Concert Review: Down, Melvins, Weedeater In L.A. (With A Pound Of Pics)
Down, Melvins and Weedeater delivered something fierce in Los Angeles on Saturday night at the Wiltern (LG or whatever). And all day today, we’ve been flabberjawed by the fact that our ear drums are not only intact, they’re not ringing at all. Our ears had been prepared to meet their doom. But even right up front, the show was awfully quiet - maybe because the heavy-rock heavyweights are getting old (doubtful) or maybe because they play music that is tuned so low (less doubtful).
The three doom raiders were also joined by Danava, but because the anorexic longhaireds started shortly after doors opened, and because we hadn’t camped out at the venue the night before, the long lines killed our chances of being able to catch their whole set. But what we did see was downright cataclysmic, like how Hawkind musta sounded in concert in their heydey. Or maybe we’re just saying that because we’ve been listening to a lot of Hawkwind lately.
Still early in the evening - we’re talking before 9 - Weedeater crawled onto the stage and started sending shock waves through the theater. We’ve been meaning to see these guys for ages, and the payoff was there in a big way.
The Southern Lord deacons play songs that sound like an extreme-doom version of Nirvana’s “In Bloom”: simple, slow - and very deliberate. Remember last year when that big snake tried to eat that alligator, only to burst open - giving new meaning to the phrase “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”? If that were a band, it’d be Weedeater.
Tough dudes who wear hats low tend to be dicks, but in Weedeater’s case, the choice of fashion added to the evil everymen’s shadowy mystique.
Occasionally, to provide a foil for their really slow stuff, the band would get a little bit faster, calling to mind Karma to Burn. And they did this cool thing where they shook their heads side to side in fast motion, like those drugged-up soldiers in “Jacob’s Ladder.”
But while their pace was mostly snail-like, they banged out each riff as if it were their last gasp, muscling out the chords like Thor hammering the ground. Commander “Dixie” Dave Collins looked deadly serious as he glared at the crowd, while the mesmerizing band seemed to be drawing everyone into a cult.
Collins was wearing a Saint Vitus shirt, which was a funny coincidence, because during his band’s set, we sat next to original Vitus vocalist Scott Reagers. He told us Anselmo insisted that he come to the show. We talked with him about Wino, Trouble and some other bands. Cool dude.
While Weedeater have been around for 12 years and carved out a solid niche for themselves, they’ve got nothing on Melvins in terms of longevity or underground status (the 18-year-old Down are about nine years younger than them too). And good for Melvins, the crowd seemed aware of that.
It’s not common to see an opening band get such a strong reception - and to see a very veteran opening band get the reception they truly deserve. About eight years ago at the Wiltern, we caught Tool, who were preceded by King Crimson. Even though the latter were hugely influential on the headliner and hugely respected in prog-rock circles, they drew little love from the mostly underage crowd.
The warm welcome for Melvins was also reassuring because just about everyone was there primarily to see Down. Melvins play L.A. all the time, while Down do not. And aside from the Slayer shirts at Mayhem, we can’t remember another show this year where so many people were wearing tees for the band they had come to see. (Curiously, though, there were very few Pantera shirts.)
Despite all the above, from the sound of the crowd, Melvins could have even been worthy headliners as they riveted with a surgically precise set. We’re starting to wonder if the real reason they now have two live drummers is so they can show off just how tight they can still perform.
And Buzz, well, his last name may as well be Aldrin instead of Osborne: He is the most accomplished explorer of the far-reaches of sludge-metal, if not of the last 25 years than maybe ever. It didn’t occur to us until Saturday night how Buzz’s weird frizzy halo of whitening hair suits his style so well: Like Jack Nance in “Eraserhead,” he seems out of this world, receiving radio messages from distant planets.
After witnessing three standoffish frontmen, it was refreshing that the night was capped by a singer who spends virtually every moment onstage playing to the crowd. That would be Phil Anselmo. Phil Anselmo the chatterbox. Phil Anselmo the smoldering singer. Phil Anselmo the consummate metal showman.
Pretty early in the set - during which the band liberally mined its whole catalog - Anselmo used some of his banter time to recognize the absence of Rex Brown, who hasn’t toured lately with Down due to “personal issues” but is set to rejoin them August 24 in Texas, according to Blabbermouth.
“We’re going to stand by Rex no matter whatever he’s going through,” said Anselmo, making it sound like he didn’t have any more insight on the ”personal issues” than the people in the crowd. “He’s still our bass player. But for crying out loud, I’d like to introduce you to one of the handsomest devils out there, Danny Theriot.” What a good sport.
Anselmo didn’t just have Down on the brain, though. The singer - who always seems to have his hands in many jars - gave ample publicity to his Arson Anthem project, which also features members of Eyehategod and Superjoint Ritual. He wore an AA tee and ranted about them a bit.
The prosthelytizing stoner also reassured worried fans that he hasn’t given up on weed, saying, “Those of you who don’t smoke it are on probation.”
While the opening bands threw down in a big way, Down’s set raised the crowd’s response to new heights: Theirs was an interactive, participatory performance that reassuringly preached to the converted. Anselmo, Pepper Keenan and the others beckoned fans to raise their hands and clap - at a doom-metal show, mind you. And the disciples obeyed.
Everyone knew the words to the songs. Everyone had songs to request.
We might get scorned for saying this, but really, Down are, at their essence, a doom-pop band. Their songs aren’t terribly long - not for a sludge-metal band, at least. There’s more singing than screaming. Their songs are groovy and, again, Anselmo can play the role of crowd-pleaser quite well.
And for that reason, it made sense that the crowd was as refreshingly diverse as it was (for a metal show). Young and old - big and small! - the varied types who turned up were proof of Down’s somewhat broad appeal.
Because the show was just that good, Down consciously broke the Wiltern curfew, returned for an encore and busted out “Bury Me in Smoke.” And with that they put the casket into the coffin and called it a night.
Gracias to Philip Allen for the pics.