Bone Bash VI, Shoreline Amphitheater.
It's 4:00 p.m. on the weekend of our country's 229th birthday, and Metal Matt is lookin' to score. He inspects the payload from his cameraman's Hyundai: tripods, floodlights, and a $22,000 Betacam with the cleanest sound you could ask for. Tonight, Judas Priest will bring the rock in a hazmat container, crack the seal, and step back as Rob Halford deploys his weapons of mass destruction all the way to the Mountain View city limits. But despite the perfect sun and the opening riffs of "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" wafting from the amps of the AC/DC tribute band, Matt knows it won't be his day. Metal Matt loves heavy metal, but heavy metal doesn't love him back.
You know what? That's fucked up. Metal bands spent a decade playing county fairs and three-hundred-seat venues after Kurt Cobain put a match to their hairspray. But Matt Bolender stayed true to the faith. Since 1998, he has been producing a monthly cable-access TV show dedicated to bands the world seemed to have forgotten.
"There was all these bands coming through with all this great music, and they'd be playing these little tiny places, and you'd be going, 'What's this about?'" he says. "'Why are these bands that I used to grow up on -- you know, playing these massive arenas and stuff like that -- now they're having a hard time filling up a three-hundred-seat club?' ... It didn't seem too pie-in-the-sky to say, 'Hey, why don't we get together, and let's talk. Talk about old times, talk about the new album, talk about things that are happening now in your lives, and then shoot some music and put it on TV.'"
Whenever Dokken played Palo Alto, Matt was there, plugging a line into the soundboard, filming the show, and interviewing the band backstage. He sat down with the Scorpions, Ronnie James Dio, and Blue Oyster Cult, asking questions no one else was interested in. Matt nurtured these bands through the lean years, publicizing their gigs when no one else could be bothered. He interviewed Judas Priest without Rob Halford, and Halford without Priest.
Now Halford is back with Priest, and he's even being interviewed on National Public Radio. His band tops the bill at the Shoreline, and the place comes close to selling out. Old-school bands like Priest and Iron Maiden have displaced nü-metal acts from atop the Ozzfest lineup. Headbangers' Ball is even back on TV. And Metal Matt no longer gets his phone calls returned. Metal is too big for Matt, and he's lucky if he can get comped into the cheap seats.
It's been a dry concert season; Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Def Leppard/Bryan Adams double bill, and a version of Foreigner that doesn't even feature Lou Gramm all blanked Matt this year, and three weeks ago, the "Rock Never Dies" tour (Cinderella, Ratt, and Quiet Riot) kept him waiting outside Paramount's Great America for two hours. Just before tonight's show, Priest's opening act Queensrÿche agreed to sit for a quick interview, and someone hinted that Matt might even get to film Priest's first song. That's why he and his crew of two wait for a roadie to usher them backstage.
But Matt knows his place in the universe, and he's been through this before. The union that works Shoreline has been known to shut him out, and you never know when the shop steward will turn on him, or Judas Priest's representative will change his mind and toss him out. "The tour manager's sending a runner up to get us in," he says. "How this happens now will tell you a lot about what happens tonight."
Sure enough, Queensrÿche's runner brings down the hammer. "We talked to a couple of the other bands about having video done, but we haven't been able to get it approved," she says. "So you won't be able to shoot the other bands."
Matt gives it one last try: "We're supposed to have Judas Priest scheduled for tonight."
"Yeah, that's a big no."
What else can he do? Testament gets ready for its set as Matt's crew crowds into Queensrÿche's dressing room, an eight-by-ten-foot cubicle filled with cold cuts, bottled water, and fake wood paneling. Bassist Eddie Jackson and guitarist Mike Wilton huddle on a couch as the cameraman sets up the tripods and gets the lighting right. Matt's friend Randy, who runs a carpet-cleaning business and serves as grip this evening, exclaims, "You guys are awesome, man!" and pumps their hands. "Okay, you like the shots?" Matt says as he slides onto the couch, mike in hand. "Tape's rolling?" With a silent count, he glides into his on-air persona.
"Welcome back to CC Rock!" Metal Matt punches out. "I'm now backstage with the big Q&R guys, and we're gonna get some big Q&A going on here. ... You guys have played the Bay Area so much in the last few years, I mean, you guys are a mainstay in this area. What's it like coming back to the Bay Area?"
"Oh, it's always fun coming back here," Jackson says. "I mean, we'll play anywhere."
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