Heavy metal isn't for the sentimental. But it was impossible to watch Anvil's odd live show at the E Street Cinema on Wednesday without getting a little weepy about all the can-miss Canadian band has been through for rock and roll.
Singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb "Robbo" Reiner took the stage after a screening of "Anvil: The Story of Anvil," a documentary about how their friendship and band have survived decades of professional failures. The gig was part of a moviehouse tour promoting both the band and the film. It's a brilliant marketing combo: Seeing the damaged duo perform live -- joined by bassist Glenn Five -- after the movie was like watching the Yankees play after a screening of "The Lou Gehrig Story." You have no choice but to root for 'em.
The setting was wholly un-metallic, but Anvil didn't change its act a lick. As the film credits were still rolling, the house lights went up and Kudlow, in the flesh and dressed in black, strolled up a staircase playing stock metal licks and screaming unintelligibles into the pickups of his Flying V. He then joined his mates beneath the screen and kicked into "March of the Crabs," a tune from Anvil's 1982 LP, "Metal on Metal." That opening, like the rest of the 25-minute set, had all the energy and irony-less cartoonishness ("March of the Crabs"?) you'd want from the band in the movie. You never had to wait long for a grandiose and super-noisy pick slide from Kudlow or for Reiner to finger-roll his drumsticks with his hands held high.
Reiner really is a great drummer. His solo on "White Rhino" reminded folks that he was an early proponent of the now-standard heavy metal kick drum roll, which creates the sort of rapid-fire sound you get when you put your tongue against the roof of your mouth and blow -- only much, much louder. But as he pounded away, one couldn't help but notice that Reiner was wearing the same necklace he talked about in the movie, the one with the golden drumsticks that his now-dead Auschwitz-survivor father gave to him as a teenager to show support for his musical endeavors, however unprofitable they might be. Go ahead, try not to cheer for that guy!
The performance, like the movie, closed with Anvil delivering "Metal on Metal," the anthem Kudlow and Reiner wrote when they were young, the song that was going to make them famous. The tune ends with Kudlow screaming "Keep on rocking!" Good god, has he practiced what he preached.
--Dave McKenna, May 2009