During the late eighties and early nineties, I shelled out far too much money on watching far too many hair metal bands play live.1 I saw concerts from most of the major players on the hair-metal scene between the time I was 15 and 22. Please note that what follows below aren’t necessarily my five favorite hair-metal bands – not even close, honestly – but the five shows that I enjoyed the most.
5. Mötley Crüe with Warrant, Mobile Civic Center, Mobile, Alabama, 1989.
I was never a huge Crüe fan – their campy faux-devil-worship early in their career really left a bad taste in my mouth – but this show was from the tour supporting their Dr. Feelgood album, by far my favorite of theirs (not coincidentally their most mainstream-pop album). And besides that, I wanted to go see a Crüe show for the sheer spectacle of it. Their concerts were supposed to be pyrotechnically-infused wonderlands of light and really, really loud sound. They didn’t disappoint, either, blowing my eardrums and burning my eyes with all of the many, many, many explosions. The show also featured the sight of Tommy Lee’s drum riser being hydraulically lifted fifty feet in the air and then floated out over the first few rows of the audience; a Speedo-clad Lee then descended a rope from the elevated riser down into the ecstatic crowd. Definitely an entertaining show.
This concert was also the first time I was conscious of a band using piped-in pre-recorded vocals to augment their sound – Warrant, then on their first major tour, sounded just a little bit too good, if you know what I’m saying.
4. Warrant, The Rock-It Club, Tampa, Florida, 1992.
The second time I saw Warrant, however, it was all them. (Yes, Warrant is on this list twice. Deal.) This show was a surprise show at the now-defunct Rock-It Club, which at the time was the rock club in Tampa. Warrant had been recording their third album, Dog Eat Dog, in Tampa (a couple of the guys actually shopped sometimes in the record store where I worked), and this show was to test out some of the new material they’d been working on. The guys sounded tight and seemed like they were really having a blast playing in front of people – I’d imagine that they didn’t get to play out much when recording – and seemed really happy with the new material. (The album absolutely tanked when it came out; between the time I saw this show and the album’s release date, grunge had made bands like Warrant culturally irrelevant.)
The best part of this show, though, had nothing to do with Warrant. Late in the show, my buddy Bill elbowed me and directed my attention to a chubby, mustachioed guy standing about twenty feet to his right.
“Dude, isn’t that Ron Jeremy?”
It damn sure was: The Hedgehog himself. Bill and I both tore our attention away from the rock onstage to go shake the man’s hand and tell him we were big fans of his work. He was very gracious about the whole thing; only later did it occur to me to wonder where his hand might have been before we shook it.
3. Def Leppard, Hampton, Virginia, 1992.
This show was the first date on the Lep’s Adrenalize tour; six friend of mine and I drove from Tampa to Virginia (about 16 hours of driving each way) just to be at the first show on the tour. Personally, I could’ve waited until they played somewhere closer, but my buddies were just tremendous Lepheads (yeah, I know) and being at that particular show was really important to them. So we made the drive, and it certainly turned out to be a great concert: this was during their years of playing in the round and they didn’t even bother with an opening act, preferring instead to come out and rock our socks off for three full hours instead.
2. Queensrÿche with Suicidal Tendencies, State Palace Theater, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1992.
Completely disregard Suicidal Tendencies. I didn’t like them even a smidge before this show, and I hated having to sit through them. They were absolutely terrible (or perhaps just absolutely Not My Thing). But as much as I hated them, that’s how much I loved Queensrÿche.
The Empire tour, in addition to supporting one my favorite metal albums ever, was the tour during which Queensrÿche (always one of the most intelligent and literate of the metal bands) performed the entirety of their landmark concept album Operation: Mindcrime start to finish. So they came out, played a bunch of songs I really liked, then played the whole Mindcrime album (complete with conceptual video footage on the giant movie screens behind the stage) and then played some more songs I really liked after. And they sounded fantastic – Geoff Tate’s piercing vocals were every bit as impressive live as on record. Just a fantastic show. Fantastic enough to blot the memory of Suicidal Tendencies from my brain.
1. Guns ‘n’ Roses with Soundgarden, Thunderdome, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1992.
Oh, man. Just… oh, man. This show (part of the Use Your Illusion tour) was not just the best metal concert I’ve seen, but the best concert, period. Even better than Neil Diamond. (Seriously.)
We missed most of Soundgarden since my friend Bill, who was the only Tampa native in our group, promised he could easily get us to the Thunderdome (as Tropicana Field was then called) – but then got so shitfacedly drunk before we even left the house that he couldn’t remember how we were supposed to get there. (Bill missed most of the GnR show because of his repeated trips to the bathroom to hurl.)
And man, what a show he missed. The only way the set list could have been better would have been for Axl Rose to call me up the morning of the show and ask which songs I wanted them to play that night. They did every song I knew they’d play; they did every song that I thought they might play; and they played every song that I loved but assumed there was no way in hell they’d do. And even though they’d had an opening act, they still played for three-and-a-half straight hours – and they rocked every one of those 210 minutes. Axl’s vocal gymnastics, Slash’s blistering guitar (the most impressive guitar performance I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Eddie Van Halen)… oh, man. Just… oh, man.
Funny how even though the term “hair metal” was so derogatory to those bands who played mainstream pop-infused metal and looked pretty while doing it, it seems now to be the accepted term for that particular slice of the late-eighties musical pie. I suppose the hair-metal bands who still tour, now playing in front of small clubs rather than packed arenas, might still consider the term derogatory, but their protestations just aren’t heard by many people anymore. ↩