Anthrax/Testament: The Rave, 11/19

Fri Nov 25 2011

It’s not hard to understand why thrash keeps getting “revived”: the best of it, i.e. Testament and Anthrax, doesn’t get old. The problem is that most revival acts are actually a cut below tribute bands—dumbed-down imitations of the real thing but without the killer songs. While the template remains vibrant as ever, it has been done to perfection with little room for evolution. Or, if there is room, nobody’s figured out yet how to make it happen (The Black Album doesn’t count). So the best you’re going to get in a live thrash show happened at the Rave last Saturday, unfortunately. I say “unfortunately” because, despite the improved sound system, the room is still a bitch to engineer, apparently. The sound was complete crap, and I won’t even go into all the other usual complaints. I could make the point that the show was ridiculously oversold, but I’m just thankful they didn’t move it into the godawful ballroom upstairs, so that aspect was tolerable. The show was a flashback in every respect: the 90s, before we knew any better, garbage sound, stifling room, killer metal show.

Add me to the tiresome chorus of “Testament should’ve headlined” grumblers. Nothing against Anthrax, but Alex Skolnick was the show. This was my first time seeing him live. You don’t quite get a sense of his personality on Testament albums; it’s obvious how talented and creative he is, but that’s not the story. The dude has as much charisma in a single strand of hair as all of Metallica combined (even including Lou Reed), and watching him shred onstage is about the most joyous experience in all of metal. I didn’t go to the Rave for a guitar hero; I went for songs, but the songs actually took a back seat to Skolnick. His improvisational intuition is unmatched, virtuosity and melody in perfect balance. It struck me that he is the only true successor to Randy Rhoads in this respect. I have really been missing out all these years. But the man looks like he’s about 25, so hopefully I’ll have a few more opportunities.

So it was tough to get super excited about seeing the somewhat inferior guitarists of Anthrax when you’ve just experienced a master, but it didn’t take long to get really sucked into the performance after all. Joey Belladonna was impressive as hell; you don’t miss the goofy side of the band when you’ve got a seriously talented vocalist like Joey out front. But the magnanimous presence of Scott Ian always projects a degree of levity; this tour features possibly the two least pretentious bands in all of thrashdom. Ian has always given off more of a punk vibe than a metal one, and once that barrier—not to mention the metal/rap divide—was broken down, anything was possible. But Anthrax isn’t just historically important; the band was tight, and many of these songs are timeless. The mega-extended rendition of “Indians” was probably the highlight, and I’m hard pressed to think of a lowlight. The set was virtually flawless, right down to “N.F.L.” to end it, and they even threw in a quick verse and chorus of Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist” in a weird little medley out of the first couple verses of “I’m The Man”—nope, they haven’t lost their silly impulses completely. That’s a good thing.

The early years of extreme metal were weird; if you took it too seriously, you made it stupid (yet somehow Metallica rode that delicate divide for a few years). After the 80s, metal innocence was lost; nowadays, too serious ain’t serious enough. So this show was admittedly a throwback, regardless of Anthrax’s solid new album Worship Music, but it was extremely refreshing—to this avowed reunion-hater, shockingly not lame. These bands still give a shit about this music, the fans, the whole spirit of the scene, and there’s nothing purer on the market. (Let’s see, can I squeeze in one more Metallica reference? Nope.) Raise those devil horns with pride; sometimes nostalgia is just the realization that this stuff never got any better.

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