Monday, May 15, 2006

DIVECLUBBING: GWAR, Murphy's Law, Bonham and others who tested the limits of the pure milk of human kindness

In the late Eighties and early Nineties most of the hard rock shows in the Lehigh Valley took place in slums. You had two choices: old tenement-type buildings turned into nightclubs on the southside of Bethlehem or a newer abandoned supermarket in the middle of an asphalt wasteland near the airport.

Here is one Nighclubbing from Wally's, a crumbling wood pillbox owned by a Lehigh University prof. It had holes in its roof and exposed wiring. After writing about the flooding of its interior during a Blissters gig, the mayor of Bethlehem sent in building inspectors and it was condemned. "Thanks, George!" said the prof on the telephone.

Gwar could be counted on to draw 100-200 grimly dedicated fans to these places. Their shows were reliably boring, the sound horrible. When you had to cover them you learned to stay out of the way of the stage ichor so your clothes weren't stained.

(September 1989) Gwar wrestles with garish material at Wally's

Mexican horror wrestling took the stage in the guise of gladiator-rockers GWAR at Wally's in Bethlehem last Saturday. Before a crowd of 110 converts, bodies flew through the air, monster aliens lurked, papier-mache heads rolled, gooey fluids spurted wildly and a scantily clad dancing girl wearing a spiked bra danced lasciviously -- just about what you'd see on the odd Saturday afternoon watching a Mexican horror film on the Spanish cable station.

The members of GWAR have elevated this dubious pleasure to a plane of even greater silliness. It's a grand spectacle but pales in about 20 minutes. The realization dawns about then that the musicians are only tyros barely capable of providing the necessary atmosphere for their wacky skits.

Robosphere, a local white-bread hardcore band, supplied nearly fifty minutes of generic Izod-shirted anger in the opening slot.

Poverty-stricken hardcore bands from New Jersey and NYC also tended to draw decent crowds at the Airport Music Hall, a venue suited for these shows because it was virtually impossible to trash. The Murphy's Laws and Agnostic Fronts of the genre were the picks of a considerable litter.

(April 1, 1990) "Sit home and rot! ROT! Sit home and rot! ROT!" bellowed Jimmy Gestapo of Manhattan hardcore band Murphy's Law last weekend at the Music Hall.

If you were over 18, you'd have done well to heed Gestapo's advice, because the show was one strictly for the young.

About 600 boys in Army boots, flannel shirts and baseball hats (with upturned brims) crowded the stage and butted heads as several local and out-of-town punk rock bands went through their paces.

Murphy's Law caused near Beatle-esque hysteria when it took the stage around 11. But although the kids were ecstatic, the monotonous ramalama, punctuated by occasional flatulent bursts of reggae, was distinctly mediocre. Only the personality of the gooned-out Gestapo kept the band afloat as he guzzled beer from a funnel and landed flat on his back during a kidney-smashing hand flip.

Mucky Pup, a metro-New Jersey quartet, was entertaining for only as long as it took to size up its ursine lead singer as just another beer-swilling clod in a Blair Academy Wrestling sweatshirt willing to shake his stomach flubber at the audience.

And from the same week -- sheez (!) -- as the Gwar show, Bonham sticks it to Music Hall audience:

"I bought a headache" Paul Westerberg of the Replacements sang a number of years ago, referring to a show he'd attended at an arena. Listening to Bonham at the Airport Music Hall was a similar experience.

The crowd of nearly 800 young girls and their predominantly booze-soaked boyfriends lobbied continuously for drum solos from the quartet led by Jason Bonham, the son of the late [blah-blah, you know the drill]. Bonham only delivered boggy songs reminiscent of those late-70's high priests of AOR, Survivor.

The Front preceded Bonham and was the night's one shining moment. Despite equipment failure, leader Michael Franano rallied his troops and led them through a brief set of Cult-inspired bombast. However, the little girls at the front of the stage remained unmoved, even when The Front broke into the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant."

At the bottom of the bill was the East Brunswick, NJ, lite-metal band TNA. (Ha-ha -- what a sense of humor.) The foursome's set was hookless and annoyingly contrived. "I see some pretty girls from East Brunswick who've come all the way to the Music Hall to see us!" cried TNA's vocalist near the end of their set. "Whadda you think of them, Allentown?"

"They're idiots!" someone shot back from the balcony.

The audience laughed.

DANGER DANGER lewded out

(March 1990) An infantile lyric from the Danger Danger song "Naughty Naughty" captured the essence of the Long Island pop metal act's performance last weekend at the Music Hall.

"In your tight dress you look real cute/But I bet you'd look better in your birthday suit!"

In between the quintet's paeans to the pleasures of being "bad, naughty boys," singer Ted Poley and bassist Bruno Ravel leered at and pandered to the teenage women in the audience of over 500.

"All you girls look s-o-o--o nice," cheeped Poley. Apparently to show his sincerity, Poley made a lewd suggestion that cannot be repeated in the newspaper. Some of the audience tittered in appreciation. But many who had been enjoying Danger Danger's frothy Nightranger-meets-Journey pop rock seemed taken aback by the band members' relentless barrage of locker-room humor.

As Danger Danger ground on, the band's saccharine seediness became enervating, the "bad, naughty boy" shtick tedious. The band slaughtered cover versions of The Move's by way of Cheap Trick's "California Man" and Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo." It was as horrible as being chained in a chair and forced to watch MTV for three days straight. Many in Allentown would -- if the turnout at this show was any indication -- relish such treatment.

Opener Heaven's Edge saved the night from a total washout. The Philadelphia quartet put just enough over-the-top muscle into their brand of pop metal to render the performance inspired. As the stage shook to the Bo Diddley thump of Heaven's Edge's "Is That All You Want," it seemed certain that when the band's debut is released by Columbia in April, it will hit the upper reaches of the charts.

In the real world, the Heaven's Edge LP was almost instantly deleted, which demonstrated my powers of divination in 1990.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Bob said...

Say what you want man, but I have nothing but fond memories of the Airport Music Hall from back in the day. I saw tons of great bands there including The Black Crowes, Megadeth and Savotage, Death and Bloodfeast, the Mcauley Schenker Group, Tt Quick and Manowar just to name a few. In fact, I remember one night when a band didn't show up, so at the last minute, Leslie West came down with Joey Franko and Mark Mendoza and they just jammed all night. Great shit! Oh, and I was actually at that bonham gig and, you're right, it sucked. But other than that, the Airport Music Hall was a big part of why my late teens and early twenties were so much fun.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The airport music hall hosted not only a truly counter culture, but the never ending insight into the culture of this nation's youth. Some excellent and never forgetable events were Cromags/Slayer. Henry Rollins went throught his many metamorhpese there. I am searching for old footage from the shows. One particular evening saw the place virtually erupt in violence.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The airport music hall shows will always stay in the memories of every person that was there. The exploited, murphys law, mucky pup, agnostic front, sick of it all, warzone, cro-mags, ramones, m.o.d, etc. were just a few of the great shows where people lined up at the dr to get in. The place got crazy and most people had a story to tell after the show. There has yet to be a place comparable.

5:37 PM  

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