“There’s a lot of us here,” a short blonde photographer in a patch-laden vest said, cycling through shots, deleting batches frantically to conserve space. “I’ve never seen it like this, it’s crazy. We’ve been waiting for this for a while now.” I thought he was talking about the large amount of photographers readying their cameras for the next act. How the hell am I going to get any shots when the pit is as pack as the general admission? It’s a zoo.
Then I saw what he meant.
My eyes scan the sold-out crowd. Leather, studs, shoulder length hair, and what I’m likely assuming incorrectly, biker tattoos. I walk to the soundboard and take the atmosphere in. You’d have thought you were at a—yup, I’m at a metal show in D.C. Not just any metal show, though – it’s Judas Priest with Saxon and Black Star Riders. The star-studded Firepower 2018 tour, with artists who’s prominence in the scene is uncontested. Then it dawns on me that I’m at the “first” real metal show to take the stage at Washington D.C.’s musical darling The Anthem.
The D.C. denizens you know as background people shuffling about as extras in the daily news, these are not – at least for tonight. They shed the suit, tie, polos, and button-ups for a style you don’t see in these parts all too often. For all of D.C.’s stuffiness, it was rather nice to be worlds away from it all—if only in just a club.
It’s Sunday night and government jobs be damned, the crowed yearned for their music. On a typical weekend, Washington D.C.’s music scene reflects the ages of the workers who serve their hours in brutalist government offices lining the Capital’s streets. Young, politically charged, diverse, but with tinges of the go-go funk and hardcore punk which still define the city’s signature soundscape. The Anthem opened in October 2017 with the Foo Fighters, and quickly followed with a highlight reel of guests including LCD Soundsystem, Phoenix, Tegan and Sara, and St. Vincent. Despite an ownership stake from Arlington-native and metal enthusiast Dave Grohl, the genre hadn’t quite made a formal debut on the waterfront.
A quick visit from Queens of the Stone Age in November, and that’s about it. But the end of the night, there was no doubt that a pulse for metal beats in Washington D.C., and the city has Judas Priest, Saxon, and Black Star Riders to thank for it. Black Star Riders delivered first, blistering through their set and ending with back-to- back favorites “Kingdom of the Lost” and “Bound for Glory”. Saxon, promoting their latest album Thunderbolt, drew the crowd in closer. The anticipation for “THE” D.C. metal show at the Anthem was growing – it was almost here. Saxon’s legacy as an early leader in British heavy metal preceded them as the crowd san along and embraced Peter “Biff” Byford’s impressive stage presense. A highlight in the set include a three song stretch starting with the group’s tribute to Motorhead “They Played Rock and Roll”, and popular tracks Crusader and Princess of the Night.
Saxon leaves the hungry crowd with “Heavy Metal Thunder”, and then it’s the moment The Anthem, and D.C. metal fans have been waiting for. The PA starts playing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and the crowd sings every lyrics. It’s beautiful. It’s the perfect intro. Judas Priest is coming and the crowd feels it. Then Rob Halford and company take the stage. The twin guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner floods the cavernous hall as they opens with “Firepower” and begins working through the catalog. The classics are all there – “Breaking the Law”, “You Got Another Thing Coming”, and “Painkiller” – but it’s their impact.
Lots of great articles and reviews have been written about The Anthem and how it’s attracting some of the best acts to Washington D.C. Perhaps they should consider that three metal bands took full advantage of this new club in ways previous acts hadn’t. If for one night only, D.C. was the Capital of metal.
Words and photographs by Reed Albers.