LIVE (Retro & Interview): WASP, Slayer & Raven @ RPI Fieldhouse, 01/29/87

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LIVE (RETRO) AND A Q&A WITH RAVEN’S JOHN GALLAGHER

The metal came to RPI Fieldhouse on this day in 1987 – a pretty eclectic bill, LA glam-metallers WASP, legendary west coast thrashers Slayer, and British fast-metal trailblazers Raven – none of these bands really particularly fit with the others, and most of the fans here were there for one, two, but probably not all three bands.

Raven opened and played a too-short, aggressive set with their usual all-consuming energy. As the most veteran band here, the time it seemed ridiculous they were at the bottom of the bill – from Newcastle, England, they’d come up as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the early 80s, and their first couple tours of America had brought out Metallica and then Anthrax as opening bands. But this was their first ever gig in the Albany area – the band had been scheduled to play here in August 1984 and September 1986 (both gigs cancelled when the clubs, first Radio City in Scotia and then JB’s Theater in Albany, had closed before the show date), as well as in July 1986 (a cancelled gig opening for the then-fading Twisted Sister). At the time of this gig, Raven were promoting their raging, forthcoming 6th record, ‘Life’s A Bitch’, in retrospect an underrated classic, but still-unreleased at the time of this gig.

Anyway, they played 6 songs, 3 of which was from the new, then-unreleased LP, a couple from ‘All For One’ and “On & On” from ‘85’s ‘Stay Hard’. The new tunes sounded great, but unfamiliar, and it was a little disappointing to not hear some more familiar classics in the set. I could’ve used around 6 more songs. There was some mild abuse from the Slayer crowd who were there for Slayer and Slayer alone, but Raven just played hard and got a pretty good reaction from what I recall.

Slayer was next, and on this night they were touring behind their then-current ‘Reign In Blood’ record, now considered by many to be their greatest record, and the greatest thrash metal album of them all.  This was their second area show, having previously played the New York City Café II on Fuller Road in November 1984.  In January 1987 they had (temporarily) lost iconic drummer Dave Lombardo, and his replacement was drummer Tony Scagliano from NJ thrashers Whiplash.  Even without Lombardo, they crushed it.  Other than a few older tunes (“At Dawn they Sleep” and “Necrophiliac” from ‘Hell Awaits’, “Die By the Sword” from ‘Show No Mercy’), most of the set was from that great new record. They opened with the almighty “Raining Blood” and did not let up thereafter. The crowd, Slayer-centric as it was -went nuts. I thought Scaglione did a good job filling in for Lombardo.

The sound sucked for both Raven and Slayer – the 8000-capacity hall had maybe 2000 there for this show (WASP was not an arena-headlining draw), so there was a lot of echo. Slayer finished with “Alter of Sacrifice”/”Jesus Saves”, and destroyed all.

The popular theme in anything I’ve ever read about this tour, at the time in the press and since, is that for many of the dates, much of the crowd left after Slayer’s set. This writer, it must be admitted, was one of those people – no interest in WASP in 1987, Raven and Slayer was more than enough for me, I’d already seen WASP play underwhelmingly with Armored Saint and Metallica a couple of years earlier – so I have no clue how WASP went down or how much of the crowd hung around. 

Albany’s Times Union stayed for the entire gig when it reviewed the show however, and writer Mike Eck, although he described the show as “cliché”, and spent most of the review on Raven and Slayer, described WASP as “good strong fun”.

RAVEN’s setlist:

  • Overload
  • Mind Over Metal
  • Never Forgive
  • On & On
  • Life’s A Bitch
  • Break The Chain.

SLAYER’s setlist:

  • Raining Blood
  • Reborn
  • At Dawn They Sleep
  • Die By The Sword
  • Post Mortem
  • Criminally Insane
  • Necrophiliac
  • Angel Of Death
  • Epidemic
  • Alter Of Sacrifice
  • Jesus Saves.

WASP’s setlist:

Of the 3 bands who played that gig on January 29, 1987, Slayer have now disbanded after a high-profile farewell tour which concluded in late 2019, WASP has been inactive for about five years, and Raven has just released a cracking new 2020 album, ‘Metal City’, with a tour to follow when the plague ends.  We remember this 1987 gig with a Q&A with Raven vocalist/bassist JOHN GALLAGHER, all the way from Newcastle, England:

Q:  So Raven opened a now-legendary three-band bill at the RPI Fieldhouse in Troy, NY on January 29, 1987 – any memories of this show 34 years later?

JG: I do remember us getting a decent reception … and the hall having cavernous, oil-drum type acoustics! Funniest thing I remember is watching part of Slayer’s set … Tom Araya says “do you want to DIE?” To the crowd … and a lone voice piped up “no!”  Priceless!

Q:  This tour with WASP lasted from mid-January through March 1987, with Slayer on most dates, and Saxon on a few others.  What are your memories of the tour as a whole?

JG: It was winter… and a pretty nasty one too that that kinda made it tough … it was amazing we made it to some of the gigs!  Every gig was a challenge, but we loved that (and still do) … playing a bigger audience where not everyone knows you & therefore you gotta work that little bit harder!

