Most rock bands don't last 34 days, let alone 34 years. But that's exactly how long Canadian heavy metal trio Anvil has spent recording and touring -- mostly in complete obscurity. Despite ample opportunity, Anvil refused to quit, and in 2008, filmmaker (and former Anvil roadie) Sacha Gervasi shone a light on the band's never-say-die pluckiness with the documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. If your cable package includes VH1 Classic, chances are you've seen it.
The movie recast the pitiable headbangers as the unstoppable torchbearers of a rock and roll dream. On Thursday night, metalheads young and old (real old) turned out at Warehouse Live to see that dream made flesh. Incredibly, the band is touring in support of its 14th album, Juggernaut of Justice.
Fun as the Anvil documentary is, it didn't make the band stars -- not quite. Calling the Warehouse Live lounge half-full Thursday would have been generous. Then again, it was a generous crowd. Right from the start, it was clear that the audience was truly rooting for Anvil, and the love didn't let up all night.
Frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow hit the stage shredding to an enthusiastic response. "Houston, are you ready to rock?" he screamed into his guitar pickups. The crowd's readiness was indeed affirmed by much fist-pumping during the set's opener, 1982's "666."
Kudlow has never been confused for Randy Rhoads, but his solos still sear. The perpetually smiling singer mugged shamelessly through the show, taking obvious joy in sharing his music. It requires a lot of charisma for a haggard, 50-something rocker to whip out a vibrator and masturbate his guitar without seeming creepy. Somehow, his sextoy solo during "Mothra" came off as charming, instead.
Skinsman Robb Reiner, Kudlow's lifelong musical partner, proved no slouch himself. A thunderous, frenetic drum solo during "Swing Thing" betrayed hours of practice uncharacteristic of a musician who believes his salad days are behind him. Reiner and bassist Sal Italiano (please GOD let that be his real name) provided a pounding platform for Kudlow's chainsaw guitar, filling the lounge with incredible volume that soared straight past excruciating.
It's not hard to understand why Anvil has never cut their hair or hung up their high-tops: These guys can play. On ancient cuts like "School Love" and newer thumpers such as "This is Thirteen," the trio displayed a talent and energy that's got to be difficult to put on a shelf and leave behind.
Anvil's sound originates someplace post-Sabbath but pre-Metallica, a fossilized throwback to a brief sliver of time between eras. Some songs Thursday night seemed to foreshadow the birth of thrash metal, while others were clearly inspired by it. Neither modern nor classic, Anvil is a band that managed to slip through the cracks of a sea change in heavy music.
Whatever they played, though, old or new, their passion was infectious. The crowd greeted the band not as titanic heroes from some metallic Olympus, but rather as long-suffering friends whose hard-won success reflected right back on the folks paying for tickets. Such is the power of documentary filmmaking, we suppose.
The novelty of Anvil! The Story of Anvil may have worn off now, but the actual story of Anvil continues to inspire. "Metal music knows no age!" said Kudlow, who did his best to prove it. By the time the band closed with "Metal on Metal," their signature tune from the '82 album of the same name, the show had become an irony-free celebration of rock and roll dreams that never fade.
Keep those horns up, Anvil.
Personal Bias: Openers Rotting Corpse, a Texas band that's been around nearly as long as Anvil, sounded as though they had enough war stories to fill a documentary of their own.
The Crowd: Long hair, leather jackets, and a surprising number of attractive ladies.
Overheard in the Crowd: "It's fuckin' hard to start a mosh pit, but I did it, man!"
Random Notebook Dump: Jesus, dude, Anvil plays painfully loud. Ow!