Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Missing the Big 4 at Yankee Stadium Sucks!
10 Experiences that Help Ease My Pain...

I'm devastated to be missing the Big 4 at Yankee Stadium today. But to be perfectly honest, only because I'm missing Anthrax.

I've been a die-hard New York Yankees fan for as long as I can remember, and Anthrax are my favorite metal band. No disrespect to Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica, but I saw them all at the Southern California Big 4 - their Bronx experience will likely be the same.

But missing out on the opportunity to stand on the same Yankee Stadium infield as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriquez, Robinson Cano and Mark Texiera and revel in the performance of a band that I'm blessed to call friends? A band that are excited beyond words to play on the hallowed ground of a team they love as much as I do, and in the city they call home? That's the type of once in a lifetime opportunity I'm fairly certain I'll never have a chance to experience again.

Which got me to thinking: while I am missing out on this epic afternoon, I have had my share of chances to experience pop-culture history firsthand - here are ten of my favorites...

10. Yankees vs Braves, Game 4 of 1996 World Series
Since we're talking Yankee Stadium, I'll start with the Yankees, who played the Braves in the 1996 World Series. My Bronx Bombers lost the first two games of the series at home, then won Game 3 in Atlanta. I was in Atlanta and had tickets to Game 4, and it was ugly, New York trailing 6-0 after five innings. They had narrowed the margin to 6-3 when Jim Leyritz came to bat in the eighth inning facing Braves closer Mark Wohlers with two runners on - he took him deep, hitting a three-run homer to tie the game. The Yankees would go on to win 8-6 in extra innings, and win the Series in six. One of the most memorable long-balls in Yankee history, and I was there!

9. Lions vs Packers, 1994 NFC Wildcard game
Staying on the sports tip, I had a field pass for the 1994 NFC Wildcard game, where the Green Bay Packers hosted the Detroit Lions in the first found of the NFL playoffs on December 31, 1994. I worked for the Associated Press and was assigned to pre-game coverage in the parking lot - no small feat at Lambeau Field, one of the world's most sacred stadiums and host to some of greatest fans in sports. I needed to file my story and notes when the game started, which took most of the first half - I spent the rest of the game standing on the Green Bay sideline watching the Packers defense dominate the Lions, holding Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders to -1 yard, and the entire Detroit offense to -4 yards on the ground. Brett Favre ran out the clock by scrambling into his own end zone and giving up an intentional safety to seal the 16-12 Packers victory.

8. Anthrax, House of Blues Anaheim (October 27, 2004)
What was so special about this show? I'll tell you... Frank Bello had briefly left the band, and this tour featured Armored Saint's Joey Vera on bass for Anthrax. But here's where things get crazy - Frank joined Helmet, who also had a show in Anaheim, CA, this night. Helmet's show ended in time for Frank to attend the Anthrax show, and I sat in the front row of the balcony and watched Anthrax - sitting next to Frank Bello. How freaking surreal is that for a piece of Anthrax history that only about a half-dozen of us can share?

7. 2011 Sunset Strip Music Festival
I recently wrote a detailed review of this slice of history, which you can read here. In a nutshell? I experienced The Doors on Friday night at the legendary Whisky A Go Go, then saw Motley Crue headline the third annual street festival Saturday night, literally performing on the Sunset Strip. Two bands that made the Sunset Strip famous, back-to-back. It never happened before, and will likely never happen again.

6. VH1 Behind the Music - Megadeth
I'm no stranger to VH1, but there are a few appearances that stand out for me, including being a featured guest on The List and providing commentary for the Behind The Music on The Cult. But the appearance I'm most proud of? Being featured in the Megadeth Behind the Music. The band is in a dead heat with Anthrax as my favorite metal band, and this was an honor I will forever cherish. We did the interviews at the video shoot for "Motopsycho," and Dave Mustaine was apparently pretty nervous about what I'd say - I'd been a bit too honest about my feelings regarding the Risk album in Metal Edge, and he was worried those sentiments might roll over to the documentary. I'll never forget him coming up to me after reviewing the footage and thanking me for my support and friendship. He remains my favorite personality in metal, bar none.

