Anthrax: "an infectious disease of warm-blooded animals (as cattle and sheep) caused by a spore-forming bacterium (Bacillus anthracis), transmissible to humans especially by the handling of infected products (as wool), and characterized by cutaneous ulcerating nodules or by often fatal lesions in the lungs." (courtesy of Merriam - Webster dictionary). Nothing about that vile disease sounds cool nor does it sound the least bit entertaining. Why would I want to discuss a transmissible disease on a music blog you may ask, keep reading.
Earlier this year my wife decided that she wanted to see a concert a month for the year 2011 (we'd do it in 2012 but we'll all be gone at the tail end so it wouldn't matter) and during that time we have seen some amazing bands and gone to some incredible venues. We have seen stalwarts in punk (Social Distortion), metal (Ozzy), classic acts (The Sweet) and Jon Bon Jovi (I have no idea what to classify that one), and for the month of October she pointed out two bands we could see, Kansas and Chicago and as we approached the month I discovered a whole new concert.
That concert featured three incredible bands (Anthrax, Testament and Death Angel), a venue I had never been to (Congress Theater, Chicago, IL) and it was in October. October 15th actually and as I mentioned this show to my wife she thought it could be a pretty cool show and since I went to see Jon Bon Jovi with her (kicking and screaming by the way) she decided that this concert could make up for all of that.
Cut to October 15th, at the Congress Theater in Chicago, Illinois and that cool "skybox" and the view that we had (read the article on Death Angel if that is confusing). I suppose there is a younger version of ourselves when we see bands like this and no its not based on immaturity, its based on that adrenaline rush of seeing our "heroes" for the first time. This marked the first time I had seen Anthrax live (Testament and Death Angel too) so I had this music overload as I awaited that first Anthrax song.
When the lights came up and that noise, that amazing, thrashing and gnashing guitar began to blow eardrums citywide (yes I know it was confined to the Congress, sheesh). This opportunity to see Anthrax was another one of those bands that I had missed seeing since I first heard the band courtesy of a scratchy "Spreading the Disease" cassette. That very first song blew me away, it definitely was something that wouldn't be played on the radio in my little corner of purgat... the world. Assuming that the crappy sound was coming from the stupid cassette and that freaking awesome "Sparkomatic" radio that I owned at the time, I had to go buy a new cassette. Yup I was right, it was that crappy cassette but I knew that "Sparkomatic" radio wasn't the problem (I was young and I had the common sense of the common tree sloth).
Its always cool to say a band came out energetic and just kicked the crap out of the venue and I really think that if that band comes out like that it means that they respect their fans and their music. I suppose that most of the bands we see today that have been around for years tend to be cognizant of their fans and that they still love what they do and I think Anthrax should be the Chairmen of the Board in that regard. What Anthrax showed me that night is what I would have expected back in the '80's.
Energy. Yes energy, Anthrax seems to have so much they should bottle it. Scott Ian was flying around the stage, Charlie Benante slaughtering the skins on those drums and the energy that the crowd busted into. I think you can tell quite a bit during a thrash show by watching the crowd and you can feel their energy permeate through to the band. Its a crazy symbiotic relationship between the band and their frenzied fans, you can see that relationship within "the pit". The "mosh pit" is possibly one of the coolest things any person can get into at a thrash show and if you've ever been in one of those bad boys you know that its controlled chaos.
During the Anthrax show, Ian called out to the pit and told them point blank that the war dance was better the night before in Grand Rapids (Ian did preface it by saying that it was so cliche first). That challenge, that one solitary challenge amp'd up that energy and the rest of the show seemed to be in a perpetual state of rage. At that point the show became a devastating ball of energy and I would guess that "The Congress" will never be the same (I'm sure it will still be the same but stick with me).
Now we get to the "meat of the potatoes" (sorry its the obligatory "Storage Wars" reference) and I think said meat should begin with guitar. Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano have this inane ability to mesmerize the crowd with their skill but when it comes to watching them on stage (more specifically Ian) its like watching the Tasmanian Devil with a guitar in his hands. The talent of Caggiano is the perfect lead / rhythm guitarist to be paired with Ian are that combination of guitarists that can take control of the music and the crowd.
Scott Ian is exactly what I think of as a guitarist within a thrash band (of course there are other greats). He has that look that is part punk rocker, part gangster rap, part rock legend, encompassed in the body of the meanest pitbull you have ever seen. Cerebral fits into that description as well. This is a brilliant guitarist, he is a superior talent in that role, but he is also a showman, and I think that he is better than anyone in music today that knows what his fans wanted, want and demand. Look at the catalog of Anthrax music as a whole and reflect on the remakes they have done and if you were to listen to just the music, no lyrics, I would venture a guess that it would be extremely difficult to be able to tell Ian from the original.
The mark of a great guitarist however is not merely how they perform on a remake, rather that guitarist is marked (wow that sounds biblical) by how they create and perform their own music. Scott Ian is a master craftsman in that regard, he can write killer music that is technical and more importantly sounds really cool! Ian has the that ability to make you want to listen to more and more, he always has.
When I think of Anthrax I always think as Joey Belladonna as the only frontman (I loved John Bush and Neil Turbin too) as I just picture Belladonna as that "guy". Belladonna is the voice of "Caught In A Mosh", "I Am The Law", and so many others so I assume that is the reason for that impression. At the Congress Theater, Belladonna was energetic, engaging and really, really good! I've said it a thousand times before but for any singer to have gone through as much (age, environmental factors, weather, etc.) as Belladonna has, it is surprising that the has a voice at all.
Seeing Belladonna perform in 2011 at the level he currently is would be indicative of a guy that didn't want to go out, or away, or be forgotten. Belladonna proved that he can out perform younger guys and still have command of the entire dynamic of the band.
While I have talked about the stalwart Ian and the ever present Belladonna it would be a blatant bit of stupidity if I were to not talk about Frank Bello (bass) and Charlie Benante (drums). Bello has a presence on stage that I really wasn't expecting from him, I kind of expected a guy that is fairly stationary but that belief was quickly quelled. Bello has a really fun persona on stage, he engages the audience and he does some really interesting, kind of funky stuff on stage that I thought went the way of that mosh pit. The performance of Bello was strong throughout but you could almost feel his energy when that pit was beating the crap out of its participants.
Charlie Benante, is the neatly groomed, short haired, unassuming drummer who looks as if he should be carrying a briefcase and drinking Starbucks coffee instead of beating the skins like a rented mule. Benante (who does sport a Starbucks tattoo) is the the "yin" to Scott Ian's "yang" (thanks to the bands website for that one) and is also that driving force within the band that ties everything together and helps Anthrax to be the band they are today.
With the creation of this blog, I do watch live performances differently whereas I am trying to watch everyone as they perform, but I caught myself watching Benante and the flashes of light from the crashing cymbals more often than NOT (sorry, I had to do that). Benante appears to be bludgeoning his kit, getting every bit of sound from those drums while looking as if he is really not trying. It becomes brutally obvious how good he is by that simple fact and he appears to be having as much fun as the crowd while doing it.
Within that trip on October 15th, I saw what I would consider the greatest thrash band and for the simple reason that Anthrax is performing at a level no band currently is able to. The music has never stopped being great, and the band seems unable to perform badly (or even slightly off) but as a band it seems as if they have the perfect combination of performers. Anthrax has demonstrated the importance of chemistry within the band while giving their fans the greatest possible experience for their money. The trio of Anthrax, Testament and Death Angel is definitely a show you have to see. Unbelievable!