Monday, December 14, 2009
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Anvil: The Story of Anvil is a documentary of the Toronto based band Anvil whom formed in the 80’s. They pushed the envelope of the trash metal underground which derived from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound and style.
In 1984 at Super Rock Fest in Japan, Anvil played with many bands that went on to sell millions and while Anvil would go on to struggle to be heard. Some of the bands they played with in Japan are the likes of the Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. Anvil was far heavier than the likes of these bands but also far more unkown.
The documentary starts with very successful artists such as Slash of Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Lars Ulrich of Metallica and Scott Ian of Anthrax singing the praises of Anvil by advising the viewers that Anvil was the “real deal”, “had and amazing live performances” and that it was “complete insanity”. Vibrators and bondage harnesses aside, the members of Anvil were also all excellent musicians in their own right. Some say Robb Reiner was one of the best drummers in music. We are reminded by Kerry King of Slayer that this was a year before the big four “Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth”. Slash states that he believes that other artists ripped them off and left them for dead.
We first see Steve “Lips” Kudlow the lead guitarist and vocalist of the band as he is delivering for his day job “Choice Children’s Catering”. Lips explains that he does it so that he can play in Anvil as that is where he gets his joy and pleasure in life. His optimism is apparent when he states that he believes that it can never get worse than it already is and that it can only get better. If it does get worse at least you can say all is said and done. People can really learn from this man.
While Lips is delivering food, Robb Reiner the drummer from origins of the band to present is making his living in construction. It is obvious that he too does this for his band Anvil. He mentions he would much rather be at a party with a beer than doing what he is doing during the day. Don’t we all?
What seems like that same evening we are taken to a celebration for Lips’ 50th birthday where Anvil is playing live. They are playing their hearts out to dozens of screaming fans at Etobicoke’s Heads or Tails Restaurant & Banquet Hall. At this time we meet some of the long time Anvil fans such as Mad Dawg and Cut Loose. They are EXACTLY as you picture them, middle aged blue collar workers with Anvil ball caps hollering while drinking beer through their noses and missing teeth.
We find out Lips had quit school when he was young when he and Robb decided to form Anvil and live the dream if you will. The boys were 14 or 15 at the time. We hear of songs that were never written such as “Thumb Hang” which is about… yes you guessed it the Spanish Inquisition and how they would hang people by their thumbs if they didn't take on Catholicism. You probably have a pretty good picture of this band by this point.
It is at this point that we learn that many people know of the first three records and not their other ten the band has in their discography. This is a pretty impressive feat for guys whom still manage to plan time to be Dad’s and husbands with day jobs. Yet it is something that has lasted for decades.
It is at this point in the documentary that we meet Tiziana Arrigoni the bands manager who books a tour that encompasses Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, England, and France. The band is told they will get 1500 Euros per show and it is set to be Anvil’s biggest show in over twenty years. Yet no one at Choice Children’s Catering knows who Anvil or Steve “Lips” Kudlow is oddly enough.
The band starts off in Sweden doing the Sweden Rock Festival with optimism. The band is stunned by the people they have long been influenced by and others they simply are overjoyed to meet such as the likes of Thin Lizzy, Motorhead and the Scorpions. The band members are like kids at Christmas time. The band continues to be on what seems to be a successful start while they tour though Finland, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and Poland.
Day 28 of the tour and the band runs into a small hiccup when they get lost in Prague and are two hours late for their show. However the band plays their set and signs autographs after the show. Unfortunately the bands dedication comes with continuous work as while the show seemed successful they are still their own roadies. Everyone seems tired but all things considered it goes well. That is until the bar owner they are playing for refuses to pay the band and Lips almost gets into the physical altercation with the owner. By “physical altercation” I mean Lips almost kicks the owner’s bitchy little ass! The owner states that he shouldn’t have to pay the band as they were two hours late and no one called to say they would be late. Lips argues that he still played their set and would not have done so if he had they known they were not going to get paid. The band doesn’t.
At this point they are headed to Munich and after missed trains, the altercation in Prague and stressed nerves the band members seem exhausted. Munich is yet another disaster for the band as there is no promo, Robb and Lips get into an argument and Robb threatens to sue the band. They band finally agrees to play the show to what seems like eight people which includes one person of which that is sitting in a recliner head banging. It seems morale can get no lower at this point.
Finally the band sees light in what seems like it’s been an eternity for them when they are asked to play “Monsters of Rock” in Transylvania. The promoter expects five to ten thousand people. Crowd = 174.
So while the band finishes up a five week tour with not a penny earned in their pocket and no label rep showing up to talk to the band, Lips is still grateful for Tiziana and the experience.
The support of some family members is apparent and lacks in others. Lips’ mother is disappointed while his brother Gary seems to understand. We learn more of his mother’s lack of support while Robb’s family is very supportive.
The band decides to send a demo to producer Chris Tsangarides (Black Sabbath and Judas Priest) to see if he likes what he hears and if he remembers the band from back in ’82 when he worked with Anvil previously. Chris likes what hears and after teary ups and downs in the studio, rejections from labels many hours of hard work spent, with Lips’ loving sister Rhonda’s financial support the band put out their 13th record “This is Thirteen” on their own.
Throughout this documentary we see the bands passion, heart, incredible desire and no quit in them while the families and wives remain supportive under the strains of work and running families.
I found myself rooting for these men though their tearful struggle that has been going on for 30 years. Just as it gets more depressing and harder to have hope for this band, something makes you smile like Robb’s bullet belt fanny pack combo.
Near the end of the documentary the band finally sees the success they have yearned for. Lips states he would play to no one but it’s apparent that what he desires the most is to please many fans such as the ones that rock out with him at a Tokyo Japan show. Worried that no one is going to be there, he is gladly mistaken and rocks like a star at 11:35am. By the time you hear the Metal on Metal riff you are quite familiar with it if you weren’t already and you can’t help but smile as you see the smiles on the bands face and the crowd rocking horns in air and all.
Anvil is a band that dealt with hardships and appreciated every little moment of success they earned. This band definitely loves doing what they do and deserved all much more rewards than they received.
At the end we find out that 34 years later Anvil will finally release “Thumb Hang” on their fourteenth record “Juggernaut”.
Lips tells us that he and Robb started this band at 14 or 15 years old and said they would do it until they were old men. I think that the band accomplished everything they set out to do. I am not so much a fan of their music but this was one of the best things I have ever seen. I was definitely a fan of the people in it. It is a remarkable documentary; a must for any music lover with a dream.
Slash reminds us to end it off that there are only a couple bands that have stayed together for 30+ years, The Rolling Stones, The Who and … ANVIL!