Thursday November 18th, 1999 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
S.O.D., Crowbar, Skinlab & Truth
There are times when everything you have learned about life and yourself are completely negated. S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death) were one of my favourite bands in the mid 80s. I skated to them and thrashed around my parents' house to them non-stop. They were heroes. Years passed and singer Billy Milano's combination of juvenile and xenophobic lyrics weren't so appealing. I began to detest heroes in most every form and so S.O.D. were relegated to laughable status.
So why was I so excited when I saw flyers for an upcoming S.O.D. show? Honestly I don't know. The excitement was coming from somewhere other than my brain. Nostalgia? Sure. Kitsch? Some of that too. An interest more primal? Maybe, but whatever the reason, after a two month wait I left work and headed to the Bottleneck.
Lawrence's Truth began the show with a blend of hardcore and metal in what was a pretty obvious division -- the guitarist and vocalist were both younger and sporting the new baggy fashions and backward hats while the two guitarists were old school metal (the drummer wasn't so obvious about his alliances). Although the band played a tight set of enjoyable tunes, the audience wasn't very involved. Sensing this, one of the guitarists continually hollered for the audience to start a mosh pit or to come up front. Although it didn't entice the crowd (as it never really does) it did give him belligerent points which are important in metal today (as I understand it). Although the band's fairly generic music and standard-fare lyrics gave me little to ponder, I did wonder how one of the guitarist was able to get a mean metal sound out of a Fender played through a Sovtec amp with no external pedals. Let's all ponder that for a moment. Good.
Skinlab were more assured of themselves and simply rocked it out winning the crowd with a blend of aggressive metal with stoner grooves. Although the band were tight, what really stood out in the performance is how much singer/bassist Steve Esquivel seemed to be doing it all for the audience. It was a bit of a paradox -- large men with scary dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos that were personable and devoted to their fans.
After the hectic pace created by Skinlab, the crowd welcomed Crowbar's gloomy, drudging tempo. The band delivered a slow and heavy set of intense metal tuned down to B. The sweaty crowd bounced in slow motion as big frontman Kirk Windstein belted out tuneful (if not always pretty) vocals over the low sustained rumble provided by the band.
Windstein seemed enamoured by the "metal chicks" in the audience and encouraged all their deviant behavior. It has been a long time since I had witnessed the enigma that is the "metal chick" or was reminded that at a metal show, a grrl is not in charge of keeping her own shirt on or off, but rather that duty is deferred to her boyfriend. Flashing became a regular occurrence and continued into S.O.D.'s set where it reached its skirt-lifting "R" rated climax.
That high excitement level continued while the roadies prepared the stage for the headliner. However nothing prepared me for the girlish squeals the rough crowd let out when the tarp was removed from Charlie Benante's giant drumset, revealing double kick drums emblazoned with red pentagrams.
The cheers rose again when vocalist Billy Milano climbed onto the stage – large and in charge only begins to describe this man. From that point forward the show was a whirlwind of fun and metal and poor taste.
They played most of the songs from their 1985 debut Speak English or Die including the title cut, United Forces, March of the S.O.D. and Sergeant D. They enjoyed playing The Ballad of Jimi Hendrix (a quick intro to Purple Haze followed by a shouted "You're Dead!") so much they decided to play ballads from all their albums including The Ballad of Freddy Mercury from their 1992 Live at Budokan CD and The Ballad of Michael Hutchence from their latest CD Bigger Than the Devil (1999 Nuclear Blast).
I noted a few other gems from the new album including Charlie Don't Cheat and Celtic Frosted Flakes. After the latter, Billy asked "Where the fuck is Celtic Frost?" to which guitarist Scott Ian responded (in his most scholarly voice) with the current activities of each member of the band. It was insanely great. Celtic Frost wasn't the only target of course. Billy asked the audience how many Manowar fans were in attendance. The audience screamed (many I'm sure just to scream) and Billy replied "Bullshit" and explained Manowar fans would be wearing loin clothes and worshipping Thor, not at an S.O.D. show. Priceless.
When it was obvious a 2nd encore wasn't coming, I grabbed my sissy cardigan and headed out past the over-priced T-shirts, band stickers you're supposed to pay for, metal chicks and moshers. Even though I was out of place at the show, didn't know a soul, and attended the show based on a memory, I still felt good about going when I got back to the car. In fact, I think I might see them again when they tour again in 2013.