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Anvil Live at Allston, MA’s Great Scott

Anvil at Great Scott
Anvil at Great Scott

Words and photos by Ben Stas

It’s hard not to root for Anvil. The veteran Canadian thrashers and noted documentary subjects are about as sincere as they come in their love for the heavy metal they’ve relentlessly performed and produced since the late 70s. 2008’s ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’ relayed the occasionally startling passion with which vocalist/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow has fruitlessly pursued his dreams of rock’n’roll stardom with best friend, drummer and foil Robb Reiner for decades. Despite a chorus of famous faces singing the band’s praises at the film’s start, empty bars, mid-morning festival slots and polite “thanks but no thanks” from record labels greet Anvil time and again. Yet, they remain undeterred, playing their hearts out even if literally nobody is watching.

In a strange twist, a movie that’s largely about their failure was the very thing to briefly rescue Anvil from obscurity. Suddenly, people were paying attention again. The band played their biggest shows in years, managed to get This Is Thirteen – the LP recorded in the film – released by an actual label, and made a late-night TV appearance. They headlined a 2,500 capacity room in Boston on their subsequent U.S. tour. But, Anvil being Anvil, that momentum wasn’t sustainable. Seven years later, the band is back on the bar circuit, where they recently headlined the Allston hole-in-the-wall Great Scott at a tour-opening Thursday night gig. It comes as no surprise that their enthusiasm was undiminished.

Joining Anvil on the road were symphonic Sacramento group Graveshadow and fellow Californians Night Demon, but it was local trio Black Mass who opened this night’s show. As they did in a support slot for Skeletonwitch last year, Black Mass captivated with a vicious burst of unrelenting old-school thrash. They wasted no time in a short set and earned the acclaim of the early-arriving headbangers.

Next, Graveshadow adopted a less frantic pace for their theatrical heavy metal tales. The band’s budget goth aesthetic and fantasy-horror subject matter bordered on cringeworthy, but particularly through the engaging presence of vocalist Heather Michele, they mostly succeeded in selling it.

Ventura trio Night Demon were the evening’s best-suited support. They came across as a band who knew exactly what their rowdy audience wanted: no-nonsense, high-speed rippers about murder and the devil, and plenty of them. There was little in the way of dramatic flourishes here, save for a masked figure bearing an illustrative goblet during “The Chalice,” but a band sounding this tight and focused didn’t need them.

As the clock rounded midnight, it was Anvil’s time at last. Kudlow began the set in the center of the crowd, shredding among his disciples while a handheld flashlight stood in for the spotlight that might illuminate Angus Young doing this sort of thing in a football stadium. From that moment onward, smiles abounded as the band’s current three-piece lineup worked through a set they were clearly having the time of their lives with.

Selections from Anvil’s defining statement, 1982’s Metal On Metal, prevailed, as did some less successful tunes from the band’s more recent output. Groaners like the pirate yarn “Daggers and Rum” counterweighted goofy gems like “666” and “Mothra,” which sprawled out with a vibrator-aided guitar solo straight out of the band’s early days. The crowd of diehards ate it up all the same.

At the set’s best moments, Anvil convincingly made it sound like the mid-80s in the confines of Great Scott. Between songs, though, Kudlow peppered his stage banter with recollections of chance encounters and brushes with fame that put things in context. He told of Ozzy Osbourne finding ‘The Story of Anvil’ inspirational, and concluded an anecdote about opening for Motörhead by dedicating “Free as the Wind” to the departed Lemmy. “We played the Orpheum with Aerosmith,” he recalled at one point, adding “I bet none of you were there” with a smile.

Despite the hand they were dealt and the broad success that Anvil never achieved, there was little trace of bitterness in those moments. Deep down, it seems, Anvil are content with being Anvil, whether that includes sell-out crowds of thousands or a hundred people having a great time in a dimly-lit bar. They’re the band thrilled with opening for Motörhead, even if they’ll never be Motörhead.

black Mass

Graveshadow

Night Demon

Anvil

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