As a metal fan of a “certain age,” one of the methods by which I became acquainted with many of my favorite bands was via a handful of dedicated and reliable magazines, such as the UK’s Kerrang, and Metal Forces – along with countless imperfectly fantastic fanzines, a la Kick Ass Monthly, Metal Mania, The New Heavy Metal Review and many others. There were also the few-and-far-between terrestrial college radio metal shows, on which you could actually hear notable bands from across respective ponds, as well as demo, and difficult to find cuts from the up-and-coming brigade. However, more often than not, it was experiencing these bands throwing down before my very eyes and ears in the clubs that completed the conversion to “fan.” There was absolutely nothing like it.
These early gigs were incredibly special happenings; most of which were on the radar to only a select few, who sought out an alternative to the same-old, same-old dated crap being force-fed to us by commercial radio stations. We would eventually come to realize that these audio graveyards were only concerned with raking-in advertising dollars, and preserving their precious FCC licenses. Fuck that! I wanted a multi-dimensional experience that would change my life, and fortunately, I, along with a small army of likeminded others, got to share in many magical moments. Growing up here in New York City, I was really lucky. Bands wanted – make that, needed to play here, and there were venues to support their efforts. Whether it was at one of the infamous club spots such as L’amour in Brooklyn, L’amour East in Queens, The Ritz – or one of the Big Apple’s legendary halls, these were some of the greatest times of my life, and the gigs listed below, were serious game-changers; not only for me, but for heavy metal legions everywhere!
Black Sabbath (w/Aerosmith)
Madison Square Garden
December 3, 1975
This was the mighty Black Sabbath’s first time headlining, “The world’s most famous arena.” Sure Sabbath had made their way to the New York area on a number of occasions prior to ‘75, but this cold December evening was their true New York City coming-out party. They were the top-billed band on the night – at Madison Square fucking Garden – with THAT sound, and THOSE lyrics, and all of the corresponding dark vibes and imagery.
The show was like a funeral for those “classic rock” artists the kids we hated in school represented, with patches and acrylic paint on their denim jackets; that made us wonder if there was something out there for US. Well, the fearsome-foursome from Birmingham, England showed everyone, that all that glittered was NOT necessarily gold, and there was a glorious dark side to explore, and they now did so in context to all of the other arena concerts folks we’d become all too used to. Completely flipped-the-script they did, and now, it was on display for the whole world to see.
Judas Priest/Iron Maiden
July 21, 22, 23, 24 1981
As the younger generation was tiring of the existing crop of “heavier” bands, such as Deep Purple, and maybe even Black Sabbath to a degree, the New Wave of British heavy metal was coming into focus; even here in the States, and its kings were undoubtedly Judas Priest, with Iron Maiden quickly taking the place position. Obviously, having been booked for four nights at the 2,500 or so capacity Palladium confirmed that these bands were indeed nobody’s secret, but still – if you were into these bands in 1981, you felt as if you were a card-carrying member of a secret society. This stint in New York City was part of Priest’s Point of Entry tour, and Iron Maiden’s first venture into the U.S. supporting the incredible Killers album.
The atmosphere inside was truly unlike any at a concert most had ever been a part of. Naturally, weed was wafting through the air, and beer was flowing, but EVERYONE was there for the music first and foremost. Finally – OUR heroes were here, and grinding all that we’d known before about heavy music to dust. The heavy-ass, dual guitar attack from both acts was mesmerizing. Halford commanded the stage like a god, and the almost punk, gruff howlings of Paul Di’Anno’s were respectively unique…just special. The shows were communal to the point of feeling like Grateful Dead shows, with the punters comparing set-lists from the previous nights (which weren’t all that different), and discussing which tunes they were psyched to have heard live. As far as I’m concerned, these shows, and these bands set the tone for ALL heavy metal to come.
May 14, 1982
Talk about, “Which of these things is not like the other” – the answer from this night on would be Motorhead! Unbeknownst to those in attendance, this would be the band’s final show featuring the classic Lemmy/Philthy/Fast-Eddie line-up, but fuck if anyone noticed there was a storm brewing. Motorhead was so fucking loud, it bordered on painful, but I, for one, wasn’t going to let anyone know I felt that way. The crowd was grimy as hell – bikers, Metallers, punks and degenerates from all over filled the Palladium to see one of the most blinding performances of all-time by any band.
