If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around does it make a sound?
- somebody

Water Under The Bridge

This year I've seen adverts for tours by Deep Purple, Yes, Rush, Thin Lizzy and a slew of others that, in years gone by, might have drawn my interest. Of course now I take notice only long enough to chortle; trying to imagine myself going to see retreadings of 2112 doesn't seem as oddly important as it once might've, it just seems stupid. I wish those acts no ill but they are faint echos of a distant day for which the memories may be fond but there's no returning to. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing of any musical significance happening there now. Yes, significant achievements were widely witnessed but that was indeed another day, long ago.

Understand The Present By Understanding The Past

The 80's music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area was a mixed bag across many different genres. Back in the day, I was a rabid consumer and critic of progressive rock and heavy metal. When The Old Waldorf's Metal Mondays became a weekly venture and I launched Rampage Radio on KUSF (and subsequently bequeathed it as a career to my pal Ron Quintana), the region officially had a Metal Scene.

In the pages of Metal Mania, I deified and cast aspersions on the various underground acts that were local as well as those that came from afar. I think I invented the meme "Yngwie Is God", at least I recall doing the headline paste-up for that issue of Metal Mania that proclaimed as much (today, this is not something you'll find on my resume). Marty Friedman and Merciful Fate all picked up the early buzz of their careers in Metal Mania and on Saturday nights on KUSF (can you believe the Rampage Radio show is still on the weekly KUSF schedule in that same old timeslot?!).

Metallica was in a class of their own: the influence that Motorhead and Diamond Head held on their inspirations were worn as badges of honor on their sleeves. The guile of hair bands and those that cynically paid homage to the music industry's formulaic AOR doctrine were exposed: posers! wankers! cheese eaters! Metallica sounded like noone else and, at least back then, noone sounded anything like Metallica.

There was another act gigging at the time that was similarly blazing its own trail. Clearly influenced by the prevailing titans of progressive rock and heavy metal of the day, San Francisco's Anvil Chorus was fount of unique inspirations. A group of talented individuals, half of them multi-instrumentalists and all of them bringing to the table a creative flair. The composition, arrangement and melodic skills enjoyed a harmonic and counterpunctual implementation that was delivered crushingly. Hugely. The sound was capital "B" Big. The guitar harmonies, keyboard wizardry and bottled-lightning rhythm section were a powerful collusion. Heavy riffs, belting vocals and refined aesthetic completed the signature sound; Anvil Chorus rightly earned a buzz of their own for their unique and exquisite style.

Well, everyone knows what's become of Metallica. They not only flipped off the music industry, they co-opted and became it. They're like Aaron Spelling's TV shows and Elvis and Google and Led Zeppelin; they're just ridiculously huge. It's weird having friends who've ascended to A Higher Plane. So long, old chums!

Pop culture will never be the same.

Apples and Oranges

Let's get one thing straight: I'm not comparing Anvil Chorus and Metallica's music. Stylisticly, there was little in common (well, they both shared the bill at Mabuhay Gardens at my behest in support of Metal Mania -- that was a great show!). Nonetheless each distinguished themselves amidst a pack of other bands who were busy employing formulas, dialing in sounds that too quickly felt cliche. To stand out from those crowds was a considerable achievement. This isn't to disparage the other acts that were making the rounds back in the day; there were a lot of good bands and a lot of really talented people but few had the chemistry and the vision to establish a brand of their own.

What Anvil Chorus and Metallica had in common wasn't their sounds, it was their capacity to set themselves apart.

Oil and Water

Anvil Chorus managed to get a single out in 1982 ("Once Again"/"Blonds In Black") and produce a high quality demo. They grew a substantial following as they gigged around California, opening up for acts, wowwing the crowds and then coming back to headline again a few months later. Despite the success they were enjoying, there was an undercurrent of tension in the band as the member's creative impulses diverged. Some band members felt strongly about emphasizing keyboard melodies in their compositions and others were more inclined to go for the pummelling metal sound ("more gank! less wank!").

The eclectic range of songs that became the Anvil Chorus repertoire was representative of that tension. The eventual dissolution of Anvil Chorus in 1985 was the inevitable result of having too many chiefs aspiring to lead the tribe and diverging creative trajectories.

There were little collaborations and reunions but the forces that pulled apart Anvil Chorus were ever present. Some members of the band moved on to other projects, the only ones that ever gathered any substantial audiences were Heathen and Red Kross. Other members of the band lived out scenarios that'd toggle all of the VH1 "Behind The Music" checkboxes of terribleness; it'd be amusing if not for the real human tragedy encompassing it all. Efforts to reform Anvil Chorus never really bore fruit; the band seemed to destined to be a forgotten footnote.

Something significant happened. And it was heard.

Fast forward to 2004. April 7th, to be precise. A significant event occurred at Soundwave Studios. The six members of Anvil Chorus reunited for the first time in 17 years with a small handful of guests in attendance to witness. They trickled in and worked to reclaim songs that'd languished in the cobwebbed corners of their minds, three or four of them at a time variously working together on bits and pieces, taking breaks to greet a new arrival or just stepping back take it all in.

The joy of reacquainting with old friends soon gave way to the serious business of recapturing some old magic. Some of the songs suffered from fits and starts, some outright failed... too many unrecovered memories to piece it back into shape but others just came together, as if the thawed caveman, emerging from his ice block, had resumed his charge on the mammoth an epoch later, unaware of the time that had passed. Among the gems any long time Anvil Chorus fan would appreciate:

At times, some of the same old willful battles, the egos, the mouth-that-disconnected-from-brain behavior that'd done so much to pull the band aprt in the past... it all started reemerging. And yet there was a shared respect and recognition that time was precious, that the order of the evening was to press ahead and revalidate the chemistry that made Anvil Chorus work so well.

When it was all done, there was an exhausted high in the room. Clearly, something significant had occurred. Even though there was no throng of fans offering hoots and hollers, the small group of us there joining the band for this occasion all shared an unspoken realization. A tree had fallen, we all heard it, it happened.

Lyrically, Anvil Chorus' songs were often introspective discussions of character and destiny. And it seemed oddly peculiar to hear those themes again in the context of all that has happened. They played brilliantly together; a performance they should proud of. A history they should be proud of. I wouldn't bet the family china on there ever being another public performance by Anvil Chorus but I would bet that were it to happen and you were present as a witness, you would agree that it was indeed something significant.

Anvil Chorus are:

I am spidaman