From the Archive: South of the Border with Pantera and Kiss, 1997

When Pantera headed to Mexico City to open for their heroes Kiss in 1997, Guitar World's Jeff Gilbert was there. It was an experience neither he nor you will soon forget.

Mexico City. It's six o'clock in the morning, and the temperature has already climbed to 80 degrees. I find myself part of a team of roadies, every one the size of a small building, unpacking several semi-trailer trucks crammed with rented speakers, billion-channel soundboards, 10-ton lighting rigs, dozens of guitars and enough drums to jump start Mardi Gras. Sweat is beginning to run down my back and torso like an overflowing toilet.

A nightmare? Nope. It's just my latest writing assignment dreamed up by those treacherous bastards at Guitar World. "It's simple," they told me. "Pantera is opening up for Kiss at Mexico City's Sports Palace and we want you to be there. You know, hang with the band and give us a feel of what it's like to travel with heavy metal's finest."

It sounded like fun. What they didn't tell me was that, in order help defray expenses, the deal included volunteering my services with the road crew. One of my co-workers takes five to urinate-on my shoes. As I curse the entire Guitar World staff and their families, my thoughts are mercifully interrupted. "How'd you expect me to do my damn job right if I don't have any beer?" a roadie complains loudly.

Priorities being what they are, the beer is quickly and systematically removed from cartons and packed in personalized ice chests. Bottle openers are brandished like switch blades. The sound of beer caps hitting the pavement is followed by a symphony of unrestrained belching, the sweet sounds of which reverberate in the darkened, cavernous arena. Breakfast is served.

9:00 a.m. Everyone except the first-shift crew is sleeping off last night's performance. Despite being added to the bill at the last minute, Pantera turned in a muscular performance worthy of a headliner, rewarding their young Mexican fans with irreversible ear damage. Though most of this city's teeming millions are already hard at work, it'll be hours until the elevators in the plush, 40-story Presidente Inter-Continental Hotel are filled with groggy rock stars and bleary-eyed guitar techs whose clothes-which conveniently double as pajamas-reek of "Texas Aftershave" (tequila and vomit).

11:00 a.m. Pantera sleeps. A group of teenagers wearing Kiss t-shirts and clutching pens have gathered just beyond the outdoor concierge station and set up an unblinking vigil. Obviously, they're not familiar with the slumber patterns of American rock stars. It will be a long wait.

1:00 p.m. Pantera still sleeps. The kids outside pass the time by singing "Rock and Roll All Nite." When this somehow segues into "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," a few of the waiting taxi drivers join in with gusto. The only thing missing is an Ace Frehley solo.

3:00 p.m. And still they sleep. A few "up at the crack of noon" drum techs bravely venture out into the sweltering heat in search of hangover food. Their efforts are rewarded when they discover that the local El McDonald's has an unlimited supply of greasy fries and Egg McBurros.

5:00 p.m. Pantera are just getting up. They finally come down to the lobby-their rumpled duds and conspicuous sunglasses proclaiming that everyone did, indeed, rock and roll all night. But their slow movements and pained expressions suggest that any attempt to "party ev-very day" is out of the question. Clearly, no one in Pantera is a morning person.

5:30 p.m. Like convicted murderers being transported to the state pen, Kiss is secretly escorted through a side door into heavily-guarded vehicles. Pantera and crew, on the other hand, amble into promoter-provided family vans. There is little conversation, with everyone preferring to yawn and rub last night's whiskey out of their eyes.

6:00 p.m. The van pulls into the arena grounds...and right into an improvised flea market filled with bootleg Kiss and Pantera merchandise-thousands of spectacular t-shirts of every imaginable color, covered with the bands' logos and the likenesses of the individual members. "These shirts look better than the ones Winterland makes," notes Vinnie Paul, Pantera's strongman drummer.

That the life span of a typical bootleg t-shirt is usually three washes on gentle cycle, no bleach, disturbs exactly no one. The salesmen here have no "official" competition; there are no laws governing bootlegging in Mexico, so Kiss and Pantera don't even bother bringing merchandise to the shows.

