Flashback: Grim Reaper, Armored Saint and Helloween perform at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center, October 1, 1987

The Mid-Hudson Civic Center is not a particularly huge arena by normal standards, but the fact that it was less than half-full on this night made it seem that much bigger.  This was a solid triple-bill of 1987 real metal – dubbed the ‘Hell on Wheels’ tour – featuring Helloween and Armored Saint, but headliners from the U.K., heavies Grim Reaper, had one hit single to their credit (“See You In Hell”), and that single success had not translated to arena-filling status for the Brits. 

So the hall was not packed (a fact not helped by the fact that the much bigger British hard rockers Def Leppard was playing a gig a few hours north at the Glens Falls Civic Center that night), and frankly the audience that was there seemed to be present more for German newcomers/openers Helloween, there on their first US tour, and L.A. metal gods Armored Saint, who played the middle slot.  This was a show that could have – and perhaps should have – been booked into The Chance around the corner.

photo by Marc Kurtzner

Helloween had a big buzz at the time with their ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. I’ album, were already pulling big crowds in the UK and Europe, and years later are considered to be trailblazers for the epic, Power Metal sound which still packs halls in Europe.  This night they were a new young metal band with something to prove, and hit the stage fast and heavy, and got the less-than-capacity crowd going immediately, despite the fact that the house lights didn’t go down until halfway through the second song. 

photo by Marc Kurtzner

The band played a set full of songs from the then-current Keeper album, including “Future World” and the 13-minute epic “Helloween”, and were given a  third-on-the-bill encore by the enthusiastic crowd, and played older song “How Many Tears” to wrap things up.  The band seemed primed for much bigger things in 1987, and returned a year or two later to play packed halls with Anthrax in ’89, but mass success did not ensue, in the U.S. anyway.

photo by Marc Kurtzner

As tight and entertaining as Helloween were, this writer was there for band #2, west coast heavies Armored Saint.  “March of the Saint” kicked their set off, and from there the Saint (singer John Bush, bassist Joey Vera, drummer Gonzo Sandoval and the late, great guitarist Dave Prichard) attacked the stage with enough energy to melt icebergs. 

photo by Marc Kurtzner

At the time AS were promoting their third Chrysalis Records LP, ‘Raising Fear’, and played several tracks from that release, like “Human Vulture”, “Book of Blood”, and the killer “Chemical Euphoria”, but didn’t ignore older songs like “Long Before I Die” and “Can U Deliver”, all served up with sweaty, infectious energy. 

photo by Marc Kurtzner

The set finished with the then-new record’s high-velocity, headbanging title track, “Raising Fear”, before the band were summoned for an encore, the even faster, heavier “Madhouse” from their debut record.

photo by Marc Kurtzner

Headliners Grim Reaper finished the night, and seemed to get less front-of-the-stage energy from the crowd than the first two bands had.  GR were solid metal, singer Steve Grimmett had (and has) a mighty howl, and guitarist Nick Bowcott is no slouch, but the band seemed superlative after the more exciting first two bands, and they played an hour of shrieking metal, culminating in the inevitable “See You In Hell” before a dwindling crowd.  That said, a fine night of pure metal, perhaps in a hall bigger than was warranted by the headline act.

photo by Marc Kurtzner