Considering the likes of Anthrax, Motorhead, Metallica and Pantera have gone on record citing them as influences, it’s stunning to think Friday night’s performance at Backstage Live may have been the first San Antonio concert in the 30-year history of Anvil.
For co-founding singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, who have played together since 1973 in the earliest incarnations of Anvil, the headlining gig with Evil United and locals Las Cruces and S.A. Territories was either Anvil’s first Alamo City showing since 1988-89 — or ever (click on our video interview at left).
Once they hit the stage at midnight with new bassist and Brooklyn, N.Y., native Sal Italiano in tow, Anvil rocked a 90-minute set that mixed openers “March of the Crabs” and “666” with classics “School Love” and “Winged Assassins,” plus newer tunes “Juggernaut of Justice,” “This Is Thirteen” and “On Fire.” Lips sported a nod to Anvil’s homeland — a T-shirt emblazoned with “Anvil,” a red Canadian maple leaf and another new song title the band played — “F—-nEh!”
Anvil left out personal 1987 MTV favorite “Mad Dog” and the good-natured “Show Me Your Tits.”
It’s probably best that a band in its mid-50s which has fought for 30-plus years to be taken as seriously as many of its contemporaries left out the latter. But as Lips stated to the crowd of approximately 300, “Just because you grow old doesn’t mean you have to grow up.” He demonstrated as much throughout the night, appearing as a kid in his first guitar store, smiling and making enthusiastic faces at the audience.
If you’ve seen the award-winning 2008 documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” which paved the way for the band to achieve the notoriety it has spent years seeking, you know it matters little to Anvil whether they’re playing before 12 people or opening for AC/DC in stadiums (which resulted from the movie’s success). Friday’s crowd may have tilted toward the lower end of that number spectrum, but it was apparent that Lips’ infectious nature was a refreshing alternative to the more-successful musicians who take themselves too seriously too often.
After Lips broke out his signature vibrator on the guitar (again, see interview at left), Anvil ended its regular set with the 1982 anthem “Metal on Metal.” They returned for encore “Running” off latest album Juggernaut of Justice.
The lone serious moment was more of a fond remembrance. The band dedicated “Thumb Hang” to the late Ronnie James Dio, who died May 16, 2010, from stomach cancer. Lips introduced the song by recounting: “The first time I met him was in 1983 when we opened for him. And I didn’t see him again until 2005, at a festival in Italy. I was in a hotel. Ronnie saw me and said, ‘Hey, Lips! I haven’t seen you in 20-some years. Dude, let’s go get breakfast!’ F—— awesome, man!”
Anvil reportedly dedicated “Thumb Hang” to Riot guitarist and founder Mark Reale during their Jan. 27 show in Ohio. That was two days after Reale lost his battle with Crohn’s disease in a San Antonio hospital, while his bandmates were honoring their commitment of playing aboard the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise in the Cayman Islands (see my review and interview with Riot here).
Considering that Austin- and San Antonio-based Evil United — featuring Riot’s Don Van Stavern on bass — opened for Anvil, it was shocking that Lips did not allude to Reale while speaking of Dio. But Evil United was not to be outdone.
The band took to the stage with beers held high as Van Stavern mouthed to the crowd, “For Mark” before the first note. Van Stavern donned a Riot T-shirt of the band’s latest CD “Immortal Soul” — a copy of which was in its original wrapping and placed in Reale’s casket at St. Mark Evangelist Catholic Church during his wake.
Fronted by Jason McMaster (Watchtower/Dangerous Toys/Broken Teeth/Ignitor and several tribute bands), Evil United blistered through most of its debut self-titled album, which came out in September. “Blasphemer,” “Dawn of Armageddon,” “Spoonfed,” “Taking Over The Grandmaster” and “Hexorcism” exhibited the fact that Evil United is a heavier offering than Dangerous Toys and Broken Teeth combined, and the fans swept it up.
For good measure, McMaster introduced “Fifty-Year Storm” by saying that even though it was written prior to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, drummer and San Antonio resident Jason “Shakes” West (who also played in S.A.’s Cult to Follow and is in Murderdolls with Slipknot’s Joey Jordison) deserved applause for surviving that catastrophic event.
McMaster hinted at a Riot tribute after the second song, and it came toward the end of the 50-minute set in the form of “Swords and Tequila.”
Having witnessed Riot perform that song on 70000 Tons the day before, and after, Reale’s death, it was a fitting gesture on a night one band remembered one of its fallen influences and friend, while another finally scratched the surface of playing live in San Antonio.
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