Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals at Warehouse Live, 1/10/2014

Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals, Author & Punisher, Hymns Warehouse Live January 10, 2014

Philip Anselmo might be a New Orleans metal icon, but it's hard to imagine he's any less beloved here in Houston than in his hometown. This city is home to a vast number of frustrated Pantera fans still smarting from the loss of slain guitarist Dimebag Darrell nearly ten years after his passing. A local visit by the band's former lead vocalist is always treated as a chance to celebrate Pantera's musical legacy and stomp a few heads flat for old times' sake.

It shouldn't have been surprising, then, that Anselmo easily sold out Warehouse Live's studio room with his new solo act, Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals. Not since the breakup of Superjoint Ritual nine years ago has the singer offered up such a punishing set of new music, so heavily influenced by the spiraling universe of underground heavy metal that Anselmo loves so dearly.

The venue was already crowded and sweaty by the time Arkansas' Hymns opened the show with an epic suite of mildly progressive black and death metal. The band is one of the latest to score a deal with Anselmo's Housecore Records label, and the crowd clapped and cheered for them politely as they sipped their drinks and waited. Unrecognized by most, Anselmo himself could already be seen watching the show from behind the group's backline, headbanging incognito in a black hoodie.

Author & Punisher's music proved a tad more challenging for the metal-starved hooligans packing in ever more tightly into Warehouse Live. Surrounded by a thicket of custom-fabricated electronic controllers and instruments, one-man band Tristan Shone looked like a human trapped in the vast battery farms of the Matrix as he pumped out a droning, low-fi take on industrial crunch.

At his best, Shone produced songs that sounded like Gary Numan had joined Ministry during the band's druggiest days, but there were just as many blasts of pure, incomprehensible noise that excited some in the crowd and turned others off completely. By the time the artist began packing up his projection screen, some in the audience were cheering his music and some were cheering its end.

There was no so ambivalence in the crowd when the Illegals appeared at last, of course. Anselmo's very silhouette was enough to make the crowd go bonkers, and when the lights hit his face, every fist in the room was in the air. The singer soaked in the adulation with a stoic and determined look in his eye.

'I'ma tell you what, you got potential," Anselmo said, sizing up his people. "I love you so much I can't put it into words right now, so we're just going to jam out. Let's have a fuckin' good time."

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A crazy, banana-shaped mosh pit broke out the instant the band ripped open "Walk Through Exits Only," the title track to last year's Illegals debut. Crowd surfers were hoisted all over the room. There was no holding back on the floor, and there was no escaping the mayhem.

The Illegals music, all penned by Anselmo, confidently strides through all of the singer's influences, from the chugging hardcore of "Betrayed" to the swaggering groove of "Ugly Mug." With Friday being the first date on a new tour, the group was clearly trying out some new numbers in the set list, with Anselmo counting off some numbers and appearing to direct musical traffic at times.

Some of the group's tunes are a bit disjointed -- the mark, perhaps, of Anselmo's restless brain. But the group got tighter as they went along, and when they all came together, it was some very strong stuff. The band's not-so-secret weapon is undoubtedly local shredder Marzi Montazeri, who's a master of the kind of solo guitar destruction pioneered by his heroes Randy Rhoades, Eddie Van Halen and, yes, Dimebag Darrell.

Loud chants of "Marzi, Marzi!" broke out after a particularly wailing solo during the powerful "Family, 'Friends,' and Associates."

What really brought down the house, of course, were a few choice classics that came at the end. The crushing Pantera ditties "Dom/Hollow" and "Death Rattle" had the largely shirtless audience levitating with joy, and when the Illegals finished us off with "A New Level," Warehouse Live erupted into a fearless mosh pit that may take all year to match. For diehard Pantera fans, it just doesn't get any better than that in 2014.

It remains to be seen whether Anselmo will ultimately decide to continue on with the Illegals once their touring commitments are completed. Between Down, his record label, and myriad other concerns, who knows how long the band will continue to hold his interest.

If Friday night is any indication, though, they'll always be welcomed back with glee in Houston, Texas. And if they want to keep tossing a few Pantera cuts into the mix, that'd be just fine, too.

Personal Bias: Fucking hostile.

The Crowd: Pantera fans.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Fuckin' love you, Marzi!"

Random Notebook Dump: A lot of fans were turned away early at this one.


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