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(Above: Anthrax fights ’em ’till they can’t at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo., on Jan. 26, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

When Anthrax took the stage for 2010’s Big Four tour with thrash-metal peers Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica, it was the only band without any new material.

Anthrax hadn’t released an album in eight years, which meant its Big Four shows were essentially hit parades. That was fine for the time being, said founding member and guitarist Scott Ian. But the band had bigger things in mind.“We played a greatest-hits set, which was great,” Ian said. “All the shows were great. It just added more fuel to what we were doing.”

What they were doing was preparing new material with lead singer Joey Belladonna for the first time in more than 20 years. Belladonna, the singer from what is considered the band’s classic period, was with the group from 1985 to 1992, when he was replaced by John Bush. Belladonna performed with Anthrax for a tour in 2005 but decided not to permanently rejoin the band.

The ball got rolling again when Ian and drummer Charlie Benante attended Metallica’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2009, and the idea of a Big Four tour was introduced.

“I knew if they were serious about these shows, it would be amazing to have Joey back,” Ian said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. In a way, the 18 months we spent together on tour before helped a lot this time around. We weren’t starting from scratch.”

So in early 2010, Belladonna rejoined the band. With both the band and its fans itching for a new release, the four instrumentalists and Belladonna set to work completing “Worship Music,” an album with a complicated gestation. It was released in September.

The album had originally been scheduled for release in 2009 with short-lived vocalist Dan Nelson. When Nelson and Anthrax parted ways, it was rumored that John Bush, Belladonna’s original replacement, would record new vocals. But Bush wasn’t comfortable proceeding with the band beyond a handful of concerts, and the tapes were handed to Belladonna.

“Joey had all the freedom in the world to change anything he wanted,” Ian said. “Joey worked with producer Rob Caggiano, and then they’d send us MP3s of what they were working on. There were hardly any notes or suggestions. It was an unbelievably smooth process.”

The band had never let the singer work independently done before, Ian said, but he thinks the album benefits from the approach.

“The music is always done first in our band,” Ian said. “In the past with Joey and John, the song would end and it was like the judge’s panel would sit there and nitpick. We now realized this was not a good way to work.”

Anthrax gave Kansas City a taste of its reconfigured lineup in October when it opened for Five Finger Death Punch at the Independence Events Center. Ian said fans can expect more of the same at tonight’s show at the Midland. Much more.

“Now that we’re headlining, that means a much longer set than what we delivered a few months ago,” Ian said.

Fans can expect to hear Belladonna deliver some of the best songs of the John Bush-era in concert, Ian said, but they shouldn’t be concerned about any more games of musical chairs with lead singers.

“Joey is the singer of Anthrax until there is no more Anthrax,” Ian said. “I think it’s been proven beyond doubt this is the band that is supposed to be Anthrax.”

Keep reading:

Review: Megadeth

Review: Alice Cooper

Review: Motley Crue

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The Temptations – “Ball Of Confusion,” Pop # 3, R&B # 2

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Clocking in at over four minutes, “Ball of Confusion” was an epic by Motown standards. The arrangement and themes, however, were very much in line with the top-shelf, psychedelic social commentary songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield had been consistently turning out.

Sonically and thematically, “Ball of Confusion” doesn’t stray from the formula Whitfield developed for the Temptation in 1968 with “Cloud Nine.”

If Sly Stone were Martin Luther, this is how he would have delivered his 95 Theses. In a cadence cribbed in Bob Dylan’s delivery from “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Dennis Edwards lists his grievances: “segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation, humiliation, obligation.”

The arrangement is just as claustrophobic and frustrated as the lyrics, with nearly every instrument – electric organ, wah guitar, drums and vocals – threatening to strangle each other in the mix. Brief bursts of harmonica or horns provide the only moments of relief. Edwards handles the lion’s share of the singing, but once again the other four members tag-team lead duties. Bass singer Melvin Franklin memorably punctuates each verse with the adage of complacency – “and the band played on.”

“Ball of Confusion” isn’t exactly a fun song, but it is a lot of fun to listen to. The song was the Tempts’ second strong single of the 1970s, landing in the Top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts. It also marked their third straight solo Top 10 hit.

