In the winter of 1995 I was spending the holidays down in Florida with my girlfriend Jen and her family. While waiting for Jen to finish combing the racks of a local thrift store, I was reading a Fort Lauderdale newspaper and came across an intriguing article on a local band. The article focused on the band’s highly theatrical live shows which included nudity, violence, and sexual acts. It also cited a recent show where one of the band members shoved a dildo up his rectum while on stage. The article was accompanied by an intriguing photo of the lead singer; he was standing in a fog of smoke and stage lights, wearing only a black leather thong. He was cutting his left arm open with a broken beer bottle. At first, I interpreted the band’s antics as yet another G.G. Allin rip-off and was skeptical. Still, the name—Marilyn Manson—stuck in my head as a band I should check out if they ever rolled through Providence.
Shortly before I went to Florida, my band decided to change our name. We had been playing under the name Umbrella, but after a few months became increasingly embarrassed of it. So, with this new name came a revived confidence and excitement. We began writing all new songs influenced by the records we were obsessed with at the time: P.I.L’s Second Edition, Chrome’s Alien Soundtracks, Wire’s Pink Flag, Big Black’s Songs About Fucking and The Birthday Party’s Junkyard, to name a few.
Coincidentally, when I got back to Providence I had a message on my answering machine from a local promoter who booked a venue called Babyhead. He was looking for an opener for a big show that was coming through. When I called him back I found out he wanted us to open for Marilyn Manson, the same band I had just read about in Florida. Not only did we have the chance to play our first gig with our new name, but I’d get see this G.G. Allin rip-off band and judge for myself. I called the promoter back and confirmed. The date was set: Saturday, February 11, 1995.
Four nights a week we rehearsed in a cramped 12’ x 12’ sectioned-off room in an old dirty warehouse above J. Vingi and Sons, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler that curiously never seemed to have a fruit or vegetable in it. The building was run down; the heat never worked. Most nights we rehearsed in jackets and winter hats. Still, we played for hours, putting the finishing touches on songs that would eventually end up on our earliest releases. Our determination to have every second of these songs rehearsed bordered on unhealthy. There was a desperation to the way we approached our band. Providence has always felt, to me, like a desperate city, with its weak economy, organized crime, and political corruption. We became a musical embodiment of this spirit.
We showed up to load-in around 6 p.m. and were surprised to see hundreds and hundreds of ornately dressed people standing in line to get into the venue. Most were dressed head-to-toe in black with white powered faces, dark lipstick, and a slew of inverted crosses. Some of the more fashion-committed sported veils, long capes, and top hats. The whole scene looked more like funeral for an evil Victorian-era clown than a punk show.
While loading in our gear I asked the promoter about the bands’ enormous popularity. He told me that Marilyn Manson had just gotten off a tour with Nine Inch Nails and were blowing up. Apparently, Trent Reznor was fond of them and had just signed the band to his label.
After learning of this and reflecting back on the crowd outside, I realized we had agreed to a show that we had no business playing. If this band was on tour with Nine Inch Nails then they were probably nothing like I initially thought. They were not the punk band I envisioned, but more of an industrial metal band with an image (feverishly adopted by their fans) reminiscent of a B-Horror movie with goofy Satanic imagery. What the fuck did we get ourselves into?
We did our sound check around 7 p.m. Both Marilyn Manson and their main support on the tour, Monster Voodoo Machine, had done their sound checks earlier in the day. So, we took our time – we ran through a few of the songs, tweaked our amps and worked with the sound guy to get a good house sound and monitor levels. We finished sound check just before 8 p.m., when the doors were set to open. We watched as the first people in the long line outside paid the door charge and ran to the stage to get a good spot. Within twenty minutes Babyhead was completely packed – there were at least four hundred people jammed into a venue that could barely hold two hundred. I stepped outside to get some fresh air and saw more people outside than in the club. About fifty people were banging on the tour bus hoping to draw Marilyn Manson to the window and the rest were drinking and complaining about not getting in to the show. The scene outside was as unnerving to me as the scene inside.
Our set time was at 10, so we took the next two hours to liquor-up and get into our stage wear: 70s-era bright polyester three-piece suits. Mine was pink. Obviously, our choice of outfits was very different than the headliners.
By the time we took the stage, most of the audience had waited in line for over four hours to get in. They were then crammed into the hot oversold room waiting for the show to start. So when 10 p.m. rolled around and the lights dimmed, there was a huge roar from the crowd – it wasn’t for us though, it was just because something was happening. When the stage lights turned on and we were illuminated, the applause and screams quickly gave way to an awkward silence. The dead air was occasionally interrupted by a few random “Oh shits!” and “What the fucks?”
