them while headbanging. This was before slam dancing, or “moshing,” became expected at metal shows. Hair was flying around, fists pumping and row after row of heads moving in unison like pistons in a giant engine of steel. While introducing the song “Jailbait” Lemmy demanded to see some tits and several ladies obliged. Could things get any better? Yup. When they cranked out “No Class” none other than Wendy O. Williams came flying out on stage to sing it. She had barely any clothes on and was screaming her brains out while running around like a maniac. Eventually it all came to an end with “Overkill,” as it always should. Dumbfounded, everyone left. There was no question that Motörhead wrote the book on what was becoming known as thrash metal and were about to write a few new chapters for everyone else to steal from.
This really was one of the greatest nights of my life. It was so much fun and so full on. Not much has topped it in the past 28 years. As fate would have it, December 14, 201,2 fell on a Friday night and my band Mighty High played a gig at Trash Bar in Brooklyn. Was it anything close to what went down in 1984? No fucking way, but not a bad way to have celebrated this anniversary. Stay clean in 2013!