6:15 p.m. Darrell, a wad of fresh pesos burning a hole in his pocket, says, "Dude, I wanna go out there and get me some shirts." Val-Pantera's intimidating bodyguard and seven-foot mascot-leads the way beyond the relative protection of the arena's chainlink fence. Darrell, Vinnie, a few production assistants and this Guitar World correspondent (valiantly battling a thunderous case of Montezuma's Revenge) slowly wade into a sea of several hundred metal-starved maniacs.

Darrell, with his unmistakable hot-pink beard, is immediately mobbed. At first it's hard to tell whether he is being surrounded because he's a famous guitar hero, or because he is a Texan with a fistful of dollars.

Three very young, virginal Mexican girls approach Darrell, giggling and saying something that sounds like "He has a Chevy in his beard!" Not familiar with local colloquialisms, Darrell shrugs and heads for a wall covered with Kiss shirts.

"What do they mean by `Chevy'?" I ask a kid who speaks English. "Not `Chevy,' " he laughs. "They say he has a cherry beard-you know, all red."

Darrell is on fire. Hundreds of boot Kiss and Pantera shirts are spread out on the ground as the merchants, possessed by the spirit of free enterprise, bark out their prices. Darrell-who's having a bit of trouble converting pesos to dollars in his mind-simply reaches into his pocket and starts pulling wads of money while grabbing as many hats, posters, Kiss clocks and shirts as he can carry. Finally out of cash, their arms sagging with their new wardrobes, Darrell and Vinnie follow the wide swath cut by Val's mountainous form back to the arena, a throng of fans swimming along like pilot fish. Darrell reaches into his pocket and tosses out a handful of Pantera guitar picks, creating a pile of fans battling each other like dogs for the prized souvenirs. Amazed, laughing, he tosses another handful of picks in the air. More scrambling, more dust flying, more heads banging. "It's like feeding barnyard chickens," chuckles a production assistant.

7:00 p.m. Pantera's dressing room is furnished with several couches, a chair or two and a table sagging with Crown Royal, Seagrams, beer and several thousand disposable cups. Darrell walks in with his arms straining with Kiss shirts, taking care not to crease his prized find: a glossy Kiss/Pantera tour poster. "This is so fuckin' cool," he gushes, holding it up for all to worship. Someone calls for a celebration. Styrofoam cups are lined up like firing squad targets, and Darrell, the band's self-appointed bartender, expertly fills seven cups with whiskey and a splash of Coca-Cola. "These are called `Black Tooths'," he grins, handing the potent drinks to everyone in the room.

7:15 p.m. Forty-five minutes until Pantera take the stage. Gene Simmons, a baseball cap on his massive head and a blue denim shirt draping his considerable torso, pokes his head into the dressing room for a quick greeting before being distracted by a stunning young girl wearing a rubber band for pants out in the hall. Ace Frehley wanders by moments later. "Hey, Ace, you gonna watch us play?" asks Darrell. "I'm depressed," Ace frowns. "I'll be putting on my makeup when you guys are on stage."

"That's okay," offers Darrell, unquestionably the most rabid Ace Frehley fan in the entire Southern hemisphere. "We'll be down front watching you!" Ace smiles, bids a mumbled "Okayseeyalater," and meanders down the hall. "Ace Fuckin' Frehley, man!" Another toast is called for. More drinks. "Dude, we're almost out of whiskey," says Darrell to road manager Guy Sykes. A ghetto blaster turned up beyond the point of distortion blares out Biohazard and Black Sabbath, rallying the band's energy.

Everyone begins to pace in anticipation of the show. Singer Phil Anselmo, already a caged animal, positions himself on the floor and proceeds to knock out a rapid series of sit-ups. Each Panteran takes a turn at stretching and loosening up, with Val assisting by realigning everyone's neck and back cartilage with bone-shifting brute force. So physically demanding is Pantera's gut-ripping metal that the members require chiropractic treatment before and after each performance.

More drinks. Darrell pours faster. They listen to one last song before taking the stage-Thin Lizzy's shredding "Thunder & Lightning." Guy Sykes announces, "It's show time."