5. Contributing to David Lee Roth's autobiography
From my favorite personality in metal, to my favorite personality in music - Diamond Dave! I reviewed his Crazy From The Heat autobiography for Metal Edge when it came out in 1998, and apparently Dave took a liking to what I wrote. I was sitting at my desk one morning (not early morning, trust me), and the phone rang - it was Eddie Anderson, David Lee Roth's right hand man. He said that David Lee Roth had a favor to ask (I still can't wrap my head around that, but those were his words!) - the man has been my muse for as long as I've known how to write a sentence, and he wanted to know if he could use part of my book review as the back cover of his softcover release. Ready for the kicker? Eddie proceeded to explain that Dave was not a fan of Metal Edge's history, but he was a fan of mine - would I mind if he just attributed the quote to me, and didn't acknowledge the magazine at all... I've had the pleasure of hanging with Dave many, many times - he even introduced me to John F. Kennedy Jr. - and as great as those memories are, nothing will top the honor of being immortalized on the back cover of his book.

4. Working with the original lineup of KISS
I grew up on KISS, and Alive II was the first record I ever bought. I'll never forget walking out of Caldors with the album... Who knew that someday I'd make KISStory? To the best of my knowledge, there's not another person on this planet that has interviewed all four original members of KISS, done a band photo shoot with all four original members, and photographed an entire live show featuring all four original members. I can literally write a book of my KISS experiences, and have the photos to document them all - who knows, maybe someday. An honor and a privilege that I don't take for granted.

3. Ozzy Osbourne plays me Under Cover
I've had countless bands play me their new music before it's been released (or even completed, for that matter), but never quite like this... I was invited to the Osbourne house to interview Ozzy in summer 2005, and when we were done with the interview he asked me if I wanted to hear some of the songs he mentioned while we were talking - uhm, hell yeah! Ozzy leads me into his study and proceeds to play me selections from the Under Cover album on his stereo, with stories and explanations of each. I had tears in my eyes as he played me John Lennon's "Woman" after explaining how he recorded it for Sharon... Yeah, I wiped tears from eyes in front of Ozzy - what's more metal than that? Ozzy fucking rules. Period.

2. Paul McCartney & Roger Waters at Coachella
These shows were the perfect storms. I was raised on oldies, not the Beatles, so I discovered the Fab Four late in life - but when I fell, I fell hard and fast (I swear I appreciate them more as a result). A friend asked me to see McCartney at the Staples Center with him several years ago, and I was an instant convert. The Beatles are my wife's favorite band, and I absorbed the inner depths of their catalog like a sponge. Being able to see McCartney headline Coachella in 2009 with my wife and some of our closest friends was a celebration I'll never forget and one of the greatest concert experiences of my life. Roger Waters headlined Coachella on his Dark Side of the Moon tour the following year, and that was a much more personal experience for me - Pink Floyd are one of my favorite bands of all-time, and the set was an epiphany. Practically a religious experience...

1. Pope Benedict XVI leading mass at the Vatican
Yes, I realize I just called Roger Waters a religious experience - but music means that much to me. My wife and I went to Italy for our honeymoon and our time in Rome coincided with a mass Pope Benedict was celebrating at St. Peter's Basilica on October 9, 2008, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's death. We didn't expect to be able to attend, but we wanted to try... We found ourselves in a Vatican line that we assumed was for sightseeing, and when we passed through security and got to the front they told us we couldn't go further unless we were attending the mass. We said we were - and it was really that simple! It was literally a religious experience - Pope Benedict passed within a few feet of us, and people reacted as you'd expect, but also as you could never imagine. Think of the biggest celebrity in the world - this was a hundred times that. This topped anything I've ever experienced in music.

Monday, September 12, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Anthrax 'Worship Music'

Disclaimer: I love Anthrax.

We're not talking casual love, we're talking about the kind of love I had to confess to my wife before we got married - fortunately, she shares my affinity for the greatest hard rock/metal band to come from New York that never recorded an album named Love Gun. I make this confession because I want there to be a frame of reference as I proceed - Persistence of Time is one of my favorite records of all time, I view Joey Belladonna and John Bush as equals, and Charlie Benante and Frank Bello are my holy trinity of rhythm sections (they're so good, they each count as 1 1/2 - Geddy Lee and Neil Peart can't be a trinity because they each count as two)...

