I like to shoot to thrill when it comes to Denise Anne. The girl needs that high voltage experience to recharge since the arena we operate in can be challenging, especially when she has to deal with nut-jobs who leave her threatening voice mails demanding that EnviroReporter.com back off our environmental investigations. No, not so nice, and not so smart either.
But intimidation does not daunt Denise Anne. She has faced more formidable opponents in her life, and so have I. Besides, the girl’s got rhythm and she likes rock and roll. So a few weeks ago when I saw my friend Falling James Moreland’s LA Weekly calendar notice about an upcoming AC-DC concert in Anaheim, I knew what I had to do:
For those about to rock, we salute you, but bring earplugs: An AC/DC concert causes the kind of nonstop ringing in your head where, the next day, you want to apologize to everyone nearby, thinking they must be hearing it, too,” wrote Falling James, who gigs in the seminal punk band he founded, The Leaving Trains. “It’s that loud.”
AC-DC in Orange County.
Explosions, flames and fireworks. “Highway to Hell” and “Thunderstruck.” Perchorate, heavy metals, and strontium. “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “The Jack.” Sulfur, aluminum powder and iron powder. “Dog Eat Dog” and “Givin’ the Dog a Bone”. Charcoal, magnesium, gums, and organic plastic binders (dioxins). “Back in Black” and “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).”
Head banging rock and roll for the most devoted heavy metal fans guaranteed to damage your hearing and pollute the arena with clouds of airborne goo. The most awesome show on the road this year was going to roll into Anaheim with all its beery, low-brow, devil horned glory. Falling James was right – let there be rock!
Denise Anne’s birthday was just days away and AC-DC is one of her favorite bands. I jumped on the phone and scored two of the sweetest seats in Anaheim’s Honda Center Arena, just 50 feet from the side of the stage. Now all I had to do was keep it a secret from the birthday babe.
Or babes. Denise Anne, on top of all things else, is a performance artist and graphic novel cartoonist. She has created 22 (and counting) distinct personas, all hot, fun and wicked. Each girl has come with musical soundtracks that fits her style. Call them Hell’s Belles Symphonies. And indeed, AC-DC has more cuts on more of her compilations than any other band.
The one bad girl that just had to go to AC-DC with me was Dawn Wilde, a live wire from the Mojave Desert disaster of a town called Trona. Dawn says she was born outside of the nearly-deserted ghost town of Amboy, in a lime green Ford Econoline van by the chloride canals south of town.
This desert doll spends her days in a trailer expertly painted with a huge American flag. “If you are a patriot, you are welcome into my trailer,” Dawn says. “Just be bringing a case of Old Milwaukee N.A. and a carton of menthols or we’re gonna have a problem, Mike. Desert’s a dry place.”
Ms. Wilde’s wild ways scandalized the pages of Los Angeles CityBeat in a September 2007 gonzo piece called “Dawn in Desert Wonderland” where Dawn taught me the mysteries of the Mojave:
Dawn looked lovely. Her golden ponytail stuck out of the back of her USA baseball cap, a rhinestone cross dangled from her neck, and that white ribbed tank top barely covered the rough-and-tumble tattoos that adorned her back, including one of an eagle and black panther in a deadly embrace. Far below her tattered jean miniskirt, she wore cheap black heels with a broken strap. She was a crackup, and her squeals of delight danced through the cool desert air.
We looked into the inky, bejeweled night. The only signs of life were the distant headlights and dim roar of pickup trucks careening to God knows where.
“So what do you do out here in the desert?” I asked.
“Ah, Mike,” she said with a laugh, “We don’t do the desert – the desert does us!”
It just had to be Dawn. Plus, she’s the girl that turned me onto heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll unlike I had ever been turned on before. It was hard getting her to the concert in Anaheim without giving in to telling her where we were going.
“Mike, this had better be a kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll concert!” she hollered over the stereo blasting the Scorpions. “You may have a lot riding on it!”
As I pulled in off the 5 freeway and snaked into the parking lot, she finally saw the Honda Arena’s massive sign proclaiming “AC-DC TONIGHT!”
Dawn went wild! “Back in Black is one of my favorite albums, Mike!” she squealed squeezing more pink lipstick on that mile-long mouth. “That one’s got ‘Hell’s Bells,’ ‘Shoot to Thrill’ and ‘Shake a Leg!’ Let’s go!”
Done. We walked through the parking lot where groups of guys were hanging out, drinking and smoking, while they ogled Dawn. A couple of dudes doffed their baseball cats in deference to the smokin’ So Cal heavy metal babe as ‘Let’s Get It Up’ blared from their Dodge Durango.
Inside, our seats were closer than I thought; we were going to be practically on top of the band. Dawn could hardly contain herself, but busied herself adjusting the settings on the blinking devil horns that I’d bought for her.
