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Live review: Anvil at House of Blues in Anaheim

February 5, 2010 |  4:05 pm


Metal rockers Anvil got another chance; they spread the joy at House of Blues gig.

Dreams are essential in rock 'n' roll, and no band epitomized that more in recent years than the subjects of "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," the acclaimed documentary about a Canadian heavy metal act committed to dreaming big despite decades of failure and obscurity.

As a result of the film and its endless rotation on VH1 Classic, Anvil has become a beloved rock institution, known more for its struggles than the 13 albums the band has released since 1981. At the first of two Southern California stops, headbangers young and older were ready to cheer them on Thursday at the House of Blues in Anaheim, where singer-guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow virtually eliminated the distance between rocker and fan. (The group was due to play the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip Friday.)

"You're helping me realize my dreams, man," Kudlow announced early in the 70-minute set, grinning at the crowd. "I see some shiny scalps here," he added, reaching back to the top of his own thinning crown. "I'm one to talk."

Anvil's story isn't unique, but the film revealed life partners Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner as metal true believers who would rather suffer again and again than give up. They're now working to take full advantage of this unexpected second shot at stardom as best they can, touring behind Anvil's newest album, "This Is Thirteen."

Anvil is down to a trio, and the smaller unit does no harm to the band's sound, which is at its best an uncomplicated, stripped-down take on pre-thrash heavy metal. A key influence is '70s Black Sabbath, and their "Thumb Hang" rumbled from the stage with gloomy metal riffs and Kudlow's dungeon howl.

Bassist Glenn Five filled the empty spaces with heavy slabs of rhythm for Kudlow to solo across, his face a grimace or beaming a wide-eyed grin that seemed to say, "Hear that?" He's no Dave Mustaine or Daron Malakian, but his leads flail and flash enough to express the simple joy of being there.

The band's "Metal on Metal" (from the 1982 album of the same name) was pure, anthemic hard rock, and the crowd responded by shouting along and pumping fists in the air. There was a surprising bit of funk and twang in "I'm a Mad Dog," and Reiner pounded the drums during the extended soloing of "White Rhino" with enough chops and finesse to suggest he was hardly limited to basic metal beats, and might have heard a jazz record or two.

Kudlow's special effects included singing into his guitar pickups, sliding a sex toy along the strings to create the sound of a revving engine or getting "a recharge" by tapping his electrified guitar cable onto his tongue. Social commentary was hardly the point, even on "Winged Assassins," which he said was "about how much I hate war, but that's just the hippie in me."

Three decades of struggle didn't exactly rob the world of another Metallica, but it's hard not to share in the band's sudden brush with notoriety. Anvil is more famous now than a lot of genuinely successful metal acts. And as Kudlow praised Reiner from the stage, he might as well have been speaking of himself. "He lives to play live," Kudlow said. "These are the most happy moments of his life."

--Steve Appleford

Photo of Lips, aka Steve Kudlow, jamming out. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times