Metal Moments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
When Confessor were beginning to make a name for themselves the only band that the whole world knew about from around here was Corrosion of Conformity. Those guys were constantly touring, but they weren't metal enough to get the calls to be opening acts for some traveling bands, and they were too big to be opening for club acts anyway. Confessor were the only band to call that could bring in fans when certain metal acts came through, so we ended up with some strange shows thrown our way. Promoters in the area must have thought that all "metal" was universal, and that there was a sense of family between "big hair bands" and underground metal. Underground metal felt about as much of a familial tie with its big haired cousins as Lyle and Erik Menendez felt with their parents. Any time I ever saw an image of Poison, Skid Row or any of those bands a subtle command of "kill... kill... kill" would begin to pull me away from whatever I had been doing. Several times friends of mine found me walking towards the west with an axe, always muttering "must... cleanse Los Angeles... must save us all". That lack of understanding on behalf of promoters, and a real dearth of polished metal bands in the area made for some unlikely opening slots for us.
The Ugly: Helix, 1989 - "Helix?" I know, we thought the same thing when asked if we'd like to open for them. We foolishly hoped that we might be able to turn some of their fans onto what we were doing. Two fundamental flaws there. First, as it turned out they didn't have any fans. Second, we were a bit much for the few people who did attend that show. I don't mean that in a derogatory way, I just mean that those people were not there to think about music in new ways. They were there to drink, do coke and show off their new spandex animal print tights. "Heavy" meant nothing to them, and "metal" was just an excuse to get drunk and stare at teased hair and camel toes. That audience couldn't wait for us to get off stage! There is a cassette recording of us from that show that is surprisingly heavy and tight, but since we didn't have the kinds of pep rally choruses or stretch jeans that signified great music to them you could hear a pin drop after every song we played that night. Literally! There is a point on that board tape where within about a second and a half of the last note of a song echoing its way out of the building you can hear the phone ringing at the bar. It's crystal clear, like a phone going off at a funeral home. The audience even gave up on polite applause after awhile.
I suppose I should just be happy the audience never threw anything at us, even when Graham leaned into the microphone and said "You guys are fags!". Other than the awkwardly hilarious absence of any sort of response at the end of our songs, the only thing I remember from that show was Cary launching into the theme to "The Brady Bunch" at the end of our set, which was something we had planned to do before the show. Why would we do something like that? Because we were dorks, and that was the manner in which we rolled. I don't know if Cary had been intoxicated by the camel toe garden in front of us or the fumes emanating from the dozens of freshly teased hairdos, but he was clearly oblivious to the fact that we had overstayed our welcome that night. You can hear Cary, embarrassed by his impromptu Brady Bunch solo, turn to us and ask "Why dincha play it?!?!"... Really, Cary? They were all looking at us like we were the best man at a wedding reception, too drunk to notice that no one else was laughing at our description of a three-way with the bride, but somehow he believed they would rally behind the universal appeal of The Brady family charm. He may have thought we'd be carried out on everyone's shoulders while confetti rained upon us and all of his bleached blonde admirers, but I envisioned us being carried out in a very different way. Tied at the wrists and ankles to a long stick, upside down and placed over a fire.
Helix saved the day for those people. The singer, who looked an awful lot like Tom Baker from the old Dr. Who series, had been lifting weights all afternoon in the back of their moving van. Crucial move for those who want to bring the rock! Also, the drummer was sporting the only leather, v-cut, studded codpiece I have ever seen in action. I felt sorry for his drum throne as they launched into their biggest hit's chorus "Gimme an 'R'...'O'...'C'...'K'... Whatcha got... 'Rock'.. and whatcha gonna do... 'Rock you!". Yes, I'm sure many babies were conceived that night once Helix got everyone's juices going. There may not have been enough penicillin in town for the aftermath, but Helix brought whatever it was they had that night.
The Bad: Vinnie Vincent Invasion, 1988 - I don't know what's more embarrassing, that we were asked to play this show or that we said yes. I know that people love their Kiss, but does anyone actually care about the Vinnie Vincent era? And is there a person alive who actually liked his solo career? Starstruck as I may have been, I was somehow able to stay composed even though I was in the same room with Mark Slaughter and Bobby Rock. A feat of unparalleled self control, to be sure. I can fake it when I need to look cool. To be fair, I must say that Mr. Slaughter was really nice and made an effort to introduce himself to us. He seemed like a nice guy who was relishing his place in life. Good for him. This was another show we thought a lot of people would come to see, but it didn't quite work out that way. Other guys remember it filling up pretty well, but I don't remember the club looking any more full during the show than it did at soundcheck, which is never good.
