Motorhead Hammersmith Apollo, London, 22/11/4008

Tue 9th December 2008

Support from Saxon, Danko Jones


Autumn turns to winter, and Motorhead roll into town once more on their UK jaunt. A friend informed my in the past that "you can set your watch by them", so reliable are their shows, as are their annual tours and their twice yearly albums. After thirty years plus, Lemmy's band of merry men have settled into a pattern that's pleasing to see, like a train turning up on time.

Sometimes, though, patterns breed over-familiarity, and indeed the last time I caught a Motorhead tour it struck me that it was no different from the first tour I'd seen them do. It had a feeling of deja-vu about it, which took the edge off the show slightly. The first time seeing them in 2004 had been a revelation; going for the support (Sepultura), I had ended up clicking with Motorhead a few songs into their set, realising that the only thing to do here was to go completely bonkers and stay in the pit most of the time.

This time, I'd left it late to get a ticket. Only the fact that Saxon (another band I only clicked with live) were supporting had finally tempted me into going, and consequently I was seated right at the back of the balcony. I was expecting to enjoy the show, but felt that I could almost predict Motorhead's slot.

Danko Jones were the first band on. They were decent, not decent enough to prise me out of my comfortable seat high in the auditorium, but acceptable, reasonably good hard rock. The frontman's comments seemed a little over the top and egocentric, until I realised that he was only putting on a act to entertain. I hope so, anyway. If that was his actual persona I'd be slightly concerned.

Decided to stand at the back of the balcony leaning on the rail there for Saxon's set. I'd meant to see them for a while before this year, and now this would be my third time in 7 months. They came on to an intro tape of 'Jerusalem' (score!) and were up to their usual high standards. Saxon are a band whose studio work I like but don't often visit; live they seem much more satisfying, giving songs like 'Motorcycle Man' more muscle and power. Their newer material would put quite a few thrash bands to shame with its heaviness and speed as well. I love it when a band gets louder as they get older, showing the younger groups how it's done. This was helped by guitarist Doug Scaratt, a man who has only been in the band a decade but whose presence seems to invigorate them. My goodness, the man can SHRED. And in a good way too. His solos would not be out of place in a group such as Megadeth, they are powerful, incredibly fast, technical and yet interesting and melodic. Perhaps Saxon's strongest weapon, though vocalist Biff Byford is also in remarkably good shape considering his length of time in music.

Saxon's set is not that long, but very high in quality. The best moment is probably the debut of two new songs, from their next album due out in a few month's time. One is a reasonably good hard rocker called 'Live to Rock' (hmm, original), but the other is called 'Hellcat' and it's a monster, immensely powerful riffage and great soloing. Take note Trivium. This is what is called good heavy metal.

The band bring Toby Jepson (I think?) on to help them sing '747 (Strangers In The Night)' then end their set with one of the best songs written about a train, 'Princess of the Night'. Good stuff.

And so to Motorhead. I notice as the lights dim and the intro tape goes silent, that everyone in the seating area is standing up. I've only really seen this happen for Iron Maiden, so it is pleasing to have it happen here as the atmosphere is better when people stand. I don't bother going back to my seat but eventually work my way into a position on the stairs where I can get a good view.

Motorhead are excellent. This was my fifth time seeing them and they were better than all the other occasions, apart from perhaps the first one. They open with 'Iron Fist' which sounds great and is a MUCH better opener than the frankly mediocre 'Doctor Rock' they've been using previously. 'Stay Clean' comes next with its bass solo which demands a spot of air bass playing. Even standing up in the balcony, the set is immensely enjoyable and by the fifth song in I'm headbanging continuously, my neck and shoulder muscles are aching all over and I'm intermittently air guitaring, wondering how much longer I can physically hold out.

The band ask the audience if they want the sound turned up. The audience roars its approval. Things get louder and even though I'm at the back of the venue I'm wondering how much my hearing will take.

Though I get the deja-vu feeling on some songs tonight, the setlist has been shaken around slightly and it's pleasing to hear a couple of cuts off the new album aired, in particular the fantastic 'The Thousand Names Of God.' More pleasing still is after a very good and almost prgo-esque guitar solo spot from Phil Campbell (who is another very underrated guitarist and is on form tonight, as always), the band play the title track from 'Another Perfect Day' - a big surprise as I doubt this has been played in 25 years. It's an absolute highlight and sounds much better than I remembered from the studio version. There is also a drum solo later on in the set, but with Mikkey Dee being a brilliant dummer it's not too long and isn't boring either, given how hard he hits the skins.

For 'Killed By Death' the band are joined onstage by some topless burlesque dancers who breathe fire. Not seen this at a show before and it's rather entertaining, though not as entertaining as the restoration of 'Bomber' to the set, which I haven't heard live before and gets a big response from the crowd.

The encore slows things down a tad, with the acoustic 'Whorehouse Blues' during which Mikkey Dee plays an acoustic guitar while operating a hi-hat cymbal and a kick drum. Multi tasking like this is something I'd never be able to master so it's fascinating to watch. Then plugging in again we end with 'Ace of Spades' and 'Overkill' which I go crazy to and nearly fall over from headbanging. There is so much strobe lighting I can't look at the stage properly, and the topless dancers come back on again to breathe more fire around. Excellent!

The hum of feedback resounds throughout the venue for a good few minutes after the band have left the stage, entrancing, deafening, hypnotic. My ears aren't working as well as they should, and my neck and shoulder muscles are incredibly sore. But that's the thing about seeing Motorhead - contemplating their music while standing still doesn't work for me. I have to go crazy to it to get the best time - and for a band of their caliber, it's the only way to respond. A somewhat surprising entry into my best gigs of the year. No sleep 'til Hammersmith indeed.


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