Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian brought the funny to the Agora Ballroom on a cold Monday night in Cleveland, regaling a small (and seated) crowd with funny, insightful tales culled from his three-plus decades of rocking within—and reigning over—metal’s most elite circles.
The “Speaking Words” tour isn’t new for Ian, 50. The goateed guitar-slinger road-tested his talking tour overseas last year and plans to issue a DVD of his talking engagement in Glasgow.
But this winter has the metal maestro responsible for “Caught in a Mosh,” “I Am the Law,” and “AIR” playing storyteller in America for the first time. And if Ian’s two-hour Agora spiel is any barometer, the bald head-banger just might be on to something.
Casually striding onstage in reading glasses, Ian started off reading a solemn passage from his iPod (using the device like a teleprompter), coming off not unlike Duff McKagan—the Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist who plugged an autobiography with quiet, candle-lit recitations in 2011. Ian pulled the wool over listeners’ eyes early on with a couple passages, but he made us promise not to spoil them for other tour stops with our Tweets and Facebook posts.
And therein lies the trick to reviewing a talking show whose beats frequently emulated those found more often in stand-up comedy: You wanna convey the essence of the evening’s bonhomie in words, but giving away the punch lines would be rude to both the artist and future attendees.
Ian’s bright, articulate, and has apparently gotten comfortable sharing the wild and wacky nuances of his uncommon life with crowds much smaller than those entertained by Anthrax. If the native New Yorker felt naked without his guitar (he wore a black T-shirt and jeans) or got the jitters during at any point his multi-suite monologue, he didn’t let on, riffing on topics as varied as growing up Jewish, beard etiquette, blue dinosaurs, Ms. Pac-Man, AC-DC, garbage-diving, and poopy pants, and pet goats in swimming pools.
The guitarist pocketed his scholarly spectacles soon enough, and by gig’s end he’d (literally) kicked aside his barstool. The tattooed titan (born Scott Ian Rosenberg) alternately paced and prowled the spartan stage looking fit, relaxed and reflective. He occasionally clicked on a remote to trigger new slides—each funnier than the last—or paused to sip his beer, but the verbiage was fairly constant. But the gesticulations Ian used to underscore his points were animated, and the and voices employed pantomiming his diverse and colorful subjects hysterical in their accuracy.
Projecting a slideshow of hilarious old photos and cartoon renderings from a laptop, Ian had folks in stitches with his anecdote about meeting Motorhead’s Lemmy during a press tour in the mid ‘80s. Still a young pup, the star-struck Ian was suckered into throwing down with the iconic bassist (and legendary boozer) at a London bar. Discovering the hopelessly hung-over Ian the next morning, then-manager Johnny “Z” Zazula dragged the incapacitated 21-year old to a local doctor (shades of the villain from the 1976 film Marathon Man) for a pick-me-up, then hauled him aboard an airplane like so much extra luggage.
Another nugget focused Ian hanging with his heroes in KISS when Anthrax supported the costumed rockers on the Crazy Nights tour. Doing dead-on impressions of KISS founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the guitarist talked about querying his mentors for all the secrets of the KISS universe—like why Gene covered the Disney song “When You Wish Upon a Star” on his eponymous 1978 album. Simmons’ touching response was captured on film for a television show, but was no less moving as relayed by Ian, who admitted he and his idol got choked up.
Later, in one of several you-had-to-be-there moments, the guitarist impersonated a zombie George Harrison.
The night’s biggest laughs came courtesy Ian’s recollections of Pantera guitarist Darrell “Dime” Abbott, who was killed onstage by a deranged fan in Columbus, Ohio ten years ago. Dubbed “Baldini” by his guitar-shredding bro, Ian recounted a three-year span during which he tried one-upping Abbott’s prolific practical jokes, and how the Texan terror nearly got him arrested with a prank call concerning their out-of-control mutual friend, Sebastian Bach (of Skid Row).
Other ruminations dealt with Ian’s time on and off stage with Anthrax, and how his distinct look and admittedly pseudo-celebrity persona have resulted in a few funny (and sometimes aggravating) cases of mistaken identity. One such faux pas found a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan pegging Ian as a member of that group. The more Ian denied it, the more irate the guy became.
“I don’t feel it’s my place to correct these people,” Ian reflected. “But after a while, I was mad at the guy for Anthony Kiedis!”
Ian confessed to using such situations to his advantage on occasion, playing up his physical resemblance to System of a Down vocalist Serj Tankian to ward off other pests.
Ian mined his stint on VH-1’s Supergroup TV show for big laughs. Teamed with fellow rockers Ted Nugent, Jason Bonham, and Evan Seinfeld in the short-lived band Damnocracy for the show’s 2006 season, Ian took naturally to his peers and the studio placed at their disposal. He said the producers worked overtime staging dramatic moments and elaborate extra-curriculars (usually involving strippers), only to be disappointed when none of the married celebrity musicians took the bait. Instead, Ian and the guys work-shopped new material and quickly mastered the program’s required ten cover songs. Ian said the bullish Nugent laid down the law when it came to their daily itineraries.
“VH-1 chose the wrong group of people,” concluded Ian. “We actually wanted to play music.”
The guitarist wrapped by fielding questions from the audience about his work with Public Enemy, future “Big 4” concerts with Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, and his interest in comic books and horror film. One gentleman pressed Ian for details on Anthrax’s songwriting process. Ian—who isn’t classically trained and can’t read music fluently—said he and the boys just “jam” and follow the riffs. Dissatisfied, the man continued probing with vagaries like, “Where do you go from there?” nearly steam-rolling other fans’ chances to ask something meaningful.
“I’ll be going to hell in the next few minutes,” Ian hissed, checking the offender. “Because that’s where you go when you kill people!”
There’s one in every crowd.
But the Anthrax ambassador clearly enjoyed his Cleveland visit, letting his guard down for those in attendance and availing himself just another regular dude who often enjoys being “just a fan” like the rest of us. He singed off by saluting ticket-holders for “taking a risk” on his latest endeavor and encouraged them to exercise the same bravado when pursuing their own interests.
Horns up on that note.