Motörhead, O2 Academy Brixton | New music reviews, news & interviews
Motörhead, O2 Academy Brixton
Band and audience find mutual catharsis in the sound of fury
As Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister heads towards his 67th birthday does he ever reflect on the strange and fabulous journey his 50 years as a professional musician have taken? I doubt it – navel gazing not being something Stoke On Trent’s most famous son is known for indulging in. Yet this fierce pensioner has worked his way from grafting on the 1960s Northern working men’s clubs circuit as guitarist with The Rockin’ Vicars through roadie for Jimi Hendrix to providing hippie blowhards Hawkwind with their most memorable moments then forming Motörhead only to find that punk’s toilet clubs were the only venues they could initially play.
That he never complained, changed his image or sound or considered another occupation is what makes Lemmy so remarkable. And in his stoic devotion to playing the most dissonant rock music possible he has slowly built a legend that now finds him amongst the most beloved of Brit rockers. While I doubt there’s a knighthood waiting for this unrepentant hedonist Lemmy is the people’s rock god and their love for him – as a packed Brixton Academy proved – shows no sign of abating.
They play at a volume and speed that throbs. It is rock as something harsh, feral and desperately inarticulate
Motörhead have been making the same feral noise for more than 35 years. No one sounded like Motörhead before they existed and while many have attempted to replicate their sonic attack none have come remotely close. Surely this is due to Lemmy forever stating that the likes of Little Richard and Chuck Berry remain his heroes and prime influences – as he announces on stage “we are Motörhead and we play rock and fuckin’ roll” – thus their sound swings with a frantic intensity that most heavy rock bands lack (ACDC – who boast similar influences – also succeed here). Taking the stage they played three songs in just over 12 minutes. The first and only guitar solo came in at 20 minutes and was a brief, twisted blues. A drum solo at 40 minutes allowed for four minutes of dense percussive workout. Then it’s back to the unrepentant, no-nonsense, sonic attack. Altogether the set weighed in at 70 minutes. Keep their heads ringing? That seems to be the modus operandi.
Lemmy (the 2010 documentary feature) proved surprisingly successful both in cinemas and as a DVD, a wide audience warming to its portrayal of the gruff Northerner as both weathered rock icon and laconic man with a heart and brain. Not that this has made the warty one any more willing to charm audiences – beyond announcing songs and encouraging the audience to make more noise he simply stood there, bashing out those huge bass lines and “singing” in a voice that could peel paint. Motorhead never try to show musical diversity – Phil Campbell (pictured right) unleashes great slabs of distorted guitar, Mickey Dee bashes his drums and Lemmy pumps that bass – and those less enamoured with their sound could criticise them for always sounding “the same”. But when they get that “same” right Motörhead are amongst the planet’s foremost rock bands: amongst tonight’s offerings “Stay Clean”, “Killed by Death”, “Ace of Spades” and mighty set closer “Overkill” rank, to my mind, alongside The Rolling Stones’ finest desperate anthems.
Motörhead play at a volume and speed that throbs. This is music without subtlety, tenderness or any hint of romance. It is rock as something harsh, feral and desperately inarticulate. The men who make it and the audience who embrace it find some kind of catharsis in this sound and fury. Unsurprisingly, Motörhead’s audience is largely male – this was one of those rare gigs where the queue for the men’s loos was much longer than that for the women’s – and in their elemental paeans to life on the road they offer perhaps a truer reflection of the British bloke than almost everything else in our culture: suspicious of anything too arty or flash, obsessed by two world wars, loyal to beer, mates and a spot of hell raising, up for a quick, anonymous shag, contemptuous of health and safety-style over regulation (“I know I’m born to lose and gambling’s for fools/ but that’s the way I like it/ Baby, I don’t want to live forever” – words worthy of Larkin!), very droll and never pompous yet reluctant to express affection or display learning. Admittedly, football and cricket do not get a look in but, in their own sullen way, Motörhead reflect a remarkable British spirit. Long may they continue to rock. Arise Sir Lemmy, you have done the nation proud.
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