On tour supporting their nineteenth studio album, “Impact Is Imminent,” Canadian Metal legends Anvil hit the stage hard last Thursday night in Ferndale, Michigan. To give you all some idea of the impression this show left, in attempting to discuss the evening, it has taken me the better part of two days to write as many sentences. There are so many roads an Anvil story could travel, and every bump along the way would be interesting somehow.
There is something so completely genuine about these guys, it would take a soulless ass hat to want anything but success for them. Particularly Steve “Lips” Kudlow, who is an inspirational dude. His natural personality is more likable than
half of Hollywood, and it was an honor to be in the same room with the man. All of this would be true with or without any level of success in the music business let alone any longevity in an increasingly picky Metal scene.
This was the second show of a 40-date tour of the States. The Magic Bag is not known for hosting Metal shows, but it was advertised as an “intimate” performance, which gave off a low-key vibe from the jump. Upon arrival, I questioned The Magic Bag’s dedication to championing heavy music, regardless of pedigree, as Anvil’s name took up real estate exclusively on the west side of the venue’s marquee. Billed above an upcoming “Mega 80’s” celebration featuring the music of Prince, it was a difficult slight to ignore.
I was joined in my disdain by a fellow marquee critic who remarked, “Unbelievable! This is fucking Anvil, for fuck’s sake!” His old-school enthusiasm made up for the lack of outside advertising, and I appreciated that a great deal. Meeting people like him at shows featuring older acts really helps preserve Metal’s vitality.
He assured me that his band, Ugly But Proud, was a big name in the 1980’s Detroit Metal scene. But because my social skills are sickly and lamentable, I didn’t catch his name. The guys from Ugly But Proud quickly and politely made it known they had no idea who this dude was. Bassist Sean Awful joked that if the guy wanted to exaggerate his musical roots, “He should have picked a bigger band.”
This short exchange, before even entering the building, seemed like a deleted scene from Anvil! The Story of Anvil. A documentary that itself seems like a Spinal Tap spinoff, the story of Anvil presented in the film is almost too ridiculous to believe. How the hell does a band that directly inspired members from all of “The Big Four,” headlined tours with support from bands like Whitesnake and Scorpions, and prompted Lemmy to attempt recruiting Lips to play for Motörhead end up living in near obscurity as catering delivery drivers and construction workers? What most would perceive as a tragic failure, Lips and his best friend, original Anvil drummer Robb Reiner, have taken all of the punches thrown at them and turned them into good-natured middle fingers they point at anybody who tries to suggest maybe it’s time Anvil call it a day.
There could not have been more than a hundred people at The Magic Bag that night, and none of them seemed the least bit phased by that. The frontmen for support acts Midnight Hellion and White Wizzard (Rich Kubik and Mikey Dean, respectively) went to work on the room, skillfully picking their moments to engage. Occasionally striking slightly over-the-top rock star poses for the benefit of the same old-school Metal spirit on display earlier by our mystery marquee buddy.
When the lights dimmed to signal it was almost Anvil time, fans jogged to the front excited as teenagers. Raucousness ensued with Lips opting to forego the stage altogether, choosing instead to join the crowd with his signature Flying V. He literally screamed: “Hello Detroit!” into the pickups, before returning to the stage to finish “March Of The Crabs” with the rest of the band. That’s the way to start a show!
A bombardment of Anvil anthems old and new lit up the room – “Bitch In The Box,” “666,” “Winged Assassins,” and “Mothra,” complete with obligatory vibrator solo – intermingled with road warrior stories and explanatory song intros that never once came off as dull or boastful. Lips Kudlow is not an immodest personality, nor does his spirited demeanor take away from the seriousness of the Anvil narrative on the whole. Evident in his storytelling and his dedication to the music, Lips has embraced his band’s stature as perpetual underdogs and become a true champion for struggling artists everywhere.
As an audience member and long-time Anvil fan, I was bothered by the size of the crowd and the way the show was promoted by the venue. But Lips was genuinely appreciative of both, commenting on what he considered a “good turnout” compared to a show Anvil played early in their career at the fabled Detroit Metal club, Harpo’s. “Ten fucking people showed up,” he laughed, “but this is awesome. It’s like playing a show in the living room. Are we having a party or what?!”
Of the new songs performed that night, “Take A Lesson” was a memorable addition to the set. Lips took the opportunity to explain that all he can hope for from anyone who hears the Anvil story is that they learn a lesson. “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” he said, besides “it’s not about how many people show up. It’s about the fuckin’ music, man!” And as the band began to play the quintessential Anvil track, “Metal On Metal,” the small crowd went bonkers. It was a great way to end the evening.
I could go on about Anvil, and perhaps one day I will write more about them. For now, I am content with the memories this one show has gifted to me.
The Impact Is Immanent tour hits Virginia and North and South Carolina this weekend, then the band heads out west for a while. Catch them while you can!