Anvil – Live Review – Café 611, Fredrick, MD (2/6/15)

Lips w/Red Lips-O-Matic

Strangely I thought I had previously reviewed Anvil in a club setting, but now I’ve checked I see I’ve only reported on them once before as part of the bill of the “Heavy Metal Heaven” Sandy Hurricane benefit concert, so it definitely time to fix this. Now, I have to say this is the fourth time I’ve seen Anvil headline a venue, and all but one of these could have been a scene taken directly from the Anvil movie, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend you take care of that immediately – it’s definitely worth a couple of hours of your time, and reveals the raw underbelly of the ins and outs of being in a band. The harsh reality that so many musicians have to deal with is brought sharply into focus. Obviously you need to make up your own mind, but one of my most enduring thoughts after seeing it was the incredible friendship-bond that exists between Steve “Lips” Kudlow (guitar/vocals) and Robb Reiner (drums), which has survived some 37 years of Anvil ups and downs.

I won’t drag the entire Anvil history out for a retrospective here, but the debut release, “Hard ‘n’ Heavy”, in 1981, still remains to this day one of my favorite heavy metal records. It’s raw, uncluttered and relatively unsophisticated (as it should be), and gets right to the core of what heavy metal should be all about. The next two albums, “Metal on Metal” and “Forged in Fire” are seen as seminal roots for many heavy metal/thrash bands, often cited as hugely influential, but during this time, the band was basically screwed due to management and record company wrangling’s that took all the momentum from the band and basically ship-wrecked them. In fact I think if you ever wanted to award a trophy for the band that looked to be on the brink of massive success and then had it all thrown away, you’d find it hard to not list Anvil as a candidate.

Anvil are currently fifteen albums in now, but I have to say the last album, “Hope In Hell”, was a bit of a disappointment. The previous two, “This Is Thirteen” and “Juggernaut of Justice” were quite entertaining, so there’s definitely still life in the old dog. One thing that is often forgotten is that Anvil was originally a four-piece, with a second guitarist, but the band has been a 3-piece since 2006, which is relatively recent. I don’t know why, but whenever I think of them, it always seems to be the power trio that comes to mind. Now, personnel have been changing, really meaning the bass player… Over the past years I’ve now seen three different faces behind the bass, with the most recent departure being Sal Italiano, who I assume left shortly prior to this most recent tour. In fact, I wasn’t aware of this at all, for this most recent gig, so I was caught by surprise, when he didn’t take to the stage… In his place is “new guy” Chris Robertson, who I believe has been the man behind some of the more recent studio efforts by the band, though I may have that a little mixed up. However that came about, I will say that Chris did a great job and the band sounded excellent, and definitely are firing on all cylinders.

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Turning to the show, this was taking place not far from the NoVAMetal home base, up in Fredrick, MD, some 30 miles to the North of base-camp, which was a nice change from some of the longer treks we’ve been on recently. However, there seemed to be about seven bands on the bill for the night, so we targeted the 10:30PM set time (I think it was) listed for Anvil, and headed up there arriving around 9PM or so. According to the website, there was an hint that food at the venue (which is listed as a Café) should be OK, but in actuality, the menu, at least in the bar, seemed pretty wanting, so we headed out and went over the road to another bar to eat. Once that was taken care of, we headed back and caught the last half-set by Lord Dying, which I have to say sounded a way lot better then they looked – not a band to draw you in visually at all, but they had some nice heavy metal going on. Once their set was done we bought their two CDs and both are a good listen. Check ‘em out if you get the chance. They hail from Portland, Oregon, and you can find more about them here: http://lorddying.bandcamp.com/

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So, the stage was cleared, Robb Reiner’s twin-kick drum kit was installed, and after a brief sound check, Lips ambled on stage and yelled into his very sharp-looking Oktober Guitars (http://www.oktoberguitars.com/) “Lips-O-Matic” Flying V (which is a hollow-body guitar) asking if we were ready to rock! We were of course, but as I looked around, despite obvious enthusiasm, the reality that there was only may be 40 people total in the audience was obvious. Now, this never phases Anvil and I’ve seen them play to less, but WHY? They are a great band live, and certainly deserve better support. I guess I just don’t get it? Where are all you metal fans? This was a Friday night, so you can’t pull that “Monday night and I’ve got work tomorrow…” line on me here. May be nostalgia is coloring my vision here, but when Anvil have a full venue to play to, there is heavy metal magic in the air. I know they sell out venues in New York and up North, so it’s a pity more folks don’t make an effort. I guess I should call it “your loss”…

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I didn’t keep a set list, but I think they opened with “666” from Metal On Metal, and then pulled one of my favorites from Hard ‘n’ Heavy out of the catalog with “School Love”. The band were sounding very sharp and the “new guy” on bass was holding the bottom-end together very nicely, also throwing in some on-point backing vocals. I did mange to get some video from later in the set, the first of which was “On Fire” which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q75HVXRi00 from Juggernaut Of Justice. This is a nice show case for Robb and Chris, with some tight work on this double-kick drum driven track.

This was followed by Thumb Hang (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69dxghFInA8) and then, what for me is a highlight of the evening, Swing Thing which includes one of the most entertaining drum solos you will hear in rock, from the mighty Robb Reiner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BuOfJurL0s). At some point, I think before the start of Thumb Hang, Lips switched to a brand new, just delivered by the Oktober Guitars crew, beautiful red Lips-O-Matic Flying V – this was the most stunning looking guitar I have seen in a long time. Outstanding work there! Unfortunately, due to the poor light in the venue I don’t have a picture that does the guitar justice, but it is a great looking instrument.

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The set continued with a “Hope In Hell”, “Eat Your Words” (I think) and closed with “Metal On Metal”, which was an obvious crowd pleaser. There was a half-baked call for an encore, but it was fairly clear that the thinned out crowd would have to make a truck-load more noise to entice the fellas back out and the evening’s entertainment was done. After the show, the band did a paid meet’n’greet which I think was a $30 experience (or was it $40?), which seems a bit steep, but then again I understand the band is trying to make money, however, the very people that have already driven to see you, paid their entry money, bought food and drink and may be some merch, then gets screwed again… I think three people paid for this honor. However, we hung out and as I pretty much expected, Robb wandered out of the band area and we had a great chat with him, then spoke with Chris for a bit and finally talked guitars for few minutes with Lips. To be fair we’ve met Lips and Robb several times before so they know us, which helps, but bands might want to re-think this paid-for-meet-n-greet, because it’s not really a fan winner. I think I’d be much more inclined to spend more on merch if I knew the band would be out after the show to chat and sign stuff, without the $30 cost. When all’s said and done, I had a good time. I do think that Anvil would benefit from going out with an ‘equal’ on the bill, to draw a bigger combined crowd, which is no ‘disrespect’ to Lord Dying in this instance, but something like Anvil and Raven, or Anvil and The Rods for example, where the combined draw would double up and more in terms of audience. For now though, if you get the chance go see the mighty Anvil, they won’t disappoint. My score is a steady 8/10.

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