LIVE: Sloan, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

Before watching Sloan perform, I spoke with Music Millennium owner Terry Currier about popularity disparity of Canadian bands like Sloan or the Tragically Hip, and how it seems like there’s “an invisible barrier between the US and Canada”. He told me about the last time he saw Tragically Hip perform in Portland, at the Roseland, and the show was full of people who had come down from Vancouver for the chance to see the band in such a small space. The invent of the internet should have completely evaporated these barriers, but it seems bands like Sloan are just old enough to still be affected by this invisible wall.

It’s our gain, though. Sloan have been around for 25 years, and getting to see the band in a small space is a treat. The faithful were treated to two brilliant sets by the band: one comprising the entirety of their landmark 1996 album One Chord to Another, and a second spanning the band’s entire career. I’ll be completely honest: despite enjoying Sloan from afar for a long time, the band’s allure has never quite clicked with me. Despite this, watching the band perform at such a brilliant, breakneck pace was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Sloan are the most unassuming rockstars you’ll ever see. They perform like they’re the Rolling Stones, and look like they’re all members of different bands, from the lost brother of R. Stevie Moore and J Mascis (Patrick Pentland), to the Canadian cousin of Thurston Moore (Chris Murphy) to a drummer who looks like he’s been plucked from a Damn Yankees tribute act (Andrew Scott). Yet, as a unit, all of these people work in brilliant lockstep, roaring through every song like it should be the biggest hit on the planet. They ripped through One Chord to Another as though it was made of sonic butter, and returned shortly after to give the same treatment to the rest of their catalog; When Chris Murphy’s comment on how the song from their 2003 record Action Pact would likely be the only one from the album they’d play was met with a couple loud grumbles from the crowd, he responded by jovially reminding the crowd that there was just no way they could play everything people wanted to hear.

Still, after watching the band’s onslaught of jangly indie pop, I found myself wanting to be one of the faithful in the subterranean space. This was a performance for the megafans and the die-hards. Seeing them perform left me wanting to go home and listen to every last record they had, but it disappointed me that I’d have to wait until their next time around to get to belt out all of those songs with the same upright zeal as everyone else in the room.

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LIVE: Frightened Rabbit, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR


By Hollister Dixon

“What the hell is in the water in Scotland?”

That was Frightened Rabbit fangirl Kelly Dixon, in a recent conversation about the newest Frightened Rabbit album, Painting of a Panic Attack. That isn’t exactly an unfair question, and it’s something I’ve wondered for quite some time now. Should we be putting Zoloft in the drinking water of Glasgow? Between Arab Strap, Mogwai (their sorrow transcends the need for actual lyrics almost always), The Twilight Sad, Belle & Sebastian (though they maintain a poppy veneer), and Frightened Rabbit, I have to wonder what the hell is making every Scottish musician so glum.

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Live: Soul’d Out 2016

Sharon Jones at Keller Auditorium // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Sharon Jones at Keller Auditorium // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Words and photos by Yousef Hatlani

Among the many music festivals Portland offers every year, from Pickathon to Project Pabst to PDX Pop Now!, Soul’d Out has been perhaps the most consistent since its inception. Founded in 2009, there has nary been a year when its list of headliners did not spring off the page with inimitable options: both Buddy Guy and the late Gil-Scott Heron played during the festival’s inaugural year. In 2011, it boasted sets by Ms. Lauryn Hill, Mos Def and Ice Cube. The following year featured Esperanza Spalding, Justice and a special show with Wanda Jackson and Sallie Ford. The year after that had Lee “Scratch” Perry, Booker T. Jones and Prince. Slick Rick, Ural Thomas, Charles Bradley and Robert Glasper are also some of the names of those who’ve played Soul’d Out in recent years. Clearly, this festival is curated with a lot of love for its craft—as much as those who are booked to play it.

2016’s lineup proved no different, ranging from George Clinton to SZA on one night, to Hieroglyphics and Thomas Jack the next, and Bilal playing across the street from Bunny Wailer on another. Faces on the Radio was able to catch three such shows on three different nights of the festival: First, Gary Clark Jr at the Roseland, followed by Sharon Jones at the Keller Auditorium, and finally returning to the Roseland for Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals.