Which brings us to Worship Music - the first Anthrax studio album in more than 20 years to feature frontman Joey Belladonna, their first album in more than a decade to not include an appearance by legendary Who frontman Roger Daltrey, and the band's second album in a row to feature the heaviest logo in metal, the twisted 'A is for Anthrax' pentagram. The album title says it all - Worship Music will restore our faith in metal and drop us to our knees as we beg for more. It's a game-changer in a day-and-age where the game has gotten so cluttered, not sucking has become high praise.

But Anthrax are about to change all that.

Worship Music is nothing short of brilliant. It isn't a half-ass collection intended to remind fans of a band's glory years, it is an hour of head-melting metal performed by a band that have not only rediscovered their superpowers, they've taken them to the next level.

At the forefront is Joey Belladonna, who unleashes the most impressive studio performance of his career - his vocals are like a wrecking ball metronome, a pitch-perfect demonstration of what can happen when you decry screaming and put a singer at the helm of a metal band. He pushes the sprawling "Judas Priest" to unprecedented highs, unleashing a vocal beast that matches the might of both "In My World" and John Bush's "Packaged Rebellion." The magic is in his control and restraint - where most metal throats sound like they're always pushing to 11, Belladonna is overpowering while never sounding like he needs to take it past 8. He's so good he doesn't even need to hit 10, but he never leaves us doubting that he can.

That's always been the beauty of Anthrax - they are masters of reeling us in, but never take us too far. They crush us with heavy, but they never sacrifice rhythm, melody or groove. Where most metal bands are about posturing, Anthrax are about the songs, and they bludgeon us with graceful nuances - instead of overwhelming us with noise, they leave us just enough room to thrash along in our mind's own private mosh pit.

Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano are an 18 wheeler of diesel-powered guitar strings, putting the pedal to the metal on opening track "Earth on Hell," tightening the reigns on "The Devil You Know" and laying a riff-driven battle charge on "Fight 'Em 'Till You Can't." "I'm Alive" downshifts, Anthrax unleashing an air-to-surface squadron that blankets the track in a dark veil of gang-powered choruses.

Picking up momentum as they go, "In The End" marks the midway point with an epic battle cry of looming dusk raging into the darker depths of the album's second half. "The Giant" thrashes with an unrelenting fury, Belladonna's vocals again packing a punch that rivals the power of anything in the Anthrax catalog, while "Crawl" is a fire-breathing climb into the stomp of "The Constant" and the blitzkrieg of the closing colossus "Revolution Screams."

And it wouldn't be an Anthrax album without a mind-blowing cover - this time around we're delivered a foundation-rattling run through "New Noise," originally recorded by the Swedish punk and underground favorites Refused. It's a hidden gem that kicks in just past the 11-minute mark of the six-minute "Revolution Screams."

Worship Music is more than just the hard rock/heavy metal album of the year, it is an immediate classic in the Anthrax catalog, its name to be proudly hailed in the same breath as Among the Living and Persistence of Time... Yes, this album is that fucking good.

Worship Music on iTunes
Worship Music on Amazon

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11, 2001 - Never Forget!
We the People Need to Remember 9/11

I'll never forget the events of 9/11.

I was staying at the W hotel in Chicago, where I had flown in for the band Soil's CD release party for the album Scars, one of several great records that was to be released that day.

My college roommate and his girlfriend had driven down from Milwaukee the night before and spent the night in the room, and our cellphones started ringing shortly after 7:45 am - and we ignored them. But Christian's mother is persistent. He finally answered, half asleep, and I heard, "yes mother, we'll turn on the news when we wake up..." He then mumbled something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, which we all assumed was a prop plane or twin engine... We commented on the tragedy, but weren't awake enough to really grasp the potential gravity of the situation.

Then my girlfriend called from Los Angeles, and considering it was barely sunrise there, I knew I had to answer - she told me to turn on CNN. At this point, it was about ten minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 had impacted the World Trade Center North Tower.

