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Anvil + Heresy + Signify @ The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton - Thursday 17th June 2010

Review by Jason Guest
Photos by Samantha Knight

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I wasn’t sure what to expect this evening. With Ratt dropping out due to a hernia operation, Anvil took the headline slot and the gig was shifted from the Wulfrun to the Slade Rooms. Riding on the back of their “rediscovery” thanks to the movie that documents the ups and (mainly) downs of their (almost) success, at 8 o’clock Anvil looked set to play to yet another venue with attendance figures barely in the thirties.

Dudley’s Signify had the unenviable task of tackling a stage that was crowded with gear – most of it taken up by Robb Reiner’s gigantic Anvil-emblazoned bass drums! – and yet still played a blinding set that was a blur of energy and great, heavy tunes. Frontman Craig engaged the crowd from the outset and for the song ‘Sonic Boom’ he had us all chanting along with the chorus. Guitarist Rich can play! His riffs are huge, his sound colossal, and his solos are incredible. Bassist Rob’s monstrous sound sits perfectly between the guitar and drums, bridging the gap with lines that groove beneath Rich’s riffs and lead work. And with a soon-to-be-filled vacancy behind the kit, the stand-in guy (whose name I didn’t catch, sorry), after only four hours practice (!), was tight and might and played as if he’d been with the band since its inception. If they don’t find a suitable replacement for recently-departed Neel, they need look no further. Signify have got plenty of gigs coming up, one of which is their CD launch show on 27th August in these very rooms. A great band with great tunes: check ‘em out.

The audience has been slowly growing and the threat of a poor turnout for Anvil looks to be fading. Up next, Heresy also refuse to let the confines of a gear-packed stage hinder their performance and throw out a high energy set to match that of Signify. Their songs are good and carry enough weight to shift the rafters. Technically, the band is tight and each member clearly proficient. Combined, their talents work well together and there’s plenty room for each member to shine. The two Dan’s on bass and drums work together well to provide the tight foundation that their well structured sit upon; and synth/keyboardist Karl – judging by the blur of fingers making their way over the keys – has clearly put a lot of work into his lines. The only trouble is that we can barely hear them in the mix. Frontman Rob’s vocal range is powerful and dynamic, yet introducing songs with his back to the audience isn’t endearing and puts the band at risk of isolating their audience. Tom’s guitar work is a combination of technique and muscle, with a massive rhythm sound and cutting lead breaks. However, focussing his attention on two guys at the front and seemingly playing only to them further disrupts the band-audience relationship. Still, Heresy play a great set with some great songs and as with Signify win over the audience. If you’re going to see Sepultura on 17th July, get there early because Heresy are on the bill.

By now, the crowd is significantly bigger. The venue isn’t packed but the numbers are looking good, somewhere just over the one hundred mark. Having been the darlings of the rock press since the success of their movie, Anvil are frequently held aloft as representative of the very spirit of heavy metal: the uncompromising and defiant determination to succeed on your own terms. Their recent success raises the question: is the audience here for the band and their music? Or are they here to see the stars of a documentary that depicts the unending struggle and admirable endurance of two really nice guys who happen to play heavy metal? If Anvil’s success is the direct product of the movie, itself a fine piece of film that presses all the right buttons and makes more than one reference to “This is Spinal Tap”, then it’s their live shows where the band have to maintain that momentum and prove their worth. If they don’t, they can easily sink back into obscurity as the band that almost made it – twice – and have a film as an ugly reminder.

The moment that Lips walks across the stage carrying his guitar, the audience’s cheers raise the roof. Both he and bassist Glenn 5 set up their gear (they’re still their own roadies) and are soon joined by Robb behind the kit, his appearance raising another mighty cheer. They open with the instrumental March of the Crabs and follow that up quickly with the song that anticipated Slayer, 666. The power of this three-piece blows the roof off the venue and there is nothing that isn’t enormous about this band and their sound. For the first two songs, they can’t hear themselves on stage and tell the sound guy and the crowd, to which somebody shouts, “Sounds great out here.” They do! Their surprisingly short 10-song set spans their career, right back to the first song on their first album, School Love.
Winged Assassins is followed by the title track to their latest release This Is Thirteen, then Mothra and Thumb Hang, the origins of which are revisited in a hilarious scene that could’ve easily been taken straight out of the Spinal Tap movie. White Rhino see Robb let loose on the kit for a solo. For me, drum solos usually prompt a quick visit to the bar, but not tonight. Robb’s drumming is astounding! His cool response to the audience applause tells us what we all know: he’s good and he knows it. And now we know it. To even try to explain what he did with the skins and cymbals with four limbs would be nothing less than a gross disservice to his art. He is truly a master behind the kit. Forged in Fire is given a stellar rendition and an adoring welcome by the crowd. The closer, just like in the film, is of course Metal on Metal, the bands anthem written when they were young and which brought them fame and their first taste of success. Tonight, Anvil practiced what they preached in that song, to “keep on rocking.” In their fifties, Rob and Lips played like they were those same energetic kids, driven to succeed by their love for all-things rock and in one hour, in their words, “smoked it.”

In terms of performance, they were flawless. Lips throws out solos that would put most guitarists to shame, even yanking out the infamous dildo for a quick performance. Glenn 5 keeps the metal groove, sitting tightly in the pocket, his fingers flailing over the five strings. And Robb? Well, what more could I say?

Throughout the entire set, Lips looks happy and his nickname really should be changed to Smiles because of his endless grin. In his onstage presence and in his banter with the crowd there is great humbleness that is, without a shadow of doubt, undeniably genuine. When he introduces “the new guy” bassist Glenn 5 (with the band since 1996), the audience laughs. When he introduces his “brother” Robb, the audience raises a colossal cheer to their enduring friendship. He loves the music he makes, he loves his band, and he truly loves his audience. Watching Anvil is like watching a bunch of friends. You’ve gotta love ‘em! By whatever route they have found success, Anvil is a great live band and deserves pound for pound the attention and success that the film bestows upon them. I can’t wait to see ‘em again!

And you can see Sam's pix here:

Set list: March of the Crabs,666,School Love,Winged Assassins,This Is Thirteen,Mothra,Thumb Hang,White Rhino,Forged In Fire,Metal on Metal

Anvil links: