Heavy metal has had a long and tortuous relationship with humour.
From its conception the genre’s stars seemed blissfully ignorant of the concept, convinced instead that by some mysterious form of alchemy, falsetto vocals, tight leather trousers and poodle perms could be turned into serious chest-beating machismo.
Of course the inability to laugh at oneself is by no means confined to hard rockers, but there’s a reason why the makers of This is Spinal Tap (more of which later) stuck to the Smell The Glove years rather than documenting the semi-fictional band’s earlier hippy excesses. You see, to the average music lover, heavy metal can seem just a wee bit silly.
Anvil are a band beginning to confront their humour. I say beginning because, despite the fact these aging rockers now ham it up for the cameras and slip in the odd outrageous cliché between songs, they seem to do so begrudgingly. It’s as if every time Anvil ‘do the act’, a little bit of their none-more-black soul is lost among the embers of their once serious art.
The un-ignorable fact is that tonight’s audience is mostly made up of drunken 30-somethings along for a laugh. Having seen trailers for the forthcoming, Spinal Tap-inspired rockumentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the band’s current crop of fans are the sort that see one of their concerts as interchangeable with an evening at a comedy bar.
Much of tonight’s set is made up of tracks from Anvil’s hilariously titled Metal on Metal album of 1982. It was a time when the band were billed alongside such stadium fillers as Bon Jovi and White Snake, while simultaneously sucking up praise as the influences of Slayer and Metallica.
Therefore playing the fool to 50 people in a bowling alley near Euston train station is, it’s fair to say, something of a step-down for these self-proclaimed ‘demigods of Canadian metal’.
Not that you’d know it from the way Anvil take to the…erm…corner of the room. “London, how the fuck are ya?” asks singer and demigod-in-chief Steve 'Lips' Kudlow to smattering of giggles and affirmative grunts. “It’s so good be here” he adds.
Now I may not be the world’s biggest heavy metal fan but even I know talent when I see it. And tonight, well, I don’t really see it. A quarter of an hour in and Anvil have only played two songs – an awful out of tune intro and 666, one of the band’s more well-known tracks. Already people are leaving in droves. They saw them, they had their fun and now they’re off.
In many ways I fear sounding like a sourpuss for not sitting back and having a great big laugh. But even if Anvil are just a joke band these days – the joke isn’t even a good or original one. By all means see the film but if I were you I’d leave it there. Dodging drunken businessman as they wrap ties around their head and make the metal sign is no way to spend a rainy Wednesday night in London.