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LIVE: The Joy Formidable, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

At this point, I’ve seen The Joy Formidable perform three times, though only once have I gone out of my way for them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a fantastic band, but the first two performances were completely on a whim. The first performance was on tour for their debut, The Big Roar, opening for Brand New at the Wonder Ballroom as part of MusicFest Northwest. Despite their massive sound, the band seemed timid and unsure of themselves, talking happily (but nervously) with the crowd in between songs. The band’s demeanor, especially that of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, stood at odds with the roaring (pardon the pun) sound of The Joy Formidable at that point in time. It almost came off as quaint, though distinctly Welsh.

The second time cemented my need to see them the third time. I caught them at the Roseland Theater – again, at MusicFest Northwest, this time supporting their second album Wolf’s Law – and while I wasn’t paying attention the band’s aesthetic and stage presence had coalesced in a way that made them an unbeatable band. Bryan and company still had their affable demeanor intact, but the evident self-doubt had evaporated in a haze of jet engine guitars and blistering drums. It was like watching stars being born onstage, amidst a galaxy of shoegaze fury and falsetto vocals. To this day, I’ve only been truly blown away by the exponential growth of a band a handful of times, but this growth remains the most memorable.

The third time, just last week, the band were joined by the astounding Everything Everything, a band that sounds at once like 20 different bands, and absolutely zero other bands. They’re like if Foals, Los Campesinos!, and Modest Mouse all had a weird cousin that didn’t quite know what pop music sounds like but feels the need to make it.

The Joy Formidable, though, seem to have gained the following they deserved. Adults and children peppered the audience with VIP laminates from meet-and-greet packages being sold on this tour. Are The Joy Formidable really that big now? I wondered to a handful of people at the show. I never quite got an answer, but they’ve earned it. Again, I found myself remarkably surprised by the band, now not just with the fury they exert onstage, and not just by how effortless it now seems for them, but by how truly dynamic they’ve become. They play a couple stripped-down acoustic numbers that still contain the same passion as their typical fare. The crowd hung on every last song, and despite only playing for a little over an hour, the crowd couldn’t contain it’s joy (pardon the pun, again) even when they wrapped up the set. Their big number, “Whirring”, still riles up a crowd of faithful disciples effortlessly. Even as a relatively minor fan of the band, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the unwavering devotion people apparently have for this band.

After three evenings with this band, I’ll gleefully see them every chance I get. They represent the promise of young bands going right in exactly the right places, and though the Wonder Ballroom was by no means sold out, it never slowed down their forward momentum. If you find yourself unsure about this band, for heaven’s sake, go see them play if you can. It will convert you faster than you can blink.

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Soul’d Out 2016 Kicks Off Next Week

By Yousef Hatlani

Festival season dawns upon the city of Portland around this time every year—just as the sun starts to come out and the air glides by us as crisply as the sharpness of Oregon’s blue summer skies. And no local music festival is as illustrative of this inauguration as the annual Soul’d Out, a celebration of all things funk, soul, blues, hip hop, electronic and rock—serving as, maybe more than anything, a go-to wellspring for vetted, authentic talent.

Dating back to April 2010, past editions of the festival have seen the likes of Prince, Gil Scott-Heron, Lauryn Hill, Ice Cube, Buddy Guy, Booker, T. Jones, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Steel Pulse, Charles Bradley, Esperanza Spalding, Justice…the list goes on; it manages to create a cohesive format that, at the same time, is refreshingly diverse in its approach—making it one of the year’s absolutely essential festival attractions, boasting acts for classicists and newcomers alike.

This year’s edition of the festival—kicking off next Wednesday, April 13th—upholds its longstanding tradition of high-caliber talent; headliners include funk forebears George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Texas blues incarnate Gary Clark Jr, Reggae icon Bunny Wailer, undying soulstress Sharon Jones and Americana heroine Bonnie Raitt. Youthful innovation is also heartily represented, featuring sets by Thundercat, SZA, Bilal, and Anderson.Paak, as are local acts in Ural Thomas, 1939 Ensemble, Asher Fulero Band and the Quick & Easy Boys. There is also an Allen Toussaint tribute, as well as a not-to-be-missed reunion of legendary Oakland, CA hip hop crew Hieroglyphics—in addition to several other outstanding shows that round out the full lineup, spanning no less that nine venues over five days.

As a refresher, you can check out Faces on the Radio’s April 2015 interview with festival organizers Nick Harris and Haytham Abdulhadi here—going into the origins of Soul’d Out, its most memorable moments and the dream acts they’d love to book (although, as they admit, it’s pretty hard to top Prince.)

