Anthrax in Madison

Madcity Madhouse : A Night With Anthrax at the Sylvee Theater
by DeWook
January 2023

Anthrax performing on 01.27.23 at The Sylvee in Madison, Wisconsin - photo by DeWook

Anthrax performing on 01.27.23 at The Sylvee in Madison, Wisconsin
photo by DeWook

I arrived at the Sylvee in Madison around 845pm. The ride from Milwaukee was fairly normal and I was able to listen to a few Anthrax tunes on the way to get into focus… You know, put my game face on. I was going to photograph Anthrax for the fifth time, and for me, I have to put in 110%.

It was quiet and cold outside the venue. I found that very odd. Typically, you hear music or inhale the scent of cigarettes, but no, it was still. The dudes in the box office were preoccupied. So, when I knocked to present my identification, they were a bit startled. I received my credentials and headed for the entrance.

I presented my photo pass like the key to Mordor. As usual, security insisted on searching my bag. I was in a deep mindset for the show. So, while my cameras were being manhandled, I was more focused on getting into the photo pit. Security closed up my bag and they scanned my ticket and I was off.

I went straight for the merch table. Just to slap my photo pass on my shirt. One of the merch guys asked me “Are you wearing a Front 242 shirt?” I said “yes” and gave a fast smirk. He nodded and smirked back. I gathered my camera bag and headed into the crowd. Getting to the photo pit was going to be a pain in the ass but I was on a mission.

The crowd was thick. The smell of leather and smoke permeated the air. Black Label Society was on stage so the audience was zoned in on Mr. Wylde. I snaked my way through the people. I must have said “excuse me” at least a hundred times. Some let me through while others pushed back against my very existence. One guy shoved me hard enough that I felt like getting into a fight. I pushed on until I got to the fence at stage right. I made it it to the pit. Thank you to the metal gods.

A security guard instantly approached me and told me I couldn’t be there. I showed him my credentials and explained I was running late. He took pity on me and I flopped open my camera bag and began putting on my gear. I felt the fans staring at me like I was a piece of meat trying to figure out why I was allowed in the pit. Once my Nikons were on me they understood.

I was ready for Anthrax. I grabbed my wide-angle to get some test pictures of Black Label Society and the lighting looked great. I reached for my zoom and security approached me again. Shit. He said no pictures. I tried to plead my case even though I knew the rules. But he was right. I just smiled and placed the camera back on my side. Better not stir the pot. I only have a short while before Anthrax hits the stage.

As Black Label Society was closing their set with the lights going crazy, and it was loud. All of a sudden, smoke machines started shooting in the air and I ducked. I felt like a war zone. The crowd was going nuts and the next thing I know the band started throwing out sticks and guitar pics. One bounced off me and under the barrier and I chose a random fan and gave it to him. I know it made his day.

The curtain was down and Anthrax had assembled a 10-minute montage video of a mixed bag of famous musicians and other popular artifacts to reflect on the impression that Anthrax had left upon them. The audience gazed and applauded when someone recognized appeared on the white sheet doubling as a screen.

The security guards were in position. Stagehands were all ready for the sheet to fall from the ceiling. The other photogs were at the ready. Lens caps off, aperture set, and shutter speed dialed in. My feet were planted on the floor. My eyes closed. I have been there before. I have seen this before. I zoned into the random voices coming from the opening video, it was ending. Anthrax, Anthrax, Anthrax came faster and faster from the video. This was it. Showtime!

All of sudden the roar of Scott Ian’s guitar cut through the Sylvee like a machine gun. His silhouette appeared on the right side of the curtain. Then, Frank Bello and his bass guitar appeared on the left. The crowd went insane. The sound of their opening track “Among the Living” began to take shape in the unfiltered rage of the amps. The point of no return had arrived. Boom!

The band attacked the stage like a bunch of wild bulls leaving no space on the stage untouched. They ran in circles each claiming a piece of turf. I grabbed my cameras and went to work. For a split second I forgot how to take a photo. I thought, “come on dumbass, wake up!”

I chased the band around as they finished their opening track and went into “Caught in a Mosh.” One of my favorites. Working with them has really opened my mind to where they will be at certain times during certain tracks. While the other photogs were bumping into each other like hungry hippos, I just waited, with patience and a cool head, the money shots would come.

I went after the band like a sniper, chasing Jonathan Donais into his corner and Bassist Frank Bello was all over the stage. He is one of my favorite musicians to shoot. Singer Joey Belladonna paced back and forth and guitarist Scott Ian just ripped the guts out of his guitar. Derek Roddy sat in for OG drummer Charlie Benante. Charlie is always in his bunker, a real pain to photograph if you aren’t twelve feet tall, but with no Charlie, I just chased after the rest of the band. I was sweating bullets.

The Madison show was a madhouse, literally, as Anthrax broke into their third song, “Madhouse”. It’s an older track but a fan favorite. I had been keeping an eye on the number of photos I was snapping and I was over my quota. I made my way out of the photo pit back to the area where I came in and I started in on room shots from random positions around the theater as Anthrax kept the room rocking. I got spilled on and almost stepped on broken glass. Anything to get the shot, right? I headed to the balcony.

It was packed! The aisles were impassable but the fans here were much more reasonable even though I had to push my way in to get the shots. I think I must have said “sorry” two-hundred times.

As I packed up my gear my Front 242 shirt was drenched. The band played on and the crowd was still in a frenzy. I sipped my water and enjoyed the view for just a few more minutes. Another Anthrax show for me was coming to an end. As I put my Drop Bass Network hoodie on I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in a position to work with these great musicians. My first show ever was Anthrax in 1987 and here I was again. Lucky to have the opportunity to photograph these guys that have carried me through my entire life.

This story is a day in my life. Without music, the bands, the fans, and everyone else that makes the shows happen, I have no clue where I would be. But for now, I am here. I know one thing. I’ll be back again.

Until then, rock on my friends.

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