Anthrax Stumble Out Of The Gate, But Return To Be 'Among The Living'

House Of Blues; Chicago, Illinois, USA; 5/1/05

by Christopher Thelen

Any time a band reunites with core members, it's not unusual for the group to do a few "warmup" shows prior to launching a major tour in order to work out the bugs in the set. In the case of the speed-metal band Anthrax - which was performing with its classic line-up for the first time in 13 years - their second night at the House Of Blues (and third show prior to leaving for a major European tour) proved there still were many bugs left to be squashed.

Following a roughly 20-minute movie covering the band's history and the reunion, things started off poorly when, during the opening song "Among The Living," the guitar duo of Scott Ian and Dan Spitz sounded like one of their axes was a half-step out of tune. (It also sounded like bassist Frank Bello was tuned a half-step too low, as heard on "Got The Time".) The resulting cacophony threw off the entire group; at times, it seemed like vocalist Joey Belladonna wasn't sure which key to continue the song in. Guitar problems continued to plague Spitz for half of the evening; from this reviewer's vantage point in the balcony, one could see Spitz constantly ducking backstage to try and get a guitar that worked properly while roadies struggled with the equipment. (The overall guitar sound, to my ears, was a bit tinny - was this because of a change in hardware the band was using, or was this also a symptom of the problems of the evening?)

Fortunately, Chicago tends to be a very forgiving town when it comes to technical problems, and if the crowd was disappointed by the guitar difficulties, they didn't let on with their cheering and crowd-surfing. While the Belladonna-vs-John Bush debate continues to be fought on the Anthrax newsgroup, the sold-out crowd was most definitely there to hear Belladonna, as well as to celebrate the return of Spitz and Bello. During one of the technical breaks, Belladonna also made it a point to announce that drummer Charlie Benante had relocated from New York to Chicago. (Too bad the after-show was cancelled, though I understand why. I would have liked to have asked Benante - off the record, of course - what neighborhood he moved to.)

Once the technical problems were hammered out, though, the only other hurdle was the passage of time. Belladonna was not always able to hit the high range like he was able to in the mid- to late-'80s, though it's doubtful many in the crowd expected him to. Bello's harmony vocals also seemed to be strained at times, most notably on the song "Medusa".

Still, when all cylinders were firing, Anthrax proved to be near unstoppable. While time has brought some minor stylistic changes to the songs, the crowd exploded with joy as favorites like "N.F.L. (Efilnikufesin)," "Antisocial" and "Metal Thrashing Mad" were dusted off and given the full-bore workout. Ian's rhythm guitar work is as solid as ever, while Benante continues to be one of the most powerful drummers on the metal scene.

Belladonna seemed to be the most thrilled to be back, constantly reminding the crowd how much he was glad to be back with the band that put his name on the map. He also got into the fun as well; when Ian committed the standard mis-cue during "I'm The Man," Belladonna encouraged the crowd to chant "Scott fucked up." "You always used to do it to me," he said, smiling. (I do wish, though, that Belladonna had been behind the drum kit for this song, like the old days, leaving Benante, Bello and Ian free to romp around the stage.)

While Anthrax gave the audience an entertaining show overall, the guitar problems most definitely put a cap on the party rather quickly. One can only hope things get ironed out before their European tour launches.

Opening act Overhand Right does tend to sound like many other nu-metal bands out there, but the one thing that does seem to give them a glimmer of hope is the constant shuffling of their sound in a song, going from gloom-rock to Napalm Death to Far Beyond Driven-era Pantera. (No information about the band could be found on the Web as I wrote this - and, sorry, but I didn't purchase their CD. You stand up at the House Of Blues, you lose your seat.) Interestingly enough, the guitarist on the left side of the stage - same side as Spitz - also suffered from guitar problems, and there was often static that interrupted the vocals. While the fans were polite enough, they did leave no doubt that they were there for Anthrax - and Overhand Right deserves credit for acknowledging this with a sense of humor. While I'd question whether they have what it takes to make it as big as Anthrax in their day, it will be interesting to see what time has in store for this group.

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