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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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(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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(Above: A recent performance by the Blue Note 7 at the Gem Theater started this whole debate.)

By Joel Francis

Friend of the blog Plastic Sax ran a compelling editorial earlier this week about government sponsorships. The questions it raised about why classical music and jazz are the most heavily subsided genres and why private businesses featuring similar artists had to compete against government funds are worth greater discussion.

It seems the crux of the issues with subsidizing government sponsorships is that they run counter to the age-old capitalist creed of letting the marketplace decide. The folks at Jardine’s and The Phoenix work just as hard to bring people in to hear jazz as the Folly and the Gem, why aren’t they getting help?

At the risk of sounding like a socialist, The Daily Record believes there needs to be boundaries placed on the free market. Aside from public radio, there are no government subsidies on Kansas City’s radio dial, and the town has been without a jazz station and an FM classical station in nearly two decades. Beethoven will never bring the ratings that BTO seem to provide to the city’s countless classic rock stations, but does this warrant erasing classical music from the dial? How can an audience or appreciation be built in this void?

A case could be made that successful jazz clubs are penalized for their success, but the nights they compete with federally funded concerts are scarce compared to the evenings they have to themselves. Are the dozen shows each year at the Folly and Gem cutting that deeply into their profits? 

Jazz and classical music are funded because they’re the least controversial. They’re popular enough that most people will applaud the effort, but ignored enough that no one is going to waste the time digging into the music searching for scandalous meaning. There will never be a Piss Christ controversy with this music. However, imagine being the senator that suggests the National Endowment of the Arts support an evening of Slayer doing “Reign in Blood” at the Kennedy Center or a 20th Anniversary Death Row Records tour. This may not be fair, but equality is a rare visitor in the annals of politics.

It’s easy to be cynical and complain about an ever-dropping lowest common denominator. Jazz and classical artists will never be as popular as Ryan Seacrest and the latest American Idol, and “Nightline” and “Meet the Press” will never bring the ratings of “Two and a Half Men” and “Rock of Love Bus.” But that doesn’t mean work with greater meaning – whatever the medium – shouldn’t coexist with revenue-generating evanescence. A balance must be struck, and if it takes government funding to maintain that equilibrium, then the money should be spent.

Therefore, The Daily Record posits that if the government has billions of dollars each month to spend waging war and sustaining the defense industry, it should certainly continue to throw as many sheckles as possible into the arts, however they’re defined.

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