Soul’d Out 2016 runs April 13th-April 17th, at various venues. Full ticketing and schedule information can be found at

Treefort ’16: The Zack Perry Report

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By Zack Perry // Photos By Zack Perry

It’s difficult to be critical of something you have nothing but positive feelings for. This review has taken at least 5 different forms and after nearly pulling my hair trying to figure out how to materialize my feelings on this past weekend, I grabbed my scribble filled notepad to grasp at straws. That’s when I read a note about Charles Bradley and I realized this weekend was really about one thing for me: live music. While Treefort is a lot of things, many more than I can detail in this article, it truly meant that from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, I would be returning to live music. While I have still seen concerts intermittently, I hadn’t been to a concert in a photographic capacity in months.

Full disclosure, photography is my first love. Writing might be a hell of a drug, but taking photos is what I enjoy most, especially of live music. Something about capturing the exchange of energy between artist and audience has always invigorated me. So when I say I hadn’t been to a show in a photographic capacity in months, I really mean that I hadn’t felt alive in months. The sensation I receive when taking a good photograph of an even better live musician is incomparable. It’s the best high there is, to tell the truth.

My second love is music, and if nothing else, Treefort was overflowing with music. At any given time during 10 am and midnight you could walk around downtown Boise and hear at least two different bands or artists performing. Needless to say, there was a mighty hefty lineup of musicians. Seeing as I only had a limited time there, I had to condense it into as many as I could fit while maintaining sanity. To avoid the risk of running verbose I’ve narrowed it down into the ones who truly touched something in me, or made me move like I hadn’t before: Stonefield, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Thundercat, Oddisee, Aesop Rock & Rob Sonic, and Youth Lagoon. Somewhere in there was a film screening, a panel talk about local food, the best biscuits and gravy I have ever had(shoutout to Capri Restaurant on Fairview), and me laying in a hammock which was later dubbed “Hammockfort” by fellow Forters.

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LIVE: Carly Rae Jepsen, Portland, OR

20160301_214812Carly Rae Jepsen // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

“I started a support group for people who have played a song way too many times.”

That was Carly Rae Jepsen, one song into her encore at her Wonder Ballroom performance. She was, of course, referring to her 2012 zeitgeist-grabbing megahit “Call Me Maybe”, which she said she’d only play if everyone helped her sing it. In the hands of a lesser pop star, this move might feel like a lame attempt to appear self-deprecating in an attempt to endear herself to the audience, but luckily for us, Carly Rae Jepsen is simply better than that. If there were any doubts about this, the entire show leading up to “Call Me Maybe” was fuel for the fire of the believers, the ones who saw a lot of talent in Jepsen when she was jettisoned into pop ubiquity four years ago.

And, as I will tell absolutely anybody who will listen, Carly Rae Jepsen is just too talented for her own good. Her most recent album, E·MO·TION, is one of the finest pop records I’ve listened to in years, and better than any that came out in all of 2015. She could have taken the easy way out and just turned in 13 more cute-and-fluffy belters like “Call Me Maybe”, but the album’s success is based on the fact that E·MO·TION instead chooses to be a dynamic thrill ride, with songs about love and relationships and personal growth and heartache, all paired perfectly with her tremendous singing voice, a lovely backing band, and production by a wheelhouse of people like Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange, aka Lightspeed Champion) and Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid, all of whom help to give the record an undeniable pop sheen, but one that still allows for the humanity of the music to shine just as brightly. The good news is, and I am so happy about this, all of these qualities translate in an outstanding way in a live setting.

Before we go any further, I just wanted to send an apology to the All Ages section of the Wonder Ballroom, while simultaneously shaking my head in disappointment at the Wonder Ballroom itself. Like many shows, there was a dividing barrier between the All Ages and the 21+ sections, and despite being firmly a pop show, the entirety of the stage was given to the 21+ crowd, with the All Ages section no less than 10 feet from the edge of the stage – imagine the division between sections at the Crystal Ballroom, only reversed, and in a much smaller room. It’s disappointing knowing that the crowd this show should have spoken to the most was condemned to watching it from behind a crowd of exuberant drunks. I’m sure there were reasons for the division being the way it was (I generally trust the Wonder Ballroom’s judgment), but this particular evening, it felt misguided.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the show. I’ll be completely up-front here: there was never a down moment during the entire set. Considering her one-hit-wonder status, it could be easy for Jepsen to rest on the strength of that song, but instead she’s used her time in the spotlight to propel herself forward as an artist and as a performer. Over the course of the 20-song set (comprising the entirety of E·MO·TION and five songs from 2012’s Kiss), she had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hands – which grabbed onto the hands of those in the front rows on more occasions than I could count (including mine during “Tonight I’m Getting Over You”) – and she never once took it for granted. More than just being a lengthy set, it was tightly constructed and flowed marvelously together, cooling things down appropriately and ramping energy up as needed to keep the audience on its toes. Her stage banter was plentiful and constantly overjoyed, and even the moments that are no doubt parts of every night – during E·MO·TION highlight “Let’s Get Lost” her saxophone player came from the back of the stage to serenade her – felt not only organic, but truly special.