Their disappointment sparked my innate antagonism. I angrily stared down the black-clothed crowd. I widened my eyes to absorb the sea of painted white faces and Manic Panic-dyed heads. I stepped up to the microphone, stared at the audience, and screamed: “Satan has a new name tonight—it’s Arab On Radar!” In an instant I was engaged in hostile banter with the crowd. This went on until someone escalated the situation by throwing a beer bottle at my head. It whizzed by and smashed on our bass drum. This sparked an onslaught of cigarettes, plastic cups, and coins. Not knowing what else to do, our drummer clicked off the first song and we launched into it. Midway through the first verse, I sensed someone behind me. As I was turning around to see who it was, I got punched in the side of the head by an audience member who had jumped on stage. The band stopped playing while the bouncers dragged him away. The remaining bouncers assembled a human barricade along the front of the stage for our protection.
I knew someone had hit me, but when performing, I am psychically numb. I rarely feel anything except for the beehive of anxiety in my skull. So, I turned to the band as if nothing had happened and asked, “Should we start that one over?” Again, the drummer clicked off and we started up the same song. This time we had to stop because another beer bottle had just missed our drummer’s head and he lost his place in the song. His response was to step out from behind his drums, and join me at the front of the stage to taunt the audience. He was quickly joined by my guitar players. One of the bouncers strongly suggested that we stop antagonizing and just play our set.
Someone in the band shouted “Let’s do the next one!” Abandoning the first song, we launched into the second. Near the end of the song, a big guy with a shaved head and goatee somehow managed to get past the bouncers and began pulling me off the stage and into the audience by my right arm. One of the bouncers noticed what was happening and began pulling me back onto the stage by my left arm. For a few long seconds I was the rope in a frightening game of tug-o-war. I needed to act. So, I kicked the big guy square in the face. He fell backwards down the stairs that led up to the stage. When he hit the floor, he was out cold and blood was squirting from his mouth.
Once again, the music stopped and the remaining bouncers struggled to hold back the inflamed crowd, which was starting to feel more and more like an angry mob. One of the bouncers suddenly turned to us and told us to grab our shit and get off the stage. A few fights began to break out. I don’t know if it was seeing the violence that took place between me and the big guy, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the club, or the tedious wait to get into the show, but soon after we got our gear off the stage the venue erupted into a full-on brawl.
The police were called and arrived in minutes. They stormed the venue and began aiding the staff in restoring order. Meanwhile, three of the bouncers were guarding the backstage area while Jen and my friends Craig (the future drummer of Arab On Radar) and Jeremiah (singer of Six Finger Satellite) were helping us quickly get our equipment to the back door. Suddenly I was approached by three guys wearing over-sized sports jerseys and baggy jeans with wallet chains—a look that embodied the horrible imitation metal scene that ran through the U.S. in the 90s like a sickness. One was holding a tire iron, one was holding a mic stand, and the guy in the middle was covered in blood. It was the guy who tried to drag me into the crowd. “Look what you did asshole! You knocked out six of my teeth! You’re going to pay for this!” he shouted, pointing at his bleeding jagged-toothed mouth. Jen noticed what was happening and alerted Jeremiah and Craig, and then she ran to get the bouncers.
Feeling confident standing next to Jeremiah (who is around 6’ 6” and very intimidating) and Craig (who’s also quite threatening) I asked, “How the fuck did you get back here?” The guy with the tire iron said, “We’re in Monster Voodoo Machine, asshole!” But before I could respond Jen arrived with two bouncers and the manager of Club Babyhead. An argument ensued. Luckily, the manager took my side. He pointed out to them that because they were in a touring band, they should’ve realized how volatile the situation was and that it was stupid to try and pull me into the crowd. This, of course, led to more shouting. Seeing an opportunity to flee, I whispered to Jen, “Get the car.”
I stood there anxiously while the manager and bouncers continued to bicker with the members of Monster Voodoo Machine. The adrenaline started to wear off. I was beginning to feel an enormous swelling in my right foot and throbbing in the back of my head. The seriousness of my situation was becoming very clear; these guys are enormous and they want to kill me.
Just as I finished this thought, Craig tapped me on the shoulder and gestured towards Jen, who was standing in the doorway, emphatically waving me over and mouthing, “I have the car.” Craig and I took off, and as we were making our way towards Jen’s car, Marilyn Manson himself stepped out of his tour bus to investigate the chaos. He asked, “What the fuck is going on in there?” I stopped and shouted, “I don’t know, some asshole in the opening band started a huge fight. Go check it out!”