Pantera is ready to eat rocks and shit asphalt.

8:00 p.m. The house lights go down and a hungry roar shakes the building. Phil grabs the mic and greets Mexico with a guttural growl that would have members of Obituary soiling their death metal diapers. Pantera erupts into "New Level," and for the next hour chaos reigns over the Sports Palace. Gargantuan riffs fly like teeth in a Tex-Mex barroom brawl. A blinding splash of light reveals that nearly every other person in the audience is wearing Kiss makeup.

9:15 p.m. Kiss' dressing room door is open a crack and Gene and Ace can be seen putting on their rock regalia. Paul Stanley, wearing a shower cap to keep his hair from getting in the way of his paint job, puts the final touches on the famous black star over his right eye. Peter Criss is sitting on a couch whacking his leg with drumsticks. Business as usual for the hottest band in the land.

9:30 p.m. With cannons blazing, Kiss hit the stage. With drinks in hand, Pantera rush out and edge themselves into the front row, much to the delight of the crowd. Darrell, high-fiving everyone around him, settles into air guitaring along with Ace.

11:15 p.m. Kiss build to a final crescendo. Peter croons "Beth," the second of three encores, triggering a loud ovation from the delirious crowd. The show ends with Kiss wrapping things up with "Rock and Roll All Nite" amid a Fourth of July display of fireworks and near-miss explosions.

12:30 a.m. Mexico's Hard Rock Cafe is not unlike any of the other Hard Rock Cafes around the world Though the employees speak little English, they all recognize the international "drinky drinky" motion and quickly fetch platters of Coronas and shots of Jack Daniels and tequila for our table.

2:00 a.m. Gene and Ace stroll into the packed restaurant, nearly causing a riot. Gene, spotting the same gorgeous girl he leered at from the stage all night long, corners the lass.

"Ace, dude - pull up a chair," invites Darrell. Frehley seats himself between Darrell and this Guitar World correspondent, who is busy trying to keep from hurling up the several gallons of whiskey, tequila and beer he's recently consumed. The smell of smoldering nachos and chicken wings wafting up from the table is helping things along nicely.

2:30 a.m. In a toxic alcoholic haze, I end up staring at the back of Ace Frehley's head as he talks shop with Darrell. The back of Ace's head is no different from anyone else's head, except that it's Ace's head. And where Ace goes, so does his head, presumably. There are so many things I want to ask the back of Ace's head, but my lips feel like two pieces of bologna slapping together. Ace, a confirmed tee totaler gulps down glass after glass of ginger ale and spoons his way through several strawberry sundaes. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear Ace-his speech slurred, his eyes half-closed-was getting drunk on ice cream.

3:15 a.m. The restaurant manager enters the room bearing gifts-denim Hard Rock Cafe jackets, leather vests and T-shirts for all. Ace tries on several coats until he finds one that fits. Menus and cocktail napkins are passed around for autographs. Seizing the moment, Darrell corrals Ace into posing for a photo with him. "In case you haven't seen it in a while..." Darrell lifts his shirt to reveal a colorful tattoo of Ace Frehley on his chest. Visibly impressed, Ace smiles and wipes some ice cream from his face. "Hey, Gene-man, you guys rocked tonight!" gushes Darrell as everyone prepares to leave. Gene smiles, leans over, and kisses Darrell on the forehead. That's about as much as Gene will get tonight: the young girl he'd been hitting on for the last several hours had to leave; she has to get up early for junior high school tomorrow.

4:30 a.m. The restaurant has been closed for hours, but Pantera keeps ordering more drinks. Only when the bartender brings the tab does everyone decide to pack it in for the night. The bill comes to a whopping 4,100 pesos, and those who are able to stand without assistance make for the door without paying. Sykes hands a giant wad of currency to a waiter.

The kid looks like someone just kicked his pet burro. For all their high-rolling, Pantera and Kiss have stiffed him for a tip. Guitar World to the rescue. "Here," I say, offering every bit of cash left in my pocket. The waiter gives me a funny look and walks away, no doubt unable to express his gratitude for the handsome $6 gratuity.

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