Down, Warbeast, Honky Warehouse Live January 11, 2013
"Seems like we just played here," said Philip Anselmo as he surveyed the crowded Warehouse Live ballroom from the stage on Friday night.
The feeling was understandable: The singer's band, Down, had indeed played the same stage just eight scant months ago. But that hadn't stopped the venue from filling up once again with heavy metal precision.
It doesn't really matter how often Down comes through Houston, or any of Anselmo's other projects, for that matter. Every trip he makes through Texas is greeted as cause for celebration. In the hearts of fans, the ex-Pantera vocalist stands alone as the undisputed king of the state's heavy metal scene, and they always turn out to see him.
In a band stacked with New Orleans' top heavy-metal talents, including Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Confomity and Kirk Windstein of Crowbar, Anselmo got the biggest cheers by far. He was at home in Houston right off the bat, energized and ready for the first night of a Western jag to the coast dubbed the Weed and Speed Tour in honor of Down's pairing with Arlington thrashers Warbeast.
"Since this is the first show back, let's fuckin' have a fuckin' good time," Anselmo said, in his characteristically florid manner. "Fuck everything, man. Let's go for it."
By the time he took the stage with Down, of course, the party was already rolling. The opening band, Austin superboogie trio Honky, damn near stole the show with their high-octane rock and roll ruckus. Their diesel-soaked riffs and Hill Country harmonizing had the crowd hooting right along, especially the thunderous "Snortin' Whiskey."
Last time through town, it had been Warbeast attempting to steal the show from the openers' slot. This year, with Warbeast providing direct support to Down, the band couldn't help but sound and feel more established. The crowd greeted them with a familiarity that wasn't there eight months ago.
It didn't hurt that Anselmo could be seen lurking back behind the band's amps, air-guitaring and drumming along to guitarist Scott Shelby's shredding on tunes like "Krush the Enemy" and "Egotistical Bastard." Warbeast singer Bruce Corbitt couldn't resist dragging Anselmo out front and center to duet on a song from that album, the appropriately titled "Warbeast."
"I had to pull it on you, brother," Corbitt said, grinning. "Sorry!"
Sorry or not, it was a good move. If Warbeast hadn't gotten the crowd's full attention before, handing Phil a microphone did it. All of a sudden, the mosh pit swelled and exploded as Anselmo added his trademark gravelly shriek to the band's whipping Texas thrash.
Anselmo has been a major backer of Warbeast in recent years, not only signing the band to his Housecore Records label but taking them out on tour a couple of times with Down and even mixing their forthcoming sophomore album, Destroy. His passion for the music was on full display as he screamed over Shelby's leads. The crowd loved it.
Cool as that was, Warbeast sounded best on its final songs of the night: "It" and "Birth of a Psycho" from their brand-new split EP with Anselmo, War of the Gargantuas. "Birth" was the fastest song of the night, with the rolling thunder of drummer Joey Gonzalez's kick drums whipping the pit into a dangerous swirl of black-clad bodies.
The bros banged hard in the pit for Down, too, even though the sludgy supergroup features riffs inspired more by THC than ADD. After an extended opening vamp led into "Eyes of the South," the band cut loose with the rollicking swamp groove of "Witchtripper," the new single from Down IV Part I - The Purple EP.
All eyes in the room were on Anselmo. The man effortlessly commands Texas metal crowds like no one else can, and he drew huge cheers just scratching his elbow. The Kid's voice sounded fresh and clear on old warhorses like "Lysergik Funeral Procession" and "Losing All," a happy corollary of the tour's opening night.
At times, he could barely be heard over the crowd singling along, as they did for "Ghosts Along the Mississippi." The joints in the crowd, snuck past the stringent security at the door, smoldered in the dark as Keenan's thick, distorted tone billowed out of his Orange amplifier cabinets. A lot of heads banged from the waist during the stomping "Misfortune Teller."
In between songs, Anselmo dedicated numbers to Dimebag Darrell and Mike Scaccia, two Texas metal lifers that have sadly been lost to us. He also praised the audience's loyalty, no doubt recalling the countless times he's played to packed house in this city with bands large and small.
"We just played here, and you still come out to the show," he beamed. "What it is, Friday? You could be out doing whatever you want, and look at you!"
Down rewarded that loyalty by playing the hits. Well, the closest things to hit that a sludge metal band from the Deep South is likely to score, anyway. First came "Stone the Crows." Then Anselmo took a quick crowd poll.
"Let's make this obvious as a motherfucker," he said. "Transparent as shit: What do you wanna hear?"
The answer, of course, was "Bury Me in Smoke," the classic cut from Down's 1996 debut. As the audience screamed along to the song, the stage began to fill with various Texas metal types, from Honky guitarist Bobby Ed Landgraf (who took a solo) to local shredder Marzi Montazeri. There were a lot of hugs and back-slaps going around up there as the first night of the tour wrapped up successfully.
The size of the crowd Friday night would seem to indicate that Down will be welcome back at Warehouse Live anytime. The band might hail from Nola, but they can rightly claim Houston as their home turf.
In all likelihood, they'll probably be back fairly soon. If you're a fan, catch them if you can. As Mike Scaccia's tragic passing proves, we've got to enjoy the talents of our Third Coast metal icons while we can, because they won't be out there touring forever... even if it sometimes feels as if they never left.
Personal Bias: Down shows can sometimes resemble a support group for frustrated Pantera fans. I'm ready to become a member.
The Crowd: Black T-shirts everywhere. XXL, in most cases.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Hit him, Phil!"
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Random Notebook Dump: I was severely annoyed at the thorough metal-detector frisk to get in on Friday night until I remembered that one of Anselmo's ex-bandmates had been shot dead in a club none too different from Warehouse Live some years back. That sobering thought simmered me down quite a bit.