Surviving the Game

Thirty years in, Motörhead's still louder and drunker than everybody else.

Motörhead Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Avenue 8 p.m. Friday, March 18; $21 advance/$24 day of show, 216-241-5555
If Lemmy Kilmister moved in next door, your lawn would die. So says the Motörhead frontman himself, a 59-year-old rock and roll institution whose lifestyle is the only thing harder and dirtier than his band's sweaty methamphetamine blues. He claims to have once gone three weeks on just two hours' sleep, and he's done enough coke and hallucinogens to transform himself into an odd synthesis of Tony Montana and Dennis Hopper. "Speed keeps you functional," Kilmister writes in his recent autobiography, White Line Fever. "I don't especially recommend my lifestyle; it would slaughter the average person."

And that's not just heavy-metal hyperbole. According to the book, Kilmister went to get a blood transfusion in 1980, after hearing that Keith Richards did the same thing to clean out his system. But when doctors tested Kilmister's blood, they found it so toxic that it would kill a normal person. Fresh blood, in turn, was poison to Lemmy.

In other words, this man is no stranger to debauchery -- it's the notorious philanderer's one constant mistress. Maybe that's why he's so fond of Cleveland.

"Do you know, the most amazing thing happened in Cleveland?" Kilmister says from his home in L.A. on a recent Thursday afternoon. "We were parked outside the Agora early in the morning, it was about 11 a.m., and these two girls got on the bus, blew everybody, and then got off it again. I couldn't fuckin' believe it, you know? I mean, they did the whole crew. I've always liked Cleveland."

And Cleveland's always liked Motörhead. A show of lore in this city's punk and metal underground is the band's stop at the Variety Theatre in the early '80s on the No Remorse tour. Legend has it that Motörhead played so loud that the venue began to crumble, with bricks and debris raining down from the rafters.

"It's true. It happened," Kilmister recalls, in a deep, gritty voice that sounds like he gargles with gravel. "It wasn't bricks, it was one of the plaster fronts to one of the [balconies] that fell onto the stage. It just missed [Motörhead guitarist] Phil Campbell by inches, a big fuckin' pile of plaster. They tried to sue us for it, too. They wanted $18,000. We told them to go piss up a rope."

That show secured Motörhead's place in this town's hardened heart, and understandably so. Cleveland is an underdog city, and Motörhead is the ultimate underdog band.

Just look at them. With his greasy hair, facial warts, and numerous addictions, Kilmister is among the most unlikely sex symbols of all time. "I don't care what they say -- keep fit, eat your greens, drink juice -- fuck off," he writes in White Line.

His bandmates are just as disheveled, and their loud, unwieldy din is akin to an Amtrak derailment. Kilmister bellows out tunes in a hoarse bray that sounds as if someone has taken a power sander to his vocal cords. His big-shouldered bass lines tussle violently with Campbell's lickety-split solos, while drummer Mikkey Dee hits his kit so hard, you feel it in your chest. It all coagulates -- like spilt blood -- into a rock band visceral enough to leave welts.

But the real appeal of Motörhead is that it's never slowed down, never gotten sober, never really thought twice about anything -- what can you expect from a band that has beer cup holders on its mic stands? Lemmy turns 60 in December; no doubt he'll celebrate by getting high, getting drunk, and stuffing a fistful of twenties down some pretty young thing's g-string.

Compare this bunch to Mötley Crüe, dudes nearly 20 years Lemmy's junior, who are making headlines for allegedly bringing verve and recklessness back to mainstream rock and roll. Live, the Crüe puts on the airs of being a decadent rock band, complete with half-dressed hotties and lots of fire. But in reality, they're a bunch of sober fortysomethings going through the motions of being over-the-top rockers ["Arena of Pain," March 2].

Motörhead is the genuine article, no posing necessary. Speaking with Kilmister, you get the sense that he's never really considered easing up on his lifestyle.

"No, see, when you slow down, that's when they catch up with you. You don't want to do that," chuckles Lemmy, who was once kicked off a commercial flight because he wouldn't give the stewardess the bottle of Jack Daniel's he was swilling. "I mean at home, when we're off the road, I'm pretty boring. I just go out to the Rainbow or a strip club or something. But on the road, it's like unlimited whoopee if we can get it.

"I'm just lucky, man, just lucky," he continues, pondering how he's been able to muster the fortitude to carry him through four-plus decades of hard partying with his health relatively intact. "That, and the fact that I never did heroin, because that seems to kill people pretty efficiently. That's better than a fuckin' machine gun, you know?"

Motörhead's longevity won't be imperiled anytime soon. The band won its first Grammy this year, after previous nominations in '91 and 2000; 2004's Inferno is among its best in a decade -- it's an agitated, quarrelsome record, on which Kilmister questions mortality and the powers that be in the same 100-proof breath. Now on the road in support of the album, Motörhead remains a strong draw.

"We're pretty lucky to be going this long and still have 15-year-olds coming to our shows. You don't get many bands like that," Kilmister says with another big, guttural chuckle.

"About every five years, it becomes cool again to like Motörhead," he adds, "'Cause we just won't go away."

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