With most of the civilized world still living in a proverbial prison yard for more than a year, not to mention all of the additional crap being piled on by the media industrial complex, some may well be wondering just how massive of a powder keg is likely to be ignited as the weather continues to warm. Nevertheless, for those seeking a more constructive outlet for all of that penned up angst, the question that continually comes up is likely “Where is Pantera when we need them?” Whether he was tuned into all the prayers for a way to get all this excess steam blown off or it was just by sheer consequence, the famed front-man of the same iconic purveyors of all things heavy Philip H. Anselmo and his flock of Illegals decided to heed the call, as they undertook the daunting task of trying to tap into the long passed spirit of uncompromising, fist-to-the-face 90s groove metal in a live streamed concert event appropriately dubbed A Vulgar Display Of Pantera.
Anticipation for the event itself was arguably the most intense of any held since the pandemic began, at least in this writer’s estimation. From the beginning of the pre-show stream, the comments were rolling into the live chat by the dozen per second. The introductory attractions themselves proved a bit on the unusual side, as the first half hour basically consisted of a camera feed of two hens and potbellied pigs with fliers for the show posted on the chicken house and an ominous wind saturating the audio. What followed was a series of comical hijinks by the band, consisting of a mockup interview segment with the Price Is Right theme in the background, footage of some intense action at a water park, and a few segments of tour footage from the “Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue” tour. It’s difficult to tell whether guitarist Mike DeLeon’s mock journalist shtick or Anselmo’s nonchalant banter in his gravely bass-baritone voice was the funnier element, but these two might want to consider taking this routine on the road once this lockdown crap finally ends.
In an even more curious turn of events, the pre-show would immediately be followed by an opening number courtesy of the daftest cunts to come raging out of the land down under in recent memory, namely King Parrot. Their set consisted of a crushing grindcore display in seven select anthems that culminated in 18 minutes, because no mortal man could handle 19 minutes of the audio carnage that these blokes dish up. Lead vocalist Matt Young, aka Youngy, would proceed to miraculously not shatter a single window despite his high pitched, gut-wrenching shouts, with occasional chime-ins by de facto band mascot and ball cap toting bassist Wayne Slattery as he frolicked about in the band’s tight performance place and provided plenty of comical relief. Though highlights would consist of grueling riff monsters at a lightning pace with a thrashing twist in “Piss Wreck” and show closer “Bozo”, the whole set would prove an exercise in redefining the concept of extreme excess, i.e. business as usual for those who remember the early days of Napalm Death and Brutal Truth.
Upon the arrival of the main event, the tone took on something of a more somber note, as the frenetic mayhem of the aforementioned opening attraction gave way to a more subdued and melancholy air. Kicking off the set would be the dreary, acoustically driven and synthesizer-steeped ballad “Suicide Note Pt. 1”, which was sadly dogged by audio issues when the stream began. Being an artist closely tuned in with his audience, Phil and his cohorts would remedy this by reprising the song during the second part of the set, allowing all to hear what would again prove to be one of the highlights of the night. Phil’s battle-weary voice proved surprisingly subdued and poignant, almost like a grittier take on Peter Steele’s (R.I.P.) signature deep croon, bolstered by a lighter backing voice provided by guest musician Calvin Dover, whom also provided the keyboards. This highly effective vocal pairing would be reprised on the only other ballad in the set “This Love”, reminiscing upon the original studio version of the song in question than any of Pantera’s mid-90s live renditions of said song and flawlessly recapturing that haunting atmosphere during the verse segments.
Barring the two previously noted exceptions, this hour and 20 minute decibel-steeped assault was an all out slaughter fest. As the band cycled through a series of noted classic bangers such as “Mouth For War”, “I’m Broken” and “A New Level”, it became strikingly obvious that these songs were perfectly crafted for a twin guitar assault, and whether it was DeLeon or bassist turned guitarist Stephen Taylor emulating Dimebag Darrel’s solos, the accompanying rhythm work of the other kept the arrangement meaty and large. For his part, Anselmo provided a raw and vicious vocal display reminiscent of the Trendkill days, and while his voice was showing its age at times and he wasn’t flailing himself about like a one-man mosh pit like back then, he really brought the thunder to thrashing beasts like “Hellbound” and “Fucking Hostile”. However, in terms of an overall rock-solid performance, both Phil and his cohorts really brought the goods with “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit”, one of the many offerings off “Reinventing The Steel” to make an appearance on here. Then again, crowd favorite “Walk” gave it some stiff competition, and the band took the occasion to bring a young audience member on stage in a show of solidarity with the youngest end of Pantera’s still growing audience.
Hopefully this strong showing by one of the thankfully still living stalwarts of metal’s rich history will help to alleviate the building tension as half of the continental United States is still boxed into a smaller than healthy space. If nothing else, it showcases how one can bring down the house without literally setting fire to it. Pantera fans who came on board at the same time that metal was in the proverbial wilderness west of the Atlantic were treated to just about every classic anthem from the era that spanned from “Vulgar Display Of Power” to the band’s conclusion, and also a few rarities that only occasionally made the rounds back in the 90s. The year on the calendar may change, and the performance may have been virtual for all but those lucky 50 that managed to reserve their spot in the socially distanced lived audience, but fist-pounding heavy metal is as relevant and effective now as it was when it first came raging out of England at the dawn of the 1970s courtesy of Black Sabbath. Embodying that same spirit, Pantera gave the art a new lease on life when it was on the ropes, and 29 years to the day these songs are still knocking the adversaries’ heads clean off their shoulders. Bravo by Phil and his bandmates for revisiting such iconic set of songs in such stellar way, paying homage to their timeless significance for the metal community.
PHILIP H. ANSELMO & THE ILLEGALS Setlist:
Suicide Note Pt. I (Ft. Calvin Dover from En Minor) / A New Level / Mouth for War / Becoming / Throes of Rejection / We’ll Grind That Axe for a Long Time / Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit / Fucking Hostile / War Nerve / This Love (Ft. Calvin Dover from En Minor) / I’m Broken / Strength Beyond Strength / Goddamn Electric / Suicide Note Pt.2 / Living Through Me (Hell’s Wrath)
Suicide Note Pt. I (Played twice due to livestream being muted at the start; featuring Calvin Dover from En Minor) / Hellbound / Domination / Hollow / Walk (Roman, a little boy from the audience, sang with Phil) / (Reprise) Sandblasted Skin