We got on pretty well with everyone … the crew were cool which always helps!  Johnny Rod (WASP bassist) was nuts.  And of course Chris Holmes (WASP guitarist – legendary for his “drunk in a swimming pool with bottles of vodka, wearing his stage gear, while his mom yells at him” scene in ‘Decline of Western Civilization Pt. II’) was larger than life in every department …. funnily enough he took great pride in his playing & his sound … quite meticulous …. when walking by the crew bitching about something & and they said “it’s ok for you musicians…”, he turned and shouted “hey! I’m not a musician… I’m an ENTERTAINER!!!!”  Off stage he was a disaster on two legs!!

Q:  Slayer fans are legendary for their disdain of anyone who is not Slayer, and I remember Raven getting into it with some Slayer fans at this RPI gig.  How did the band deal with Slayer fans at these shows?

JG:  The shows with Slayer were often like pitched battles as we were faced with pimply faced 14 year olds screaming “Slayerrrrrrr!” from the get go … throwing crap at us before we played a note! The first song we played in our set then was “Overload” from the current album ‘Life’s a Bitch’ … it had a short gap right before the guitar solo which we extended to get the crowd going … after a few gigs we would just throw down our instruments and climb over the barrier.   Having the benefit of my headset mike I’d shout  “ok! Who’s first? I’LL FIGHT EVERY ONE OF YOU LITTLE BASTARDS!!!!”  We never got taken up on the offer & usually this gained us a reprieve from the mob!!!  The shows with Saxon were far more fun!

Q:  Raven was promoting the mighty, underrated ‘Life’s A Bitch’ record at the RPI show, the last record with drummer Rob “Wacko” Hunter, and half of the set was from that record.  That album has become something of a cult classic in the years since – how do you look back on that record 34 years later, and will any of those great songs make it back into the set-list ever again?

JG:  The album was a statement … we had been through the mill so to speak regarding our dealings with Atlantic (Records) … everything was a pain in the rear end with them as regards the whole (previous album) ‘The Pack is Back’ scenario.  We’d licked our wounds and decided to just do what appealed to US as opposed to attempting to please everyone else.  The ‘Mad’ EP was the first step “back on track” and was meant to coincide with a major tour opening for Twisted Sister.  Of course this was their ‘Come Out and Play’ tour which got cancelled literally at the last minute … so that was not to be. After a headline tour for ‘Raven Mad’ we went up to Bearsville studios in Upstate NY to finish writing ‘Life’s a Bitch’ and then record it.   The overriding theme was anger! 

It was obvious looking back that the writing was on the wall for Rob leaving the band … a prolific writer, he only came up with 2 songs this time … but all 3 of us came up with the arrangements as usual. We spent a week or two living & rehearsing in “the barn” and then 2 weeks recording it.

Personally I love the album.  It flows well but it would have been better if our original track sequencing had been kept with “Overload” being the lead off track on side one and (album opener) “The Savage and the Hungry” opening side two… but as that was the only thing Atlantic insisted upon, we chose not to die on that hill!

I’d love to revisit some of those songs and play them live – and we will!

Q:  Nippertown is an Albany-based music website, and the RPI show was Raven’s first Albany-area gig.  But this was not for want of trying: the band had a show with Anthrax scheduled in 1984 at Radio City in Scotia, NY, which was cancelled when the club closed.  Next, the band was scheduled to open for Twisted Sister at the Palace Theater in Albany in July 1986 – and the tour was cancelled.  And then the band was scheduled for yet another show at JB’s Theater in Albany in September 1986 – again cancelled when the club was closed for tax reasons.  The band had moved from England to New York State in the mid-80s – why so many problems getting gigs off the ground here in Albany?

JG: I have no idea!  Unlike today we were not exactly “hands on” when it came to booking tours … all the back and forth was between management and the booking agent … and 99% of the ups and downs were things we had zero knowledge of.

Q:  Similar question: it took 30 years for Raven to play another Albany-area gig, after the RPI show, in 2017 at Trick Shot’s in Clifton Park – what took so long?

JG:  Similar answer!  All I can tell you is we shall endeavor to be there next time out … it’s a big country and booking a tour is kinda like nailing jello to the ceiling – you plan a basic route say from Florida to California … up to Vancouver… back in through the mid-west … Chicago … Detroit … Cleveland… Toronto … down the east coast back to Florida. You book key gigs and try to fill in the spaces … often there’s 3 or more acts chasing the same date at the same venue … if you don’t get that venue you look elsewhere and often have to re-route to another city … or state! This results in the “dartboard” nature of some (most) tour routings.

Q: Finally, Raven have a killer new record, ‘Metal City’, and these songs beg to be played live.  Sadly, there are no live gigs for now, but when the plague ends, can we expect another Albany gig, and will songs from the new record get play?

JG:  Absolutely … we can’t wait to play these songs live … but we have to.

It’s a ludicrous situation and unfortunately however tight my tin foil hat fits it won’t change things at the moment!  But once things open up … we will be out there and yes, Albany will be on the list!

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1 Comment
  1. ToastWRPI says

    Thank you for continuing to bring the metal to Nippertown.

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