Tuesday, January 26, 2010, at House of Blues, Dallas
Better Than: The school-cafeteria-grade pizza House of Blues sells for $5 a slice.
Vibrator guitar. Mammoth drum solo. The hungry, lean tautness of a power trio after decades of club gigs. Those elements combined for a hell of a show, no doubt about it. But it would have been just another good rock show if it weren't for the sheer joy that Anvil singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow emanated. A self-professed hippie, he played the part of devil-loving metalhead yet made no attempt to hide the shit-eating grin plastered on his face all show long.
He was clearly still overjoyed just to see people there at all, as you well know if you've seen Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which somehow manages to be both a real-life This Is Spinal Tap and the sweetest, most inspiring rock doc ever.
About the movie, though ... There were about 10 seconds of WTF as the curtain parted not long after Mitra's set to reveal the men of Anvil--not a movie screen.
But any confusion by those (including me) who'd missed the band's website update explaining that the "Anvil Experience" tour would no longer include a screening quickly gave way to enthusiastic whooping as the band launched its 80-minute set. I didn't hear anyone complain. The near-unanimous cheers when Lips asked midway through if anyone had seen the movie probably explained why. Still, I feel for anyone who came late expecting the opening set and screening to delay Anvil's set.
But the name of the show was accurate, because "The Anvil Experience" it was. That's obvious, though--to experience Anvil isn't to watch a movie. It's getting rocked so hared that you can't sleep for the drunken excitement and ringing in the ears.
"Hello Dallas!" Lips announced into the pickup of his sin-black semi-hollowbody Flying V. He'd use this trick to distort and reverberate his voice several times throughout the night. "Are you ready to rock?" After a roar of approval, the band launched into "666" as Lips waded through the crowd at the front of the stage during the instrumental intro. As soon as he hopped back on stage to start singing again, that big smile returned between verses as the audience shouted along.
The contrast between Lips' cheerful, happy-go-lucky persona and the band's mean riffs and "satanic" lyrics is a huge part of Anvil's appeal to non-metalheads. The guys in the band are clearly having the time of their lives onstage, no matter how menacing lines like "Hitler and Manson were my right hand / To these men I entrusted my cause" may read on paper. Throughout the night, his stage banter consisted of uplifting rallying calls about the majesty of metal and goofy jokes--a far cry from the image of Hell-bound sinner churchgoing kids were taught to fear in ludicrous anti-metal campaigns like Hell's Bells in the band's '80s heyday.
The set was heavy on the classics, but worked in a few recent songs including, natch, "This Is Thirteen" from the 2009 album of the same name. "White Rhino" from 2002's Still Going Strong gave Robb Reiner a chance to work out his double kick drum and enormous drum kit (I lost count at 16 pieces). And the eerie minor-chord riff of "Thumb Hang," which Lips wrote as a Sabbath-loving adolescent in 1973 but didn't think to record with the band until last year, energized an already enthralled crowd.
Another highlight was when the band finally relented to shouts from near the stage requesting "I'm A Mad Dog," a bluesy chunk of riffage. But the highlight of the night was when Lips revealed a gold-colored vibrator, gave it an initial sniff, and launched into a dildo solo, using the implement as a slide and buzzing his strings with it, grinning like a mischievous child.
"OK, we're going to play this next one for you because you are the fucking heart of metal," Lips announced before the final song of the set. "'Metal! On! METAL!"
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As it had been all night, the performance was tight and enthusiastic. These were not middle-aged has-beens going through the motions for a multi-million dollar tour, or estranged bandmates reluctantly getting back in the van for a reunion tour but rather a trio of guys who've played together night after night for years for nothing more than the thrill of rocking a crowd.
"Jackhammer," the origin of which Lips hilariously explained involved a previous bass player and the oral skills of a groupie, was the sole encore of the night.
Personal Bias: On most occasions if I had to pick hearing an opening band or watching a film screening, I'd pick a band--especially if it were a band I hadn't yet seen live. But next time if it's Mitra, whose set started out promising but dragged near the end, give me the movie. They're competent pros at a variety of metal styles--shredding, riffing, sludgy and technical--but seemed to lack an identity of their own.
Random Note: After "Winged Assassin," Lips shared an anecdote from playing that song in England, where he heard another voice singing along with him He turned and looked to see where it was coming from--"And it was Phil Anselmo!" He paused for name recognition--and you could count the people cheering on one hand. Obviously, there are still some hard feelings toward that dude even nearly a decade after Pantera's breakup. Maybe next time Anvil comcs through town they ought to give a shout-out to The Clubhouse instead.