2678Carly Rae Jepsen // Photo Credit: Jordan DeCloedt

The most refreshing thing about watching this performance was the sense that Jepsen is performing for no other reason than because of the joy of performing pop music for live audiences. She’s a showman and a class act, and pop stars at a much higher station than her could stand to learn a lot not just about how to work a crowd, but how to show true, honest gratefulness for the people in the crowd. Seeing others regularly clasping the hands of showgoers might seem cloying, but it felt loving with her. When she made fun of herself singing “Boy Problems” at home in the shower, it felt like we were getting a goofy little piece of her. It never felt like we were watching some cosmic being beaming her consciousness down to deliver pop bangers, but rather an actual human being, wearing goofy looking (but probably extremely comfortable) black sequinned boots and a floral blouse and a cape for just one song (because fuck you, she’s Carly Rae Jepsen, sometimes you want to wear a cape), who has decided to use her power as a pop star to elevate the status of pop music.

Going into writing this review, I found myself consciously trying to find things about the performance I didn’t like. I’m a hyperbolic person by nature, mostly because I love a lot of things. But here’s the truth: there just wasn’t anything to complain about here. Carly Rae Jepsen, as well as the entirety of her backing band, was nothing short of phenomenal. Any attempt at this-could-be-bettering this show verges on needless nitpicking. With that said, I issue everyone reading this a warning: if you’re sleeping on Carly Rae Jepsen because you think she’s just “That girl who did that song,” toss those notions in the garbage, listen to E·MO·TION, and if you have the ability to see this woman perform, do not hesitate.

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LIVE: Super Furry Animals, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon // Photos By Yousef Hatlani

If you’re reading this, and you’ve never dived into the work of Super Furry Animals, arguably* the best band to ever come from Cardiff, Wales, you’re part of the problem.

Okay, you aren’t actually part of the problem. In all seriousness, though, Super Furry Animals are probably the best Welsh band to never, ever manage to find a footing in the US. The reasons they’ve never grabbed hold of the US are a mystery, though I have my theories – the thickness of Gruff Rhys’ accent, the fact that one of their best releases (Mwng) is completely in Welsh, the fact that they have names like Dafydd Ieuan and Huw Bunford – but from a sonic perspective this is a band that deserves to be much, much bigger.

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Live: Battle Cries & Champagne: A Celebration of David Bowie – Holocene

Words and photos by Yousef Hatlani

Holocene // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Holocene // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Where were you when David Bowie died? A universally affecting shock recalling the deaths of John Lennon and Michael Jackson, news of Bowie’s death seemingly froze everyone it reached—forever crystallizing the moment they were in. More so than many iconic presences, David Bowie occupied a heavenly reverential—and, evidently, quite personal—space in the minds and hearts of just about everyone; whether it was the first time Aladdin Sane’s sleeve gazed back at you in its face-painted glory, or his groundbreaking mid-70’s partnership with Brian Eno, or his memorable role in Labyrinth, or the myriad of artists who’ve openly revered him for the last forty-five-plus years, Bowie’s myth thoroughly penetrated aspects of culture ranging from the minute to the mainstream.  And like Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, whom we also paid tribute to last month, he was around just long enough for you to feel like he could almost be with us forever.

Perhaps, then, that is why David Bowie’s passing was so hard to process; his reach was so vast for so long, it was hard to picture a world without his familiar presence. At the time, it was effectively so difficult to put into words that we at Faces on the Radio could not fathom summarizing the man’s career in an eight or nine hundred word missive; it would surely not even scratch the surface of his influence. Even listening to his back catalog as a means of grieving was a challenge. Tributes poured in immediately: innumerable magazine covers, acknowledgements from every late night talk show on television, a Bowie-themed march in New Orleans hosted by Arcade Fire and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band that attracted thousands, and a decree from New York mayor Bill de Blasio that January 20th, 2016 was David Bowie Day.

