Two hours before the doors open, the Trocadero's sidewalk is awash with the great unwashed as Slayer fans line up for the multiplatinum metalheads' appearance at the tiny Troc. The bad tattoos (skulls, Harley-Davidson, Beavis and Butt-head), the black T-shirts (Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Slayer), and the bad haircuts (short in front, long in back) combine to suggest one thing: These kids -- many of whom look like they're pushing 35 -- are not from around here. Think East Bay. Think Peninsula. Think Santa Rosa. George Lazaneo, the Trocadero's general manager, calls them "pseudo-Satanist heshers from Ukiah."
Mike, the 24-year-old director of security, has a small office upstairs; walkie-talkies, earplugs, and a list of bouncers and their assignments lie on his desk. (Like the other bouncers in this story, Mike did not want his last name used.) Mike's current look is a shaved head, black jeans, and a black T-shirt sporting the logo of the Electric Hellfire Club. But a photo tacked to the wall depicts another Mike, a Mike who used to go to Slayer concerts as a fan, a Mike once thrown out of Death Angel shows in Hayward. The irony is not lost on him.
Zeus walks into Mike's office with the effect of a Mack truck entering a broom closet. An enormous free-lance security god who has toured with Metallica and Run-D.M.C., Zeus is a hired gun for tonight's sold-out show. Changing into his bouncer garb, he applies black wristbands and gloves. "You want to be protected if you're going to be in a mosh pit," he says. "Like you're a gladiator going into war."
The sheets of Trocadero security badges are missing. Mike is semifrantic. In the wrong hands, they could undermine the entire security process; most of Mike's staff, several of whom play in punk bands, could be confused with the more moderate Slayer fans. "The entire staff is on edge, or a little sharper tonight, except for me," Mike says. Five minutes later he finds the badges in Lazaneo's office.
Mike orders a building sweep. Those without badges hit the sidewalk, no matter how compelling their stories. Outside there's another sweep: Bouncers tell drinkers to finish the contents of brown paper bags somewhere else. They're firm but easygoing: No need to confiscate alcohol and piss someone off before the show.
Debate Among Commanders in Chief
Mike and Lazaneo call the entire staff and Slayer's production manager together for a battle plan briefing. Four stabbings in the pit at the previous show, in Salt Lake City, precipitated a near-riot and police helicopters. Nevertheless, Slayer has asked the bouncers to go easy on fans and eject only fighters and moshers who make for the stage more than twice. "You can only use restraint," says the production manager. "No hitting back."
Lazaneo is more interested in the safety of Troc security than the pseudo-Satanist heshers. "Do not kick someone out without backup," he says. "I don't want any fucking heroes tonight. That's when people get hurt."
"Three minutes to door," the walkie-talkies scratch. Upstairs, a ritual: Bouncers drop their knives and portable billy clubs in Mike's office. Everyone assumes their posts: four guys at the barricade between the crowd and the band, two or three on the staircases, four or five at each door, two at the door at stage left, and a few rovers, including Zeus, for "crowd control."
The rules of this battle don't allow unfair advantages. If the bouncers must drop their weapons in Mike's office, then the enemy must surrender theirs at the front door. Some weapons cannot even be seen: Ever since a bouncer contracted scabies while patting down a Neurosis fan, Trocadero security guys wear rubber gloves for the chore.
Why Advance at All?
A room full of heshers blankly watches opening punk band DFL with all of the interest of field-tripping fourth-graders at the symphony. This is a dangerous crowd? These scrawny, lethargic hair farmers? Maybe the drugs haven't kicked in yet.
Before Unsane, a metal trio from New York, takes the stage, a Taxi Driver monologue and a well-placed spotlight finally create an ominous mood. There is drama in the air. Zeus probes the floor with his flashlight.
The trio comes on with no pretense. Frontman Chris Spencer knows what the crowd wants, and it's not him. "We do our set," says Spencer, "then Slayer!" (He'll shout "Slayer!" after every song.) The crowd appreciates the first few chords of dirge metal and parts for a small pit.
After the third song, a thrasher bursts from the crowd, stumbles up the south stairs, and collapses, holding his face. Bouncer Rick, without radio, rushes for backup. But a few minutes later, the thrasher's OK, sulking by the upstairs water fountain with a cigarette. Between gulps of water he tells me he'd received an elbow in the face. He vows revenge.
Prelude to the Battle
The crowd goes nuts when a roadie taps the drums. Ah, the cliches of rock 'n' roll. Minutes later they're chanting "Sla-yer, Sla-yer, Sla-yer" and pumping devil horns in the air. A Pantera tune plays over the house system. There's a pit before Slayer touches the stage.
A kid from Santa Rosa, unprompted, leans over to me and nods in Zeus' direction. "You know who can really fight?" he asks. "That big black dude. Shit, I saw him kick four guys' asses at once at the Fear show."
Slayer opens with 1988's "South of Heaven" and the floor becomes a swirling mass of flesh and hair. The band's brutal attack is so loud that every double-bass drum roll stands arm hair on end. The mob goes ballistic. One crowd-surfer manages to stand above the audience on their hands and uses the perch to launch a complete back flip. Two older, unshirted guys with longish mustaches stand in the middle of the largest pit, sweat drenching their mullet haircuts and pouring down their naked beer bellies. As moshers circle the pit, the two stand back to back, throwing elbows and gut-punching anyone who dares stumble between them.
Zeus is on the north side of the pit. His fixes his flash on potential fighters, freezing them like deer in headlights. I ask him about kicking four guys' asses at the Fear show. "No comment," he says. And then, "I'd add that if I did, they deserved it."
Prisoner of War
Outside, another half-naked fan -- this one sporting a griffin tattoo with "Harley-Davidson" lettered on its belly -- pleads with bouncer Aaron. He's been tossed for crashing the barricade twice, but he says he needs re-entry to find his girlfriend; she's got the car keys. Aaron won't hear it.
Somehow, Mr. Griffin Tattoo has slipped back inside. "Are you going to find your girlfriend?" I ask. "Yeah, then I'm out." Minutes later he's flailing above the pit, demonic eyes glowing.
Slayer wraps up "Angel of Death." Rikki Rachtman would say the crowd was turned up to 11. Band members walk the stage tossing picks and drumsticks to their faithful, sweaty minions. "I want to thank you for coming out," says lead screamer Tom Araya. "I want to thank you for having a good time."
Outside, Lazaneo is sitting on the concrete next to a woman who holds a Marlboro in one hand and her forehead with the other. She's sobbing. Her husband crouches to ask her what happened and she starts bawling, explaining how she was pushed into the pit and thrown into a pillar, slicing open the back of her skull. The bloody gash is about a half-inch long.
Lazaneo gets up to leave. "Don't I get a T-shirt or something?" she asks.
On his way to retrieve the item, Lazaneo whispers, "This is so classic. She gets her head cut open and all she wants is a fucking T-shirt."
The husband asks if I'm a reporter. Moving along, I say yes. The husband shouts after me, "Don't let this reflect bad on Slayer.