Right before the Canadian metal band Anvil shred through "Mothra", the second cut from their classic 1982 album Metal on Metal, lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow told the Chicago crowd, "You're not my fans…you're my friends". It's not the first time I've heard such a sentiment expressed at a concert, but it's the first time in eons I believed it. Unlike dozens of acts whom you can smell their "bs" of a statement like this a mile away, you believe every word when it's coming from the guys in Anvil. The band recently launched a nationwide tour in support of both their award winning film Anvil: The Story of Anvil and their recently re-released album, This Is Thirteen. I was on hand not just to witness the camaraderie and blistering performance, but to meet with the band as well. My time was schedule for 5pm sharp and due to circumstances beyond everyone's control, my interview was pushed back significantly, despite this, the band was extremely cordial and let us do our interview in between dinner and meet-and-greet sessions with us present. While I waited in the guest room, bassist Glenn Five (aka "G5") and drummer Robb Reiner ate their dinners in a hurried fashion while Tom Trakas (Midwest Metal Magazine: http://deathstar330.blogspot.com/) and I sat and waited. Lips was doing a television interview in the other room. If you are wondering if the band are similar to the personalities we came to love and cheer for in the film, the answer would be a resounding "yes". There was no ego involved here, they sounded and dressed the same and ultimately, I found three guys extremely grateful for this rebirth which is a glorious resurrection that is unparalleled in the annals of music.
As we waited, we made small talk with Reiner which evolved into a more serious discussion. I asked him if there was a moment of awakening in the last few years where he realized that everything they have been trying to execute for the past thirty years would come into focus? He smiled at me, wiped his mouth after taking a bite of his Caesar salad and said "If you ask Lips, he'll tell you that it was the day that Sacha (Gervasi) decided to do the movie. I'm not as optimistic as Lips and simply crossed my fingers and hoped for the best…still do". Reiner told me that the finished film is only a fraction of what was filmed; apparently there is 320-hours of footage that could possibly be compiled for future reissues on DVD which Reiner felt would "probably happen a few years down the road, but it's up to Sacha". Tom had brought the book that was released last year and our focus switched to it. In many ways, I could tell Reiner was as fond of the book as he was of the film. "I let it all out it was a cleansing experience, even more so than the film because I was able to unload my entire life over a few weeks. It was more than cleansing, it was healing. Ultimately, I think people feel a connection not because we're in a band or anything else, but because this is a people story".
The healing continued onstage that evening as the band hit the stage with the spastic energy of teens tearing through their opener "March of the Crabs" with a blissful vengeance. The three piece flexed their lean-mean and molten metal muscle for the 1,400 in attendance at the House of Blues. "666" and "School Love" followed in quick succession showcasing bassist Glenn Five whose fingers directly and fiercely maneuvered across his five-string and twelve-string basses. Along with drummer Robb Reiner (one of the best in all of metal), they lay a concrete foundation for guitarist/vocalist Lips Kudlow to take it over the top with his burning metal riffs and howling vocals. This classic material sounds as good as it does on their earlier records, and in many cases, has improved overall because of the mindset of the band. After decades of fighting for their moment in the sun, they finally have an audience that they don't plan on letting down anytime soon. "Winged Assassins" was delivered with the conviction of a nineteen-year-old and upon its conclusion, the crowd chanted "Anvil, Anvil, Anvil!". "Flying Blind" saluted Black Sabbath as G5 punished our ears with the sway of his twelve-string bass while "Thumb Hang" is a testament to old school metal and it can now be found on the re-issue of This Is Thirteen. The passion is interchangeable between the old and new material evidenced on the title track, "This Is Thirteen" with its unassailable riff. "White Rhino" was a showcase piece for drummer Robb Reiner as he pulverized his kit with meticulousness and galloping gusto. Most solo's of this type should be a bore, but one look at Reiner and it's like watching a master of his craft, you instantly see why other bands sought him out in the early 80's. His style of drumming is so meticulous, pure and distinctive, I'm not anyone could properly replicate it. "Mad Dog" continued the good vibes (a video was done for the song back in the 1980's) and for better or worse, you have to admire the sheer stamina of Anvil. This isn't a band who is interested in pleasing others or catering to trends, they write their own agenda and it shows. They have never given up and do what they do incredibly well. While they've never been able to really improve on the template of their first three records, what they have done is continued to churn out record after record without giving a second thought as to what as hip and staying true to themselves, which makes them so endearing. As Reiner told me backstage before the show, "all of our failures and successes have been on our own terms". They may no longer be the underdogs of the metal scene, but after laying witness to a performance like the one in Chicago, you can't help but root for them and that this is the first of many gigs that are filled. In heavy metal, it is one thing to be fast and furious and it is another to just deliver a great show with a set full of engaging songs; Anvil balances these two worlds with ease. After spending the better part of three decades in every situation imaginable, the band proved to everyone they are indeed masters of their craft.
