Better Than: Most of the Sabbath influenced bands playing these days.
When County Grind spoke with Down guitarist Pepper Keenan, he mentioned how mind boggling it is that the rock-metal supergroup managed to tour 39 countries since releasing its third studio album, Down III: Over the Under, in 2007. As is often the case, even the hard touring bands sometimes find it difficult to make it down to South Florida frequently, and Down has been no different in their general neglect for our region. The time spent away certainly paid off Friday night as the band packed Ft. Lauderdale's Culture Room to the gills with people who were beyond excited to see a band that generally doesn't confine themselves to club dates.
The members of Down appeared to be having a great time during the pre-show meet-and-greet session, offered at a $100 premium to fans via Down's website. As some of the more diehard fans showed them their tattoos paying tribute to Down, or Pantera, or Crowbar, or Eyehategod, the members of Down were all extremely friendly. Hilarity ensued after lead singer Phil Anselmo got a little too frisky while signing a female fan's pant leg, leading to guitarist Kirk Windstein and drummer Jimmy Bower throwing a pair of football foul flags at the infamous Pantera lead singer.
Stone Mountain Freeway was the first band to play. As lead singer D. Wayne Slocum swung his microphone by its cord, the band launched into a lazy, "southern Sabbath" sounding number that didn't quite sell the punctual crowd, but by the next song, the band had absolutely won the early audience over with their Southern grooves and stage presence.
As a cloud of herbal "concert incense" floated through Culture Room, the long-haired band from Atlanta, Georgia, played a song that its lead singer explained to be about "either cocaine or racing cars." This announcement was answered by a roar of approval from the audience. The dominant head-bob that had been the vehicle of appreciation for the audience up until that point broke into a fully realized mosh-pit towards the end of Stone Mountain Freeway's set of riffy, harmonized guitars, and laid back drum grooves. Even though they had their name on a screen above the stage, plenty of people's interest was piqued enough by their set to ask others, "Who are these guys?" During one of the Stone Mountain Freeway's last songs, Slocum did a front flip into the dense crowd, and, for a moment, it appeared he had eaten a mouthful of floor and/or shit, but he arose a second later, much to the obvious relief of the band's guitarists.
By the end of Stone Mountain Freeway's set, the audience was completely enthralled with Slocum and company's rock 'n' roll antics and heady riff rock. When the band's frontman gave props to Anselmo, the famous singer was seen behind Jimmy Bower's back-lined drum set, basking in the uproarious fanfare, very obviously into the band's set.
For all of good Stone Mountain Freeway had done getting the crowd warmed up and ready for a night of metal, the band that followed them functioned as a brick wall into which the fun train everyone had just boarded crashed headfirst. Ponykiller is on Phil Anselmo's Housecore label, and the band sounded like most of the college hobbyist bands you tend to find at your average on-campus bar's weeknight jam. Anselmo not only put out Ponykiller's album, his named was proudly given the producer credit on the vinyl they had on their merch table.
What they played were meandering jams of off beat and undercooked noise, rife with guitar effects, and churning bass. The band sounded like they listened to a lot of Frank Zappa and Faith No More, but never quite got around to writing the songs. In complete defiance of what just about everyone in my vicinity recognized as completely terrible, Phil Anselmo was behind the band's gear for almost their entire set, grabbing imaginary air cymbal chokes while making his trademark, "I'm loving this soooo much that I'm actually angry about it" face. At the end of the set, he came out and sang a passage with them, which got the extremely chatty and restless crowd's attention again, if only for a minute.
Here is a photo of a guy sleeping during their Ponykiller's set, just in case you think we're joking.
After Ponykiller had finished doing their, uh, thing, Down was ready to make it happen for the now completely bored and inebriated audience. The crowd perked back up when the band took the stage, all donning ear to ear smiles and ready to do what they do best. The band proceeded to dedicate the first song to "all of the weed smokers out there" and required that "the headbangers unite!" Pepper Keenan looks a bit like a skinny Hank Williams Jr. as he ages, something accentuated by his choice of a Gibson ES-335 guitar and pension for cowboy shirts and aviator sunglasses. As Pat Bruders silver mane and wizardly beard shook wildly through air, the audience moshed and churned about. Philip Anselmo dedicated the song "Lifer" to the late, great Dimebag Darrell, which solicited the loudest response of the night. The heavy riffs and pile-driver drums of "Lifer" saw drinks flying through the air, and a sea of headbanging and fist pumping metal fans.
During the song "Underneath Everything," Jimmy Bower managed to break his bass drum pedal, something Anselmo attributed to just how hard they were rocking. It gave Anselmo the opportunity to make a joke about the state of Florida's professional football teams and their immeasurable levels of "suck." Anselmo's stage banter was one of the highlights of the night, but the band's presence is something to behold. They lay into their swamp metal grooves hard, and do what they do with everything they've got.
A final highlight of the night came during the encore. Down played their first new song to be released since III, "Misfortune Teller." The members of the band looked extremely proud of their new work, which is a monster-riff laden exercise in tempo changes and groove building. The song received a good reaction, but not good enough for Anselmo, who stopped the band a few bars in to make sure the audience was reacting like they "already knew" the song, which has only been online for a little while now. Down commanded the Culture Room's intimate stage in a way that made the night feel like the last set of a massive festival, and gave up the goods via Bower's gargantuan drums, Windstein and Keenan's searing dual guitar assault, Pat Brudder's sludge-coated bass playing, and of course Anselmo's coarse vocals.
Personal Bias: I'm a fan of Down, Crowbar, Eyehategod, Keenan era CoC, and Pantera.
Overheard: "Phil was definitely on that shit when he signed this band," In reference to Ponykiller.
Random Observation: One man by the bar not only had his shirt off, but left his pants unbuttoned, and I must say kudos to you, most comfortable man at the show.