Motörhead rules

Lemmy and crew bring heavy rock to annihilate the Brick Works

KING OF SPEED <br>Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, the brains <i>and</i> the brawn behind the genius that is Motörhead, has been touring his brainchild for 25 years.

Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, the brains and the brawn behind the genius that is Motörhead, has been touring his brainchild for 25 years.

photo by Ingrid Seynaeve

Believe it or else, Lemmy is what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.

In my book, there are only two bands in the history of rock worth their weight in spit, and that is the Ramones and Motörhead—the latter of which is fronted by the legendary Lemmy Kilmister. Both bands cut their first albums the same year—1977, in seemingly futile attempts to stave off the inevitable social perversion of disco—and while both are credited with inadvertently inspiring the genres they never truly fit into (punk and metal), both never truly gained the kudos they richly deserved for pioneering those categories.

In these days of cross-genre hybrids, it’s hard for anyone to imagine the underground music atmosphere in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when punk and metal scenes often banged heads. These were the days of animosity between safety-pinned mohawks and denim-clad longhairs, when each camp did its bloody-minded best to grind the other’s teeth into shattered nubs against urban gutters. Indicative of the two bands’ iconoclastic standing however, was the unspoken truism that the T-shirts of both were considered neutral colors while entering enemy territory.

The first Motörhead show I saw was back in ‘81, at the now-defunct I-Beam, where glams, mods, punks, goths, new-wavers, metalheads and even honest-to-gawd Hell’s Angels mixed it up without a cocked eyebrow, as if the show was nothing more than a friendly dress ball. It is a tribute to Motörhead that it’s not considered any specific ‘type” of band at all, it’s just … Motörhead.

The ugliest band in the world.

The band so ugly that, if its members moved in next door, your lawn would die. The band that took its name from an extracurricular activity—dealing with mechanics—that kept it going in the early days. Take a look at one of its early album covers—Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, Iron Fist—and you can almost taste the ground-in taint from thousands of miles’ worth of road dust and oil wafting from the members’ denim jackets. Their music could be compared to one of those high-speed crashes from a ‘70s car chase flick, a seemingly unending cacophony of tortured, smoking metal hurling ass-over-teakettle down a sun-scorched highway, dizzying chaos tightly focused in an unwavering close-up. And, as an equally dizzying array of backup musicians coming and going over the past 25-odd years has proved, Motörhead is primarily Lemmy.

According to European lore, any man born on Christmas Eve—as Lemmy Kilmister was back in 1945—is predestined to become a werewolf. On stage, Lemmy actually does sound and look like some hellish beast, albeit one being fed ass-end first into a garbage disposal, head cranked back at breakneck angle to howl up at the microphone, vocal chords straining like stalks of celery and face clenched like a sweaty clenched fist, as if the sound of his gargling-with-broken-glass howl pains even him.

The distinctiveness of his growl is matched only by the familiarity of his bass lines, one of the most immediately recognizable sounds in rock and roll, a percolating boil of molten sludge that serves as the serpentine backbone to the band.

But the man obviously has a sense of humor (he has to; he was fired in the mid-'70s by Hawkwind, of all bands), as he proved in the film documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years, showing he was the sole class act out of all the LA musicians profiled by not being trés full of himself. From having his trademark ‘chops immortalized by Harry Shearer in This Is Spinal Tap and singing a duet of “Stand By Your Man” with Wendy O. Williams, to tweaking his own image by quoting Shakespeare, serving as “The Narrator” in Troma’s traumatized version of Romeo & Juliet, “Tromeo & Juliet,” Lemmy has proven that heavy, heavy music doesn’t require equally leaden attitude.

Today, it’s up to young bands like Green Day to wear their Ramones tees on stage in tribute while “radio-friendly” superstars like Metallica honor Lemmy by dressing up like him on his 50th birthday—muttonchops, warts and all—and tearing through a set of Motörhead standards at his party.

Best of all, Lemmy taught me what an umlaut was—but not how to use it properly. For that, I’m going to the show to see how it’s done.

Motörhead will be playing an 18-and-over show at the Brickworks in support of its latest album, We Are Motörhead, on another perfect day, 10.1.01.