Friday, May 24, 2002 @ 1:31 PM
Down Busts Up Worcester, MA On
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REVIEW BY: Mike Gauthier
At this point, it would probably be a mistake to call Down a "side project." Consisting of Jimmy Bowers (Eyehategod), Kirk Windstein (Crowbar), Pepper Keenan (COC), Rex Brown and Phil Anselmo (both of Pantera), the band has gone out of it's way to state that Down is in fact the real deal. Considering the sales numbers of Jimmy, Kirk, and Pepper's other bands in recent years, not to mention the volatility (to put it kindly) of Pantera, that's probably a good idea. Their 1995 debut, NOLA, quietly sold around 300,000 copies thanks to a huge "underground" buzz amongst heavy music fans. Their recent release, Down II - A Bustle in Your Hedgerow, has come out of the gate quicker than it's predecessor - but it remains to be seen whether it will have the same staying power. Although radio and MTV will undoubtedly stay away, any more shows like this one and Down could quickly become the main priority for everyone involved.
As anyone who has seen Pantera will tell you, the quality of the show usually depends on Phil. If he's feeling the crowd and he's in a good mood - watch out because there are few better. If the crowd isn't into it or he's pissed off - get ready for a short set and a bad attitude. This night was one of the best. Taking the stage in a long, black Down shirt and long, black hair, the man is a presence to behold. Intimidating, frightening, powerful and at the same time vulnerable, your eyes are drawn to this guy. When he introduces the band with the phrase "The power of the riff compels me" and the opening number, "The Seed," you're sucked right in. The guitar sound is nothing short of humongous - at the expense of the vocals, unfortunately. This continues in the second number, "There's Something On My Side." At this point I'm getting annoyed - the sound guy is 5 feet in front of me. He HAS to notice this. The Sabbath meets bucket-o-sludge riffs are plenty clear, now if only the vocals would turn up, this would be one hell of a show.
Thankfully, the guy catches on during the next two songs - "Temptation's Wings" and "Lifer," both from NOLA. Wow. The screams Phil pulls off at the end of both of these songs are monumental - straight from the "take bites of broken glass" hall of fame. NOLA is definitely more Pantera sounding than the new album - but that's not a bad thing. Even a minor mistake (courtesy of Pepper coming in too early during "Lifer") is overshadowed by how ON the band is. As the show goes along it's obvious Phil's in a great mood (even though he may be battling a bit of a cold). He talks about music, the fans, the other bands and doing drugs like he's sitting around at a party with his best buds. This is the Phil Anselmo it's a pleasure to see - the best frontman out there, but a guy you could hang and pound beers with. Another pleasure is the surprising lead-playing of Kirk Windstein. Known mostly for riffs that make your bowels shake in Crowbar, he proved quite adept at the Tony Iommi-esque solos that Down requires. They go through most of the new album - doing a particularly BRUTAL "New Orleans Is A Dying Whore" and surprisingly jazzy "Lies" before winding down with one of the highlights of the evening - "Stone The Crow." The beauty of this song lies on so many different levels that it's hard to describe. Dynamics, lyrics, groove - it's got it all. By the time they close with "Bury Me In Smoke" you almost can't handle it anymore.
Overall, it's pretty amazing that a "side project" could wipe the floor with 95% of the heavy bands out there. Whether that's a condemnation of the current scene or a compliment to Down, I don't know, but it's still pretty strange. One other thing that other bands could learn from Down: prior to the show there was no opening act. Instead, the band played a compilation video of old performances of some of their favorite bands (Kiss, Slayer, Queen, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, etc.) mixed in with backstage footage of the recording of Down II. This kept the crowd entertained and made the time fly by. Not to mention it saved some crappy opening band from the wrath of the fans in attendance. Well done.