My college roommate and I were political nuts and news junkies - and we, like most Americans, never even thought to imagine that the first crash was a terrorist attack.

Then we watched United Airlines Flight 175 fly into the World Trade Center South Tower live.

How much have the events of that morning changed our lives? When we went to bed on September 10, 2011, we lived in a country where terrorism wasn't even a consideration. When we woke up the next morning, terrorism became the new assumption.

From the moment that second plane impacted the World Trade Center, every horrific act of the next decade has been a suspected act of terrorism until proven otherwise.

So there we sat for the next several hours, sitting in the hotel room glued to CNN in awe of the events unfolding before us.

For me it hit even closer to home - I'm New York at heart, and was raised an hour north of the city. I had moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles a few months earlier, and watching the chaos that enveloped what I still consider home, I felt paralyzed by despair and hopelessness.

Then the Pentagon was hit by American Airlines Flight 77, and the rumors started - the next plane is heading for the Capitol... The White House... The Sears Tower... The Sears Tower was located only a few blocks from our hotel in downtown Chicago, and our lobby became something of an evacuation hotbed.

Soil were flying home from Florida for the night's release party at the time of the attacks, and it took us the better part of the morning to confirm they were alive and well. We were lucky to even find out - it seemed like everyone I knew on the East Coast had a personal connection to the attacks, and very few people had answers.

Cell phones weren't working in Manhattan, and those who were safe had virtually no way to communicate with their loved ones. I had an acquaintance who, for three days, we thought died in one of the towers - it took him that long to start reaching out to people after the initial shock of the day's events had subsided and he'd finally been reunited with his wife and children in New Jersey.

Streets and highways were closed. Mass transit shut down. It was a war zone in lower Manhattan, and New York was bracing itself for any potential attacks that might come next.

In wake of the three successful attacks, when United Airlines Flight 93 did a nosedive into a desolate field near Shanksville, PA, instantly killing everyone on board, its passengers became instant heroes, sacrificing themselves to spare America yet another symbolic battle scar on the most horrific day of our young country's history.

Realizing that I wouldn't be returning to L.A. anytime soon, I drove back to Milwaukee with my roommate that afternoon on what was the emptiest I94 I've ever experienced. We went to grab a few drinks that night, and the feeling in the off-the-beaten-path Milwaukee bar couldn't be more somber.

New York was attacked, but America felt the pain. People who knew New York from little more than Friends and Seinfeld episodes felt united as a people. I'm not talking about me and my roommate, who had eaten in the World Trade Center Windows on the World restaurant a few years earlier with his grandmother - I'm talking about people who had never left a two hour radius of their Midwest home, but suddenly felt a patriotism like never before.

If there was good to come from the attacks, that was it - America was united in tragedy. We weren't Democrats and Republicans, we were Americans. We weren't an East Coast and West Coast looking down our noses at each other with superiority complexes, we were bookends of a great nation standing united, tall, proud and together. In the weeks that followed, all the political bullshit that tears our country apart was nothing but a hazy mist in our rear view mirror.

We were Americans, and we were one people. We believed in our government, and we believed in each other. We embraced the freedom that makes our country great, and we understood what that freedom meant to the rest of the world. We weren't afraid to be strong, because we had no other option.

For the first time, my generation had to be strong because my generation couldn't be weak. We were raised soft, but now we knew what it meant to live hard... Not as hard as our ancestors, but this was our test, and we would rise from the ashes.

Or so we thought.

In time, America forgot. Republicans returned to their role as boogeyman, and Democrats returned to their pulpits, preaching that the only way to be a country again is to change the very principals our nation was built upon.

Americans soon forgot what it was like to be one nation under God (whoever that God may be), because it is easier to be a nation divided. It is easier to blame the other side than it is to fight for change, and it is easier to live in the now than it is to learn from our past and build for a better future.

9/11 changed America - but we live in a country with Attention Deficit Disorder. We live in a land where it is easier to read the headline than it is to understand the story. And we live in a country where it is easier to make excuses than it is to hunker down and get the job done.

America changed, but it didn't take long for America to change back.

America forgot.

America needs to remember - and America needs to never forget what happened on September 11, 2001.