Bar Fights, Brawls, Fires – The Five Most Unusual Concert Experiences

April 23, 2019, 3 months ago

By Mark Gromen

feature heavy metal motorhead overkill bolt thrower silver talon tad

Bar Fights, Brawls, Fires – The Five Most Unusual Concert Experiences

What a long strange trip... Been attending rock shows for 40 years. When I started out, the hockey arena shows had a perennial smoky haze hovering over the floor at about the level of the second tier and the only real “danger” was not being alert to the Frisbees that descended from multiple angles, threatening to spill your beer, or knock someone in the head, whichever was worse. Seen lots of strange and wonderful things. Some have been comical, luckily, none were horrific, although a few and/or their location have been scary, if not outright dangerous: most notoriously: Cricket Club, in Irvington, NJ, Blondies and the bombed-out Beirut looking neighborhood surrounding Harpos, in Detroit, during the ‘80s. Hear it's not gotten any better in the intervening years!

Most of the destruction occurs outside the venue. Someone walking towards L'Amours (Brooklyn), having just left the subway, tossed a beer bottle at the car where we were pre-gaming. Somehow it didn't break, but the bottle's outline was permanently etched in the passenger side window. Left Birch Hill (Old Bridge, NJ) to find both of my Mustang's side mirrors kicked off (Yes, kicked! Boot prints were visible on the hood and roof). Never found either mirror. Had mace/pepper spray go off in the crowd on more than one occasion. First time Exciter were in Cleveland, they played the cinderblock cellar beneath the Agora (aka the Pop Shop). Periodically, they had to stop the show and air the place out, as an overzealous fog machine not only obliterated the band from sight (set up on the floor, fans standing around them, at eye level), but choked out the breathable air. Similar situation at Hole in the Sky festival (Bergen, Norway) when 1349 ignited multiple phosphorous flares, precipitating a temporary break in the action.

Big show or small, anything can happen. Was at Wacken when Stratovarius singer Timo Kotipelto's hand melted in a pyro effect (although didn't know it until well after the fact) and the aborted Motorhead set, as Lemmy succumbed to the heat, giving the first indication of just how ill he was. Saw Tobias Sammet (Edguy) fall off a two meter high stage at Bang Your Head. Have witnessed Armored Saint with about two dozen people, at the Troc, half that (so everyone could lean on the Showplace stage, in Dover, NJ) for Tank, a couple of friends and I (plus bar staff) for Raven at Conduit, in Trenton, NJ and similarly sparse “audience” for The Organization (Death Angel guys) in an early ‘90s converted storefront window, in Allentown, PA. First time I saw Slayer, it was only 20 minutes, the band arriving late, drunk and too close to closing time. Saw Metallica open Fountain Casino (Aberdeen, NJ) for Twisted Sister. When Metal Church came to Cleveland, touring for the debut, I worked their merch booth at Peabody's (in the Flats) for the princely sum of $20, plus a free t-shirt & baseball cap.

Had to go onstage and cut the Primal Fear encore, mid-song, at the BW&BK 6-pack show I produced, an event which also saw Candlemass finish a cappella, the power having been terminated by the Odeon. Trying to take photos, have been kicked, spit on and even had my forehead split open by a wayward bass headstock. Things don't always go as planned, so here are my top five most unusual “concert” experiences.

MOTÖRHEAD - Bring Down The House at Variety Theater: Lakewood, OH
December 2nd, 1984

Regular concert stop, with Mercyful Fate and Exciter in tow. Truth be told, more were infatuated with the undercard, than the headliner, at that time. Maybe Lemmy felt he had something to prove, but legend claims 130 decibels were unleashed that evening.

Like the Opera House in Toronto, Stanley (Pittsburgh), Tower (Philly) and countless other venues around North America, the Variety was an early 20th century vaudeville-turned-movie house, complete with balcony and ornate loge boxes. This predates the movement to save the old architecture, so having fallen into disrepair, it became the home of live rock music. Even for a veteran of many metal shows, this was LOUD (was a college DJ and spent nearly every weekend at at least one gig, local or national). Maybe it began earlier, but midway through the Head-lining set, noticed bits of the plaster ceiling falling. We're not talking a snowflake like dusting, but noticeable chunks. I watched as one of the sculpted handrails on the opera box, overhead, “magically” disintegrated, right before my eyes. The concussive reverberations leaving exposed wrought iron where just seconds before (and for many decades prior), a flowery pattern, in white, had resided. At this point, watching became more important than listening.

At some point, the house became aware and power was cut, but the band proceeded to finish out (minus any amplification) with “Bomber” and “Overkill”. Everything louder than everything else, indeed.

