It was a sight for sore necks: the return of MTV's Headbangers Ball with a special free show at the Agora, featuring old-school favorites Anthrax and platinum-selling nü jacks Godsmack. Nestled in the balconies were a pair of projection screens, showing Ball-worthy videos from Dio to Killswitch Engage; in the lobby, giddy Godsmack fans sipped $10 beers in commemorative Headbangers Ball cups, waiting impatiently to see the arena rockers in close confines.
Pre-show reports indicated that Cleveland's Ball would be taped for broadcast on MTV2 at a later date, but only one cameraman was spotted at the May 1 concert, filming backstage interviews and segments of the bands' performances. There was no host, no crew, and not much to be gleaned about the fabled video show's return to TV. Just a capacity crowd that was there to see Godsmack. The diehards weren't disappointed, which is more than we can say.
Aside from the novelty of seeing a big band in a small place, the Headbangers Ball was short on fireworks. Godsmack hammed it up from the get-go, preceding its performance with video footage of jet fighters and Apache helicopters (classy move, guys -- nothing spells patriotism like lukewarm Boston metal). The band opened with the ribald rocker "Straight Out of Line," as frontman Sully Erna took the stage in leather pants, sunglasses, and a black tunic swiped from the closet of David Carradine. (He would later doff his shirt, then tie on a white headband, approximating a nipple-ringed Karate Kid.)
"Cleveland, make some goddamn noise for me!" Erna commanded early on, and the crowd responded with an enthusiastic roar that lasted throughout the hour-long, unintentionally self-parodying set. Things bottomed out during a rendition of "Voodoo," when two belly dancers emerged onstage, gyrating to a beat laid down by a pair of congo players.
Despite the tidal wave of metal clichés, Godsmack's guitar thunder -- along with the flailing of incredibly high-strung new drummer Shannon Larkin -- was consistently impressive. But thanks mostly to Erna's antics, the experience came off as a metal caricature, leaving one feeling almost cheated when Erna didn't end the show with a "Thank you, Cleveland! Goodnight!"
Anthrax didn't fare any better. The band kicked off with a medley of material from its new album, We've Come for You All (released Tuesday), to virtually no response. Old-school barn burners such as "Caught in a Mosh" got bodies moving, but by then the band had squandered its chance to build momentum. "Are you excited about the Headbangers Ball coming back?" singer John Bush asked the crowd at one point.
Well, we were.
· Long-running hardcore heavyweights Run Devil Run are breaking up after headlining a show at the Phantasy on Saturday, May 17. The show is a benefit for Food for Life, which provides vegetarian meals for Cleveland's homeless. (Run Devil Run frontman Don Foos is Food for Life's Cleveland-area representative.) Also on the bill are hardcore favorites Ringworm, 13 Faces, and Victory Flag. Come give Run Devil Run the send-off they deserve, and help out some people in the process.
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