Reunions can be a tricky proposition. There’s the nostalgic thrill of seeing your favorite band rage and pillage through their back catalog like they did when you were 13…however, with every reunion comes the threat of sub par renditions of otherwise explosive tunes and bands that often lose the chemistry that made them so mammoth in the first place. But when Anthrax officially announced the “reunion” of their most flourishing lineup of their 20+ year career on April 1 (accented by a big deal press conference at Sirius Satellite Radio), there was an inexplicable something—that communicable allure bassist Frank Bello, drummer Charlie Benante, vocalist Joey Belladonna and guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Spitz were so notorious for—that made diehards know the event would be magical.
There’s no denying the merits of Neil Turbin or John Bush —two vocalists whose trademark pipes are irrefutable to Anthrax’s thriving existence. Nor can any ’thrax member past or present (Danny Lilker, Paul Crook, Rob Caggiano, tour bassist Joey Vera) be regarded as anything less than acme musicians. But the Anthrax cast from ’85’s Armed And Dangerous through ’90’s Persistence Of Time (plus ’91’s Attack Of The Killer B’s and ’94’s Live, The Island Years) was something overtly special. Their infectious personalities pooled with their slightly oblique method of mosh made Anthrax a stand-out thrash attack at a time when metal bands trying to be the “next big thing” were a dime a dozen. Fact is, no one sounded quite like Anthrax and the same holds true today.
The ride: The Aquarian’s own Fake111 was kind enough to offer a ride to the club as well as a place to crash. It began to pour as my husband, friend and I piled into Fake111’s black Saturn. Blunted and thoroughly psyched, we were “Those Fans” blaring vintage Anthrax on the way to the classic Anthrax gig and though I’d be the first to ridicule such an act at any other show, all bets were off tonight. The ride seemed slightly longer than expected when an apparently puzzled driver confessed to being lost in the wilderness of Sayreville. Having left his abode later than planned and the band scheduled to hit the stage at 10 p.m., tensions were thick and threatening. Jughandles apparently replace left turns in New Jersey and after a dizzying sequence of circles, name-calling and the reassurance of an accommodating gas station attendant, we finally made it to the club with a mere 10 minutes to spare.
Historically, the Garden State has always been rather welcoming when Anthrax roll in, Bush fronted or otherwise, and this night was no different. The Starland Ballroom—seemingly sold-out beyond capacity judging from the amount of foreign sweat coating my arms every time I took a step closer to the stage—bustled under the weight of Belladonna-starved Anthrax devotees. Among thriving mullets, words/phrases like “back in the day, “Clash Of The Titans,” “Judge Dredd,” “jams” and “headdress” could be heard amid keyed up bar chatter as various videos (many of which people chanted along with) and VH1’s “Anthrax: Behind The Music” (met with boos and heckling once the video timeline entered the Bush years) played on the projection screen at the front of the club.
The band hit the stage following the Blues Brothers theme and Starland burst into a fiery pit of exuberant fans and body odor. They opened with “Among The Living” and for a moment, time stood still. There was nothing awkward, unusual or out of sync about the spectacle. In fact, the band never seemed so postured. Anthrax are older and wiser, their hang-ups behind them and their skills sharpened. Where many reunions prove anticlimactic, Anthrax confirmed the timelessness of their craft.
They ran through a thoroughly saintly set which included highlights “Got The Time,” “A.I.R.,” “Lone Justice” (!!!), “Deathrider” and “Medusa” with “Gung Ho” arguable standing as the only missing gem. A united package of fun and fury, Belladonna’s vocal range is as penetrable as ever and the Ian/Spitz guitar tandem never sounded so precise. Benante continues to reign as one of metal’s most underrated drummers and Bello provides the rhythm (and on-stage animation) to tie it all together. Their energy unyielding, Anthrax were as fervent towards the crowd as the crowd was towards them making for a big ol’ metal burrito of oldschool glee.
“Caught In The Mosh” was predictably met with bombastic fans pummeling the stuffings out of each other (and emptied the photo pit prematurely), as did “Indians” (sans Joey’s headdress), when Scott Ian incited a circle-pit just before “Waaaaaaardance.” It’s been said that Pantera/Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell’s premature death helped inspire the band’s historic alliance, thus the band paid tribute to the slain axeman with a shortened cover of “A New Level” (Bello pulled out a bottle of Crown Royal in Dime’s honor). By the time the band surged into “Metal Thrashing Mad,” there was a collective force throughout the club I’ve not felt in years. “Got my foot pinned to the floor! You can feel the engine roar, I got thunder in my hands I’m metal thrashing mad!” Fans recited the chorus with a sincerity that’s missing from metal today. At nearly 20 years old (!!!), Ian and co. pulled off “I’m The Man” with as much gusto as they did in ’87 and “I’m The Law” closed the evening to the sound of resounding approval.
According to Blabbermouth.net, Anthrax have set Sept. 27 as the release date for the live CD/DVD which will include clips from the Starland performance as well as behind-the-scenes footage documenting the reunion. The band is rumored to be returning to the states this fall. See you in the pit.