The complex number isn’t easy to replicate, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying. Shortly after the Tempts’ number had dropped in the charts, Berry Gordy handed the tune to another Motown group, the Undisputed Truth, to try their hand. A generation later, pop band Duran Duran and metal outfit Anthrax both released covers in the 1990s. The 21st century also saw a resurgence of interest in the song, with the Neville Brothers, Widespread Panic and Tesla all releasing covers.

The song also appeared as a centerpiece in the film “Sister Act Two: Back in the Habit” (featuring a young and then-unknown Lauryn Hill). It’s biggest distinction outside of Motown, however, is in kick-starting Tina Turner’s solo career in the early ‘80s. Turner’s reading appeared on a 1982 tribute album, it wasn’t a big hit in the United States or United Kingdom, but it did hook her up with the songwriters and producers who helmed Turner’s multi-platinum comeback effort, “Private Dancer.”

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(Above: Megadeth perform “Hangar 18” in England earlier this year. The audio quality is pretty much what it sounded like inside the Beaumont Club as well.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Blazing fast guitar licks, double-kick bass-drum riffs and an armada of metal anthems: Dave Mustaine brought everything that made Megadeth famous to the Beaumont Club on Saturday night.

The majority of the quartet’s 90-minute set drew from its reign at the top of the thrash heap in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when it played before massive crowds alongside Slayer and Anthrax and was compared to Mustaine’s former bandmates, Metallica.

Although Mustaine had to rehearse the crowd’s part for “Head Crusher,” one of four songs performed off the band’s current album, “Endgame,” most of the time he was able to step back and let the mob rule the mic. The schizophrenic “Sweating Bullets” and outro to “Peace Sells” were especially lusty sing-alongs. The audience vocals were frequently clearer than Mustaine’s, which were buried in an abysmal mix that made every number sound and feel like brick to the head.

Snarling vocals aside, Megadeth’s other hallmark is lightning-fast, labyrinthine fretwork gymnastics. Although he’s yet to celebrate his second anniversary in the band, guitarist Chris Broderick was more than up to the task, ripping up the extended instrumental half of “Hangar 18,” tearing through the epic “In My Darkest Hour” and trading solos with Mustaine on “She-Wolf” and the warp-speed new song “1,320’.” Ever the gracious host, Mustaine frequently retreated to bang his rusty locks alongside the bank of Marshall amplifiers lined across the back of the stage while Broderick took center stage.

The rhythm section of Shawn Drover and James LoMenzo – Megadeth veterans with six and four years of service, respectively – guided the groove into “Trust” and held down the framework for the guitar pyrotechnics.
While many metal songs focus on war, Mustaine has never been afraid to get political. Megadeth’s previous album was called “United Abominations” and features a song called “Washington is Next!” The closing triptych revealed an interesting point of view.

“Symphony of Destruction” deals with political puppets propped up by a government bent on war. “Peace Sells” discusses disillusionment and hypocrisy of politicians who aim for peace but somehow end up perpetuating war. (The song’s refrain is “Peace sells/but who’s buying?”) “Holy Wars” started out as a referendum on Northern Ireland, but features several Middle Eastern guitar breaks and echoes jihad theory.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t war Mustaine wanted to talk about. Instead, he interrupted “Peace Sells” for an anti-Obama screed, blasting the president without using his name for selling the country to the Chinese and giving away civil rights. Mustaine’s solution was to “write my own (expletive) name in there” on the ballot come election day.

(It is curious that in the week following Obama’s announcement of an Afghani surge after running a campaign on ending the war, Mustaine would ignore these parallels for clichéd attacks.)

After peaking on the charts in the late ‘90s, Mustaine broke up the band in 2002. Two years later, he resurrected the name as the only continuing member, but has yet to regain drawing power as a live act. While the Beaumont was plenty crowded, tickets were still being sold at the door after the band had taken the stage.

If the stumble from stadiums to clubs frustrated Mustaine, it didn’t show. He took time before “44 Minutes” to express heartfelt thanks to everyone for letting them play, and long after the rest of the band had departed, Mustaine lingered onstage after “Holy Wars” to shake hands and congratulate fans.

Setlist: Dialectic Chaos, This Day We Fight, Wake Up Dead, Skin of My Teeth, Head Crusher, A Tout Le Monde, She-Wolf, Tornado of Souls, 1,320’, In My Darkest Hour, Sweating Bullets, Hangar 18, 44 Minutes, Trust, Symphony of Destruction, Peace Sells. Encore: Holy Wars.

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