Philip Anselmo and Down roared into Las Vegas last Tuesday night, playing to a small but wild crowd three floors above the bustling and boozing Sin City Strip as the New York Hard Rock Examiner once again found himself on the road for rock n’ roll.
For all its high-rolling glitz and showgirl glamour, Vegas still boasts a core group of heavy metal lifers. The 200 or so fans packing the Hard Rock Cafe rocked out to opening bands Honky and Warbeast with the same enthusiasm as New York did on the East Coast tour last fall (read about September's Best Buy Theater show here).
With the sounds of the Strip audible from the outdoor smoking deck, fans headbanged and fistpumped along to Warbeast’s thrashy attacks, especially when they whipped out two new tracks featured on their split EP with Phil Anselmo’s first-ever solo songs. Honky also more than delivered on their fair share of the Weed & Speed tour, dedicating numerous songs to the five-leafed plant. Both opening bands received a solid amount of stage time to win over the audience, and even those drinking by the back bar nodded their head to the fierce guitar work and catchier lyrics.
Make no mistake though, the night firmly belonged to the New Orleans natives in Down. Strutting out on stage to the low key opening of Eyes Of The South, the band let loose with a vehement “Goddamn!” and the floor exploded into raw headbanging insanity.
While New York might be spoiled by our annual Down visits, typically playing both Manhattan and New Jersey at least once a year, many of the Vegas fans were seeing the group for the first time. Others, though, were clear life long fans who sang along to every word even as Phil belted out new songs Witchtripper and Open Coffins.
By his side, guitarists Pepper and Kirk blasted out waves of guitar riffage that shook the very walls of the venue, threatening to knock framed memorabilia off their fixtures. Drummer Jimmy and bassist Pat held down a thundering low end as the group blasted through favorites off the first two records like Losing All, Lysergic Funeral Procession and Ghosts Along The Mississippi, fans screaming along while Phil headbanged and threw himself from one end of the stage to the other in a glorious heavy metal rage.
Like the East Coast tour, no tunes from the 3rd record surfaced at all, and in fact the night’s show clocked in with only 10 songs total, shorter than the typical 12-14 at most Down performances. But even an abridged Down set is an hour of overwhelming metal euphoria, living and breathing Phil’s words and screams like a religious awakening, and staggering through slow, chest-pounding breakdowns like in Lifer and Temptation's Wings.
And somehow, the night’s Bury Me In Smoke hit this particular concert veteran as one of the best in years. Maybe it was thanks to drinking hard liquor since noon, a perfectly acceptable routine for a Tuesday in Las Vegas. Maybe it was the lack of violent moshers that allowed everyone to thrash around and headbang without getting knocked off their feet every 5 seconds. Maybe the shorter setlist lent a heavier impact to the grand finale. Maybe it was simply that Phil roared louder and his band played harder than the last 5 or 6 times I’ve seen the group.
But whatever the cause, Down’s epic, 10 minute Bury Me In Smoke kicked the collective asses of the entire crowd, climaxing with Kirk grabbing the microphone for his gravelly take on the final lyrics of Nothing In Return and a skin-crawling scream that could peel paint off plaster.
There aren’t enough superlatives to truly describe the live Down experience - you have to be there in person to feel the amplified shockwaves, the crunch of the guitars, and feed off of Phil’s alpha male bravado radiating from the stage. Down also proved that they don’t need a New York-sized crowd of a thousand strong to put on a stellar show, they do just as well with a hard-drinking group of a hundred. Frankly, it could be snowing indoors with a crackly PA system and only five elderly fans, and it’s likely the five members of Down would still put on bone-crushing show full of explosive swamp metal and throat-scraping roars.
As with previous rock road trips, it was a pleasure for this NYC resident to experience a new venue and a new city’s fans, and I’d encourage anyone planning a vacation or business trip to always check local listings to see if a show is available near their destination.
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Additional photos from this and other concerts can also be seen on my tumblr: Heavy Metal NYC.