Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Anthrax's Anti Reunion

In case you haven't seen it yet, Blabbermouth printed a letter today they got from Scott Ian, erstwhile Anthrax guitarist and star of many a VH1 show. The letter resolves two things: first, the reunion phase of the career of Anthrax is over, with the departure, once again, of Joey Belladonna to greener pastures. Given the statement that "the problems that were there could not be fixed no matter how hard we tried and in the end Joey made the decision," it sounds like either Anthrax isn't interested in continuing with a singer whose style is, well, a bit out of date, or they spent enough time with him on the road that they got sick of him again and realized why they fired him in the first place. Second, since Ian says "my reality is I feel we have some unfinished business with the We've Come for You All lineup and I will do my best to finish it," it sounds like Anthrax will try and bring John Bush and Rob Caggiano back and continue the history of the band where they left off in 2003. At the same time, since Dan Spitz doesn't get a mention at the end of the letter ("Charlie, Frankie and I"), this letter might be the official end of Spitz's second term with the band. Also, on a (partially) related note, it was very cool in a dorky way to have been at one of the shows Ian mentioned in the letter.

My thoughts: my associations with Anthrax are very, very (almost embarrassingly) recent, especially compared to their lengthy history: the first time I heard their music was when my wife played "Safe Home" for me when we first started dating about three years ago - and then, when I went on a hunt for their music online, the first thing I downloaded was Greater of Two Evils. To say I had a pro-John Bush bias from the start would be a bit of an understatement. I wasn't anti-Belladonna per se and I certainly had a lot of fun at that concert, but I looked at the continued employment of Belladonna as something like a mixed blessing: at least they weren't going to break up, but I'd still rather have John Bush's voice coming through that microphone. Does anyone know if he and Caggiano will come back? No, not really. Would it be really, really cool? Most definitely.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Who's So Queer?

Here's a fun news item: a site called Love God's Way has posted a watch list of bands who they think help spread the dangers of homosexuality to kids through their music. That's right, Fortress America: you may have shunned the homosexual in the street and banned him from your television, but he's still spreading the gay to your children through their CDs and MP3s! Panic! Ban the bands!

The site is down, unfortunately (I think people might have taken the request to "please email us so we can update" if "you know of a band that is Gay or propogating a Gay message" a little too seriously - and can you really blame them?), but the good people at Idolator have the most recent version of the list up in all of its glory...and it's got at least two metal bands on it: Judas Priest and Metallica.

Now, if you're going to go through the puerile exercise of labeling bands as "gay," I guess Judas Priest is going to be a choice as any - "Ram It Down" isn't just about bringing the metal show to town. But Metallica? Is it because they hail from San Francisco? Or maybe Kirk Hammett's piercing obsession during the Load period? Actually, you know what? I've got it: you're really just pissed about the direction the band went with St. Anger. I know it wasn't the sonic gem we were all expecting, but they can't all be Master of Puppets. The 80s are over, have to accept that.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Something About 17

I was in a club last night - not the kind with live music, but the kind with thumping "club" music and over- (and under-) dressed men and women in their 20s and 30s doing their best to seduce each other. Not really my scene, but I was there for a friend's birthday party.

In any case, the house DJ would occasionally take breaks from song selections where the music consisted of THUMP THUMP...THUMP...THUMP THUMP and long streams of incomprehensible lyrics to go to song selections with loud guitars and long streams of incomprehensible lyrics, most of which I knew. One of them, towards the end of the night, was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts's famous cover of "I Love Rock 'N Roll" (point of connection to the blog, in case you're wondering: The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal includes Joan Jett in its pantheon of artists. While I don't always agree with its selections - why is Cheap Trick and Dream Theater out? - it made for a good justification to write this post), which features the lyric, "I saw him dancin' there by the record machine/I knew he must a been about seventeen" and it got me to thinking: why do rockers have an obsession with 17-year-olds?

Joan Jett isn't the only example, obviously; Winger, Stevie Nicks and The Beatles all come to mind when thinking of this lyrical convention and I'm sure there are others. My initial theory was that 17 is a year younger than 18, the traditional age of adulthood; choosing to idealize 17 is the rock 'n roll thing to do because it's a little rebellious to make the kid seem like the adult. Then my wife pointed out that 17 is the legal age of consent in most states and it's probably no coincidence that all of these songs seem to be about sex in one way or another. I like both ideas - sex, drugs and rock 'n roll are so tied together that they end up as the subtext in song lyrics.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Head Banging: An Exploration

Are you familiar with the term "bangover"? I wasn't either, until Municipal Waste frontman Tony Foresta used it during an intro at Irving Plaza a few weeks ago. The Urban Dictionary has a nice definition, with the wonderful side-effect that depending on the audience, it sounds like I had rough sex last night instead of overindulging in the wonderful world of bang yer head.

In the midst of extreme physical activity, like head banging way too much during Pinebox's set up in Yonkers, NY last night, my mind ends up wandering a little bit. Is it because the conscious mind releases so much control to keep the body moving in time with whatever it's doing that the subconscious takes full control? Is it because my levels of ADD are so high that I need to multitask whatever I'm doing, even if it's not effective? Maybe I'm trying to stave off an embolism (aka "bleeding on the brain") by making sure I can still think straight? Who knows.

In any case, when I wasn't staggering around trying to regain/keep my balance, I got to thinking about head banging and why people do it. I'm not a sociologist by any stretch of the imagination, so I'll just put up my own thoughts on the matter and we'll have to be content without any science to back them up. I have two theories:
  1. It looks cool, especially in photos that you see when you're young and impressionable. For me, that was in the mid-1990s, when I saw things like the cover of "Bleach" and the Black Album tour video, which features stills and video of people head banging. Then there was Wayne's World and the "Bohemian Rhapsody" sequence - four metalheads in a car completely rocking out to Queen.