It wasn’t long before Portland would get its own batch of Bowie tributes, ranging from added showings of the 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth at the Academy Theater to an upcoming Ziggy-centric evening at the Mission Theatre, hosted by the Parson Red Heads. On Wednesday night, Holocene held its own night honoring the Starman—with a portion of the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.

Labyrinth playing above Holocene's bar. // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Labyrinth playing above Holocene’s bar. // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

This was the latest chapter in Holocene’s successful history of tribute shows; the venue has held themed homages to several artists in just the last two years, including Sade, Kate Bush, Drake (on his twenty-ninth birthday, no less,) and, most recently, Janet Jackson. The enthusiasm for Wednesday night’s tribute to David Bowie carried on with this tradition; in addition to Labyrinth and other archival Bowie footage being projected over the bar all night, special commemorative posters were designed for the show by local firm Obitay Designs—the proceeds of which also went to the American Cancer Society. Moreover, the evening boasted short sets by no less than six bands—each of them touching on visual elements Bowie held throughout the years.

The Heavy Hustle // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

The Heavy Hustle // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

The Heavy Hustle kicked the night off, performing from the venue’s dance floor stage. Band members had specially made black shirts emblazoned with the group’s logo in gold, featuring a star cut out in the middle and ‘The Stars Look Very Different Today’ printed below. Opening with “Rebel Rebel,” continuing with “Fame” and ending with “Let’s Dance,” the band properly set the tone for the evening with sheer funk and fervor, drawing an impressive crowd. After them, on the primary stage, was quintet Haste—surprisingly the only group of the night that attempted “Space Oddity,” before ending their set with the night’s second “Rebel Rebel” (prior to which their guitar player donned an appropriate eyepatch.)

Back on the dance floor stage, local quartet The Breaking (whose vocalist was in full Pinups era facepaint) began with “Ziggy Stardust” before delving into two somewhat deeper cuts: “Where Are We Now?,” the lead single from 2013’s The Next Day—which featured an extended outro that made for one of the most memorable performances of the night, and a rock-centric version of the IDM-flavored “Dead Man Walking,” off of 1997’s Earthling.

The Breaking // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

The Breaking // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Returning to the main stage, disco/dance troupe Gold Casio took on Station to Station’s “Golden Years,” the undying choruses of “Under Pressure” and the brute rock stylings of Hunky Dory’s “Queen Bitch.” PWRHAUS then continued the show with three more Hunky Dory cuts—“Life on Mars,” “Kooks,” and “Fill Your Heart”—before ending their set with “Starman,” eliciting a chorus that made for arguably the best singalong of the evening, lifting Holocene into blissful refrain.

PWRHAUS // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

PWRHAUS // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Perhaps the highlight of the show was supergroup Boys Keep Swinging, a ten piece ensemble featuring members of several notable local groups—among them Wampire, Blouse, Appendixes and the Gossip. With a set consisting of seven songs, the group took full advantage of its instrumentation with many of Bowie’s more sonically diverse works—including “Station to Station,” “Young Americans” and “Oh! You Pretty Things” (the night’s fifth Hunk Dory track)—capping an evening of consistent showmanship with pomp and splendor.

Boys Keep Swinging // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Boys Keep Swinging // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

David Bowie’s influence was as evident in life as it is in death; he lived as a legend, and literally was the “What Could Have Been.” He did this through generosity and a strikingly uncompromising vision—not to mention a professionalism and rigor that never let up during his storied career, even as he was approaching his twilight. If Holocene’s tribute was any indication, those exalting Bowie the most often have powerful artistic visions of their own. As time passes, the full extent of that influence will reveal itself still—our hearts and minds forever richer for it.

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In Memoriam: Motörhead’s Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister.

By Yousef Hatlani

Lemmy from a photo session for his 2002 autobiography, "White Line Fever" // Photo by Nicola Rübenberg

Lemmy from a photo session for his 2002 autobiography, White Line Fever // Photo by Nicola Rübenberg

Until yesterday night, Lemmy Kilmister was probably the very last person you would expect to see in the Obituaries section; he, perhaps along with only Keith Richards, had helped mythologize his career by successfully appearing stronger than death. At age seventy, the man born Ian Fraser Kilmister had spent five decades unapologetically emblemizing the very music he created—dating back to the eras that engendered both rock & roll and heavy metal as we know it. The concept of marrying sheer volume with youthful rebellion was born in his lifetime, and he experienced the genesis firsthand.