When speaking earlier in the evening to Reiner and Kudlow, it was evident they're euphoric about their newfound success which has been a long time in the making. But they seem most elated about their fourteenth record, Juggernaut of Justice. The band has twenty-songs ready to go as soon as they get off the road in September. Reiner commented, "I would love to be recording these songs now, but we're still plugging this album (This Is Thirteen) and the film…plus so many people are seeing us live for the first time". In discussing the direction of the new record, both Reiner and Kudlow used to term "crystal clear focus" to accentuate the drive behind the songs. "We've never been in a place where there was all this positive energy rallying behind us and these songs were birthed out of that place". The band hasn't determined who will produce the next record but hope to record it and have it released sometime in 2011. Discussing highlights of the last year Reiner was thrilled to be opening for AC/DC this past summer at some of their stadium gigs. Kudlow gleamed when discussing the "Tonight Show" appearance; "more people saw us in ten-minutes than had in thirty-plus years", Reiner added, "it was a great day for metal". Reiner and I discussed his artwork where he told me that he is starting to get offers for many of the pieces featured in the film. "But I'll never let go of them, they mean too much to me. Besides, when I paint, I enjoy myself and it's therapeutic, I don't want to over think anything or have it become a job". A series of the paintings have been on display at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery in Calgary and there is the possibility that they may be collected in book form since Reiner doesn't want to part with them.
I finished my interview, I asked Lips the same question I started off my
interview with Reiner with; if he could tell me the moment of awakening
where he knew it would all come together? Without hesitation, he blurted
out, "I knew something was going to happen the moment Sacha decided to
make the movie". I looked over at Robb Reiner who just laughed, shot me
a smile and said "I told you". Lips continued to explain why he knew the
movie would have an impact on people, "Most movies are built to make the
band look great but you sit back and think to yourself 'there is no reality
to what we're watching'. We had no set plan on anything other than to make
music. We're making this up as we go". We discussed the impact that their
story has had and how it has extended beyond the musical world. "You have
no idea how it will be received until it's out there for people to see".
The reaction to the film has unanimously been rapturous and if it is having
any effect on the band, it can be seen in their performance. As the band
engulfed the crowd with the set closing songs "Forged In Fire" and their
anthem, "Metal On Metal", there was a dizzying array of strobe lights and
chest thrashing riffs and yet the most noticeable thing was the gleaming
smile on Lips Kudlow's face. He's a metal pioneer and shouldn't be smiling,
but he was and that very smile was damn infectious. Regardless of what
anyone does in life, you have to admire anyone who can accomplish a way
to make a living while doing what they love. This was more profound than
any sequenced light spectacular. It reminded me of something profound Robb
Reiner told me before the show backstage as he ate his Caesar salad. He
looked up at me and said "the key to life is being able to do what you
want…and get away with it".
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer
and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic
Network and his daily writings can be read at The
Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.
CD Info and Links
Anvil: Defying the Odds