The set-list didn’t differ a whole lot from the No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith live masterpiece, but this was Motorhead in four friggin’ D. Lemmy held his position behind his infamous tilted-downward mic, like a soldier commanding his troops. Phil’s double bass hit you in the chest like a shotgun blast, and Fast Eddie Clarke wailed and riffed like a monster. We were steamrolled, and pummeled, and it felt like nothing else in the world, in the best possible way. If you weren’t down with Motorhead from then on, you were a pussy!
August 3, 1984
This one here ushered in the new breed; the independent underground stepping-up and saying “we’re here motherfuckers.” The 3,200 capacity Roseland was beyond stuffed with those who had lovingly followed Raven for several years prior; the crew faithfully latching-on to Metallica, as they were rapidly proving to be the most exciting band on the planet, as well as the few and the proud who loved having Anthrax as their hometown entry into the next-big-metal band sweepstakes.
Interestingly, all three bands on the bill were signed to major record labels subsequent to this gig, but there was no question – it was Metallica’s night. They were loud as fuck, raw and crushing. Metallica raised the flag of modern metal, and violently waved it in the face of everyone, whether they wanted it, or they didn’t – which wasn’t a problem, because EVERYONE in that building wanted it, and then some. The united front put forth by the crowd was intense. It was all about showing and proving its appreciation for what these bands, especially Metallica were doing. They were destroying the old, simply by existing, and kids became more and more rabid with each song culled from Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning. In fact, Raven, although turning in an excellent set, clearly suffered in the “headlining” slot from having to follow Metallica. They were just that intense.
April 3, 1985
By the time the “Combat Tour” hit Manhattan’s former disco stronghold, Studio 54, Metallica was THE standard by which all metal would be judged. Naturally, there were those who had already tired of Met’s formula, and were out to discover the harder, faster and more brutal metal bands out there. In-fact, the metal sub-genre game had already reached the point where THIS show was too commercial for some.
Anyway – the anticipation for this evening was incredible. Despite their more recent “meh” releases, the mighty Venom was making their return to New York City; Slayer was to appear in New York, for the very first time, and only semi-expectedly, Exodus was to play New York for the very first time as well (original openers Oz couldn’t straighten out their visa problems, and were replaced). Once inside the infamous house of cocaine and BJ’s, it was clear – this wasn’t your older brother’s ,etal show. Kids had opened up a pit to thrash to the PA music before any had even played, which ranged from up-to-date underground metal, to pre-crossover Hardcore.
A pretty incredible sight, as were the numerous NYHC scenesters in attendance; not yet known for their support of metal. San Francisco’s finest, Exodus eventually took the stage to a surprising amount of headbangers who knew who they were, and Baloff and co. were welcomed with a great reaction. New Yorkers finally got to see what the hype was all about. And then – SLAYER! Their presence begged the question, “Venom who?” Yup – they absolutely killed! This was Slayer at the front-end of their prime; destroying the building with every passing second. The crowd reacted loudly, and aggressively, and if you didn’t want to move, you might as well have left the building. When I think of Slayer, this is the gig that comes to mind. Absolutely crushing! As for Venom, they performed a painfully mediocre set, minus one Mantas, who was unable to enter the U.S. in time for this show, which was well-documented in the “Ultimate Revenge” home video, on which Venom’s set was replaced with older video content (which truthfully was more entertaining than they were at Studio 54). This show divided NYC’s true thrash metal soldiers, from the part-timers. Regardless – posers were nowhere to be found.
April 28, 1986
This show (and the entire tour) became known as, “Oh – that was the night Metallica blew Ozzy off the stage,” and really – why should that have been surprising? It’s hard to believe that ANYONE wasn’t a fan of Metallica by this point, but the old-guard, who were still anxiously clutching onto their AC/DC and Scorpions albums, were served their pink slips after this one. Ozzy represented the old, and Metallica, the new. As Metallica toured in support of Master of Puppets, and took the fuck over! You know the rest . . . and I bet you have an opinion or two as to what took place afterward.