Anthrax at First Avenue, 10/16/11
Anthrax October 16, 2011 First Avenue, Minneapolis
You have to hand it to metal. Critics never took it seriously when it was new. It's since been maligned as satanic, juvenile, pandering and a litany of other descriptors most of which just aren't true from almost the moment in entered into the public consciousness. Above all, the one thing that sticks out among the many complaints lobbed its way is this: It's a flash in the pan. Flashes in the pan don't persevere for three decades and Anthrax reiterated that point on Sunday night at First Avenue.
After a couple of songs from their new Worship Music, which, to be honest, weren't all that great and sounded like paint-by-numbers metal, Anthrax started rolling out the classics and not a one of them had lost any of their initial appeal or brass-knuckles-to-the-teeth brutality. "Caught In a Mosh" stirred the floor up into a fairly violent-looking mosh pit, while "Madhouse" from their stellar 1985 sophomore effort Spreading the Disease inspired a club-wide sing-along, and which also highlighted something that slowly fell away from Anthrax as they have progressed as a band: there used to be a very clear punk/hardcore aesthetic to many of their songs and it added to the appeal, somehow made them stand out against the flashpot-filled din that metal eventually became. Their music never seemed like it was draped in glittery spandex like so many other bands of that era, and Charlie Benante's artillery-fire drum work and Scott Ian's epidermis-scorching guitars elevate everything a level or two as well. It's much of the reason they've survived this long and managed to stay relevant. The relevancy point can be argued, but the 1,300 people that were packed into the sold-out Mainroom didn't even need to open their mouths; the fact that they were there was evidence enough.
Toward the end of the set, "Indians" from 1987's Among the Living finally surfaced and the entire floor opened up like a whirlpool. The crowd chanted "War dance!" along with lead singer Joey Belladonna and then abruptly stopped. Scott Ian faux-chastised the audience with "That's not much of a war dance. The Vikings might have lost to the Bears today, but you can beat Chicago here--get this thing going and tomorrow we'll tell them you fuckin' beat 'em." They began again and the crowd looked like a riot had erupted; it was nothing short of stunning to see.
They closed with "Metal Thrashing Mad" from their debut, Fistful of Metal, a song they wrote 28 years ago and has since become a thrash metal classic, followed by "I Am the Law." They, like most of Anthrax's work, sounded of its era yet somehow not exceptionally dated, perfectly illustrating how to survive three decades as a successful metal band: don't follow trends (though they seem to be slightly on their recent work--but to their credit they avoid the Cookie Monster vocals that seem to be a prerequisite for metal lately), stick with what you know, and just get onstage and push as hard as you can without a lot of dressing up. You can call metal old or dead or washed up all you like, but it is alive and well and will continue to be as long as Anthrax has anything to say about it.
Critic's Bias: I had waited since the age of 14 to see Anthrax live. The Crowd: Almost exclusively guys in the mid-30s to early 40s. Overheard In The Crowd: "I can't drink all of this whiskey by myself, someone needs to help me." Random Notebook Dump: When I grow up I kind of want to be Scott Ian. For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.
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