OVERKILL - Indoor Rainout at Trocadero: Philadelphia, PA
June 3rd, 1990

Like many of the Sunday matinee shows at the Troc, metalheads congregated at the Shogun, a Japanese restaurant next door, for cheap beers. Little did they know we'd be right back. The show began like many others, packed to the gills, so I took up residency at the balcony bar. Just a song or two into the set and the fire suppression sprinkler system kicked on. It was hot in there, but not THAT hot (having survived the 115 degree inferno of the Phantasy Night Club, in Lakewood, Ohio, three years, to the day, earlier!), where material for the Fuck You Ep was recorded (as well as Megadeth, eventually releasing the full concert, as part of the 25th anniversary edition of Peace Sells). Apparently someone thought it would be “cute” to hold a cigarette lighter up to the heat indicators.

At first the rabid fans relished the downpour, not letting the deluge curtail their thrashing about. Water started cascading down the steps of the balcony and spilling over,onto the patrons (and soundboard) below. Didn't take long to fry the circuits, killing all power to the stage and thereby, ending the show after just a couple of songs. Ironically, “Powersurge” was situated second in the setlist on that leg of the Years Of Decay tour! Downstairs, some used the ponding water as a giant Slip & Slide, diving headfirst across the floor.

Overkill made up the show, a few weeks later. After the first few numbers Blitz addressed the crowd (from under an umbrella!), saying, “Anyone heard the forecast? Supposed to look like rain in here today.”

BOLT THROWER - Two Room Barfight at G Willikers, Pennsauken, NJ
October 26th, 1991

Little dive in the suburbs of Philly, had previously seen life as a biker bar and before that, hangout for the Gambino mob. Strange NJ rules about drinking and live shows, as long as the alcohol was kept separate, could have underage kids. So bar was in a different room (along with pool table). Couldn't see the bands, while seated, having a drink, but certainly could hear them through sheet rocked walls. Besides, none of these bands had any stage show, let alone the space for one. Believer and Sacrifice were also on the bill, along with a host of locals. A skinhead chapter was headquartered right up the street. Tightly packed and hopped up, during the Brits' set a full scale melee broke out on the floor, band swinging (and connecting, or so the story goes) a spiked wooden baseball bat.

Only two ways out, through the main door, behind the band, or via the adjoining bar (where I was seated, with my friend). As the chaos spilled into our sector (and not knowing what was happening), grabbed all the pool cues and handed them to the girl behind the counter (having worked in a bar myself, during college) and headed for the exit. Thankfully didn't have to encounter anyone and the police were soon on the scene. The abbreviated set and aftermath are now somewhat legendary, the actual facts, with time, having been obscured, including tales of one head impaled by nails, a band beatdown and some attributing the behavior to Bolt Thrower's reluctance to tour the States thereafter.

At the 1:04 mark:

TAD - Attacked Onstage at Middle East: Philadelphia, PA
July 8th, 1995

Concept of holding rock/metal concerts in a Middle Eastern themed restaurant was strange to begin with. While the small live room was separate from the eating area (complete with belly dancers) the patrons still looked on, in horror, at the black shirted interlopers. Mid-90s was a rough time for American metalheads, as the scene dried up and in the wake of grunge, a slew of “heavy alternative” (as they were marketed) bands populated the touring landscape.

Still not sure why I was at this show, probably as a favor to some publicist, as I was writing for Concrete Marketing at this point. Anyway, the Seattle based outfit was fronted by blubbery frontman/guitarist/namesake, Tad Doyle. There was a small balcony (fit about a dozen people, uncomfortably) overlooking the minuscule stage. Fairly early on a contingent of Nazi skinheads took over the floor, with violent slam dancing and sieg heil salutes. Not sure why, but for a period, East Coast shows were populated by such behavior and it usually didn't end well. In this case, fighting broke out between the skins, fans and the band. Can still remember Doyle swinging his guitar, two hands gripping the neck, like a Northwest lumberjack, attempting to fell a tree, as mayhem swirled all around. When calm was restored, the show was canceled.

SILVER TALON - Get the Firehouse! at Kung Fu Necktie: Philadelphia, PA
November 19th, 2018

In some ways, things have come full circle, with a dearth of live clubs to play and heavy metal once again fighting to be heard, in a sea of dance (hip hop) music. So back into small, sometimes inadequate, rooms we go. Burgeoning bands are just happy to have anywhere to ply their craft, especially as they venture around the country, to unfamiliar territories. Case in point, Oregon based traditional metallers, Silver Talon, in Philly on a low budget headlining tour.

The band delivered a high energy show to a handful of diehards, complete with their own light show and a pair of active smoke machines. At the end of their set, as they prepared to play “Power Rising” (irony, again), a song from their previous incarnation (as Spellcaster), the electricity inexplicably cuts off, and a fire engine pulls up, outside. Red light sirens rotated as a fireman, in full regalia and carrying an axe, wades through the sea of artificial stage fog, a coating so heavy it apparently triggered the smoke detectors, thus (falsely) alerting the firefighters. A full account of the event can be read here.

So there you have it, the good, the bad & the ugly... can't wait for my next show! Who knows what will happen?


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