The lights dimmed and a video began of lead guitarist Angus Young riding an out of control train down the tracks until it literally exploded through the screen. A giant locomotive, with Young’s trademark horns jutting out of the engine, careened to a halt onstage in barrage of explosions and flame.
Dawn and I went nuts just like the over 18,000 other AC-DC fanatics screaming their lungs out and thrusting their fists into the air in unison as the band launched into a hit off of their new Black Ice album called ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.’
For the next two hours, Dawn and I were thrashed by a band with more energy, talent, and authenticity than bands half their age. It was a jaw-dropping, grab-you-by-the-collar, rock and roll free for all. Explosions from cannons, fireworks, and blasts shook the arena.
Yet in this whole time, I never smelled the fireworks which the EnviroReporter in me knows are chock full of dangerous toxins like perchlorate, which propels fireworks, and heavy metals which give the bursts their rich patina of colors.
Turns out that it takes twenty to thirty trucks to haul AC-DC’s show around the country. They carry all sorts of high-tech devices, gizmos, smoke pots, cannons and charges – “close proximity fireworks” – that are blown up close to the audience.
That takes a lot of preparation. Last fall, AC-DC’s crew headed to Philadelphia for a month of rehearsals at Center Stage. And then the whole production rolled into the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, October 26, for the first show. It had taken a week to set up the show and the band had checked the set once for about 15 minutes, such is the confidence in their crew. Then it was time to rock.
The excitement of the band’s first tour in five years is caught in all its glory on the AC-DC Rock N Roll Fannation website in a three-part video called “It’s a Long Way To Wilkes-Barre (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll).” The first fan to arrive in the parking lot for the show, a goateed dude with a rocket car, had driven in from Sacramento.
“These are real people and this is real rock and roll, Mike,” Dawn says later. “Not these dopey dipsticks you gotta deal with here in La La Land. AC-DC fans rock harder than anyone else because the band rocks harder than anyone else.”
The undulating masses of fans in the Honda Arena wearing strobing red horns like Dawn’s added to the overwhelming sense of the show’s spectacle. For this tour, AC/DC’s stage construction included a scissor lift built at the end of a fifty yard long stage that would lift Angus Young into the upper reaches during his extended guitar solo.
Eight cannons, a massive bell, a huge “Rosie” sitting astride the stage-crashed locomotive running off the tracks, seemed to appear out of nowhere. We could feel the concussion and heat of the fireworks and explosions but for the life of me I couldn’t smell anything.
“Close proximity fireworks” burst diameters measure a few feet rather than hundreds of feet for outdoor fireworks. Display fireworks may be as big as two feet in diameter but close proximity pyrotechnics are typically one to two inches in size and no larger than four.
Outdoor fireworks are never fired over people but some indoor fireworks are fired over audiences’ heads because everything is consumed in the air leaving no fallout and nothing falls to the ground.
These kinds of pyrotechnics are governed by the National Fire Protection Act Code 1126 which covers chemistry, construction, placement, and firing of close proximity pyrotechnics. NFPA 1126 says that close proximity fireworks may be placed as close as fifteen feet from audiences and structures.
Oddly, there is no such thing as a nation-wide license or permit for the use of these kinds of indoor pyrotechnics. Licensing of pyrotechnicians is usually handled by the State Fire Marshal’s office. Performance permits are handled by whatever authority has jurisdiction over the venue, usually the local fire marshal.
Fifteen feet felt more like fifteen inches: something exploded right in my face during Thunderstruck. I was blinded as the heavy metal coursed through my body. I was dancing in sightless ecstasy.
“[B]right light can blanch the light sensitive rods and cones in our retinas, especially the cones,” says Kenton McWilliams, O.D., Optometrist. “When saturated, the cones are unable to discriminate color as well.”
My rods were overwhelmed. But I began to see Dawn’s rhinestone cross dangling from her neck. My cones were coming back because I could make out the luscious hot pink of Dawn’s lips as she was saying something in the ungodly din that is AC-DC.
I came to and we went nuts.
Hells Bells and Shoot to Thrill and then You Shook Me All Night Long. By the time the band finished its encore with Highway to Hell and For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), we were good to go.
Before we got back to L.A., Dawn had let her hair down. Our ears were ringing as the hot smoky winds blew blonde curls around her face.
“That’s how the wind blows out in the desert, Mike,” she said easing over next to me. “Just like they sing in ‘Rock N Roll Train’ – your mind on fantasy, livin’ on the ecstasy.”
NEXT: Fireworks go afoul the next night in the Southland’s supposed ‘greenest’ city, Santa Monica, as 6,400 fireworks display celebrating the pier’s centennial smokes out thousands. A toxic pall settles over the town as Denise Anne and Michael go “Up in Smoke.”