I don't remember very much about that show, which is proof to me that there is a god and that he/she is just. I remember that Vinnie Vincent was bound by a lawsuit not to mention Kiss by name, which made it a little strange when he was trying to talk junk about them. Petty, to rag on a former band while you are on stage with a solo act you would never have were it not for the band you are bad mouthing. What I remember most was not one, but two incredibly long guitar solos. I know that Vinnie is way up there on the list of guitar heroes for most metallions. It goes something like this 1) Randy Rhoads 2) Eddie Van Halen 3) Andy La Rocque 4) Vinnie Vincent. He showed us what Kiss had given up by seductively stroking his fretboard for twenty minutes at one point. To me, that's about twenty minutes too long! I had barely recovered from that mindblowing exercise when he began his final solo opus... the oft mentioned but rarely attempted forty five minute solo. What a treat! I remember my mouth dropping to the floor when I realized that he was actually going into a second solo. After a few minutes, I reattached my jaw and walked into the lobby of the theater just to get some fresh air. I ran into a few people I hadn't seen in awhile and had a few separate conversations. You know... "Wow! can you believe this douche? This show is embarrassing!". I got so wrapped up in talking to people that I mercifully forgot about the solos for awhile. During a lull in the process of catching up with "What's up dude", "Hey man", and "What's goin' on Killah", I noticed that I had been in the lobby for over a half an hour and he was still going! Unbelievable! How does one continue a solo when everyone has left the theater? Balls... giant, clueless balls.
I don't think that even Cary Rowell's glass-half-full attitude could imagine a way for us to leave the building with any sense of accomplishment that night. We felt good about ourselves only by virtue of the fact that Mr. Vincent had crapped all over everyone in attendance so much that no one had any pride left. Our embarrassment was completely overshadowed by Vinnie Vincent's Hara-Kiri performance. It was like the "perp walk" when we left... everyone threw their coats up over their heads and shoved their hands into other people's faces so no one could tell who was actually leaving the club. "No pictures, please!" What a stinker. It was a night none of us will ever get back. Thanks, Vinnie Vincent!
The Good: Queensryche, 1988 - I know that no one has cared about Queensryche in years. I really liked their four song ep when it came out, and "The Warning" was actually pretty damned cool at the time. Scott Rockenfield put quite a lot into the drums on that album and I doubt he has gotten the credit he deserves for it. But they tossed all credibility aside when they went for the radio audience after that. In 1988 they were touring with Metallica, and that was the year that Metallica went to the Grammys only to be upset by Jethro Tull for the first ever "Heavy Metal/Hard Rock" award. The tour was in our neck of the woods when the Grammy ceremony happened, and Queensryche ended up playing some smaller club shows while Metallica were being shocked by what many describe as the biggest grammy blunder of all time.
All of us in Confessor received a call one afternoon asking if we would be interested in opening for Queensryche later that evening. I'm not exactly sure how everyone found out in a time before cell phones and texting, but somehow all of us were able to get to the practice room and loaded up for the show. I remember Geoff Tate warming up backstage and coming out with a cigarette, which really surprised me given what a perfectionist/health nut he was supposed to be. When we came onto the stage to play I was shocked to see how many people were there. The club held about eight hundred people and it was packed! Definitely the largest crowd we had played in front of at that point, and still the largest crowd we've seen in Raleigh. When I came out people started chanting my name "Shelton... Shelton... Shelton..." Was I hearing things correctly? Were they actually chanting "felon... felon..."? I had never done anything wrong, and certainly I couldn't have owed so many people money that I was about to get strung up! I was really taken aback. Where did all of these people come from, and how was it possible that so many of them knew my name? I had only been in the band for a year, and it sounded like the ranks of people calling my name rivaled the numbers that actually came out to see us! I felt like I was on acid all of a sudden.
The audience was unbelievably enthusiastic and supportive that night. It was a great feeling! Queensryche were great, and to see them on their "Operation Mindcrime Tour" in a small club like that was pretty special, too. I was never a fan of that album, but they were as professional as a band could be, and they seemed to have a really good time as well. Someone got one of our demos to them at the show, and a few days later they did another small show in Wilmington ( ? ) where our bass player's girlfriend lived. She met them and mentioned Confessor, and as the story goes, two of them launched into one of our choruses right in front of her. I thought that was pretty cool.
No one has ever been able to figure out exactly where Confessor belongs in the world of metal and all of its sub-genres. Even though that meant we were always ill cast as openers for death metal bands, punk rock bands and big hair metal bands, I still think of that as a compliment. I'd rather that no one figure us out than everyone have the proper label for us, if that makes any sense. That tells me that we really were unique, even if we never set out to be the only mid-paced, techno-doom metal band with a wailing ambulance siren for a singer that ever existed.