Kilmister could rightly claim to have seen Buddy Holly live, to have roadied for Jimi Hendrix and to remember a time before Elvis Presley was ever heard on the radio—because it was all true. In many respects, Lemmy was the purest personification that several generations may ever see of the rock and roll lifestyle.

In light of growing up during the most crucial eras of classic rock and roll, Kilmister later grabbed his teachings with a clenched fist and plugged them all into a distortion pedal. Then he took the train-kept-a-rolling backbeat that kicked up the music of early country rebels like Johnny Cash and tempered it into a nonstop double bass assault. Finally, he achieved his sonic focus by emphasizing not the electric guitar, but snarling, distorted bass—an uncommon idea in his day.

Following early stints with the Rockin’ Vickers, Sam Gopal, Opal Butterfly and—most prominently—Hawkwind, Motörhead was born in June 1975 with such a mixture in mind. From there on, Lemmy began every single, solitary show with a simple decree: “We are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll.” And thus speed metal was inadvertently born; whereas Black Sabbath largely invented the genre and Judas Priest’s combo of vocal tremors & twin guitar attack added characteristic virility, Motörhead’s specialty was unadulterated brashness, authenticity and hustle. They looked and sounded like they were from the streets. If they moved in next door, as Lemmy would say, your lawn would die.

Lemmy with Joey Ramone, 1990's.

Lemmy with Joey Ramone, 1990’s.

In Motörhead’s wake came the thrash metal of the early 1980’s; Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and just about every successful band from that era could (and did) lay claim to emulating Lemmy’s swagger without flinching. Classic thrash albums like Kill ‘Em All, Show No Mercy, Killing is My Business and Fistful of Metal all point back to the undying tread of Motörhead’s  Overkill, Ace of Spades and the legendary live document No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith—which, as you may have guessed, directly inspired the Beastie Boys anthem “No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn,” as well as Metallica’s first demo, entitled No Life ‘til Leather, the Stiff Little Fingers live album No Sleep ‘til Belfast and about a zillion other cultural references. Their mark had been made.

Despite predating most heavy metal bands, Motörhead still recorded and toured more consistently than most groups half their age, releasing a total of twenty-two studio albums over thirty-eight years—never wavering in quality or concentration. Quite plainly, this was Lemmy Kilmister’s life and—as he admitted in the 2010 documentary that bears his name—he did not know how to do much else.

That simple admission, however, bore much more weight than Kilmister may have realized: rock and roll was literally Lemmy’s life. The Blackbeard-esque splendor, the ever-present mutton chops, the top hat, tight jeans and permanent middle finger were not just a stage getup—they were his everyday wardrobe. He was inextricable from the slot machines and Jack & Cokes at the Rainbow, the legendary Sunset Strip bar & grill just down the street from the Los Angeles apartment he lived in for twenty-five years. He also smoked ceaselessly into his 60’s. The Ultimate Badass, it seemed as though nothing could ever stop him.

Lemmy playing Tempest at Portland, OR's Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, October 3rd, 2009. He set two high scores that day. // Photo by Art Santana

Lemmy playing Tempest at Portland, OR’s Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, 10/3/09. He set two high scores that day. // Photo by Art Santana

In reality, the fabled rock and roll lifestyle took its toll on his body: in a 2013 interview with the New York Times, Lemmy admitted that he was “paying for the good times,” and that he had given up smoking. Just wine every now and then, that’s it. The band also canceled a European tour that year in a rare showing of frailty. Ultimately, the band did soldier on and play several shows over the following two years, although many were cut short or canceled altogether—all the while recording & releasing what would be their final album, the well-received Bad Magic, in August 2015. Kilmister’s later public appearances revealed him to be progressively thinner, gaunt and in poor health.

So, was Lemmy really stronger than death? The answer, all things considered, is perhaps another question: does it really matter? Kilmister’s grit and growl has provided the very lifeblood for heavy metal’s most defining bands over the last thirty-five years, embodying the take-no-guff attitude that anyone would want to adorn so surely. That a man who once exclaimed in his 2002 autobiography he “should be dead, medically speaking,” lived to be a full seventy years old epitomizes the Motörhead maxim of ‘Everything Louder Than Everything Else.’ With this, Lemmy had decidedly accomplished the mission he set out with forty years ago, inaugurated with the unrelenting rallying cry of “We are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll”: simply put, he played rock and roll—and the world will be forever louder for it.


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