    Speaking of that scene, for some reason, the fashion among the kids with the larger bar mitzvahs was to have not only DJ-ed after parties, but lip sync contests at those parties. Thanks to the time limits on the songs, my friends Jeff, Alan and I chose to enter one of those lip sync contests by playing "Bohemian Rhapsody" right from that "head banging" bridge to the end and won because nothing slays a crowd like a group of thirteen-year-olds doing their best whip imitations with their skulls.

    With a background like that, there was no way I wasn't growing my hair so I could whip it around whenever possible.

  2. The music itself demands you do something ridiculous with your body. Like those old movies about rock and roll where the repressed parents would feel like they were possessed because the back beat in the music made them want to dance, a good metal beat makes you want to move something, hit something, do something in time to the music. Pinebox was the first set last night and I blew my neck's load watching them play. For the rest of the night, there was no head banging, but the rhythm to move was so intense that I had to do something - so I ended up bruising my hand a bit by pounding it against a pillar.
So, let's sum up. Desire to head bang: ingrained enjoyment stemming from exposure during an impressionable youth, combined with frequent exposure to extreme music whose rhythm demands extreme responses from the body. And there you have it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

On Tagging (Not the Spraypaint Kind)

When I'm not going to concerts (which, in the scheme of a year, isn't that often), I'm probably listening to music in some other form. I'm the anal retentive music geek who not only alphabetizes his CDs by artist and then organizes within the artist by release year (to the endless fascination of my wife, who can't figure out a.) why the CDs are that important to me and b.) why I need to keep them in such a and rather difficult detailed order), but also does his damnedest to keep his large mp3 collection organized; not just including title and artist information, but also release year, genre, album name and album art. Henry Rollins, with his rants about music organization, is my hero.

To be honest, I blame my current fixation on mp3 tagging on one thing: iTunes. Back in the day (by which I mean up until about 2 years ago), I was a Winamp user. I did some tag editing, but as Winamp didn't correct your song information when you added music to the player, I lived a fairly ignorant and blissful existence. And then I downloaded iTunes.

All of the sudden there were all kinds of new tags to fill and even worse, the program had filled most of them for me! Now aware to the vast possibilities of arranging all of this new information, I found myself editing tags like a fiend, mining the CDDB for missing release years (which are the devil in the details for iTunes to download, for some reason) and then trying to decide the proper genre. Was Van Halen rock or metal or both? Did it depend on the album or even the song? Was I going to get that granular? Would I buy into the hype of post-punk and label The Cure as "Alternative & Punk"? Would I invent new tags of my own?

I settled for a happy medium that allows me to organize without going crazy - my obsessive compulsive nature settles for strong organization without getting to Monk-like levels - and went for the default tags, making an overarching decision about a band's genre even if they've defied classification throughout their career. Van Halen became metal (yes, even the Van Hagar material), The Cure became Alternative & Punk and I was happy.

In the end, I found there was so much music and so little time to absorb it all that I needed a new listening system. Most people would have gone for shuffle, but thanks to the work I put into my tags, I had another, much geekier option: I started listening to things chronologically. I'll leave you to contemplate the full depths of that one.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I love Children of Bodom with a sick, sick passion that makes no sense to me. I had heard them once or twice before this year, but they didn't make nearly the impression they did the first time I loaded up their complete catalog (no, thank you, bittorrent!) into iTunes and let rip in the middle of last year - it was like someone took all of my secret pop rock loves (think Fountains of Wayne) and metalized them - Hate Crew Deathroll was a revelation because it was technically complex, rocked hard but had hooks that would pull down a whale. It doesn't matter that you can never understand what Alexi is singing and that half of the lyrics read like they're aimed at the angsty teenage market - my previously described sick passion was now in full flame. And then I saw them perform live.

On a good day, as they had when performing in New Jersey as a part of the Unholy Alliance Tour, Children of Bodom on stage turns out to be something like musical stage crack: very fun, very addicting and something you look forward to seeing again at the next possible opportunity, even if you're bleeding because someone elbowed you in the head in the pit. To put it even more plainly: they (along with Mastodon) were the highlight of a day that ended with so-so performances by Lamb of God and Slayer, for God's sake. They blew Slayer off the stage (you may direct all hate mail here). To say I was eager for their return would be an understatement; I became mildly obsessed with the idea.

Because I'm a good boy and the metal gods love me, I got my wish, wrapping up my 2006 concert tour at an even 12 with CoB's headlining performance at the Nokia Theatre on December 17, with Sanctity, Gojira and Amon Amarth opening. You can read the official review here and see the pictures from the show here.

As far as the unofficial observations go, today's bit isn't so much about the bands as it is about the venue. I'm finding that the Nokia Theatre is rapidly becoming my favorite location to see a metal show in NYC, especially when I have press access. To be sure, there's the three 3-star-or-better shows I saw there in 2006, but this time around I discovered what really makes the difference between this venue and, say, Irving Plaza, the scene of such recent disappointment.

First of all, the barriers didn't collapse, which was really, really awesome by itself. Second, if you've got the right pass, security doesn't really care what you do. I could have hung out in the interview room, although that might have gotten embarrassing when the bands showed up expecting to answer questions (not something I'm ready to prep for). When the three song limit for shooting pictures was up for each band, I retreated to the VIP balcony to the left of the stage, where I not only got some great angles for additional shots but found that all rules are basically suspended - security doesn't care if you stand on chairs, smoke pot, have sex in a corner; it's all good because the Man doesn't really come up to the balcony, except to shine flashlights on the crowd surfers so the guys in front know who's coming up to the barrier. By the way, I only engaged in one of these activities - I'll leave you to guess which one, to keep some mystery going in this blog.