New Orleans supergroup DOWN played a blistering, crushing set at Midtown’s Best Buy Theater last night, delivering a nonstop frenzy of mosh pits and headbanging from start to finish as not even a bloody gash in the head could stop singer Phil Anselmo from giving his all to the metal masses.
Metalheads swarmed Times Square and the Theater District in the hours leading up to night’s three band lineup, with black t-shirt-clad fans appearing from every direction to the Crossroads to the World. While Best Buy has hosted a wide range of metal shows recently, from Cradle of Filth to Motorhead to Overkill, Down brings out a special breed of metalhead, and the band’s distinctive ‘Jesus with a cigarette’ image could be seen on t-shirts everywhere you looked, much as when Down last played the venue back when it was still the Nokia Theater (my 2009 review here).
Down brought along fellow New Orleans band haarp, who are signed to Anselmo’s Housecore label, to open the show. The band’s sound could be described as sludgy, along the lines of Eyehategod, and honestly it’s hard to tell when one slow, nihilistic song ended and another began. But during what may have still been the first song, the very stoned-looking singer climbed down into the audience, and proceeded to stomp about the mosh pits, the stairs, and literally all the way back to the last row of the theater high-fiving amused fans, all while bellowing into his wireless microphone.
Singing from the center of a mosh pit is a hard act to follow, but second opener Danava gave it their best, working their progressive-style metal into slow, trippy breakdowns that had fans in the audience breaking out sweet-smelling joints, although nothing compared to the smokefest that would accompany Down.
The roar of the crowd was overwhelming when the lights finally dimmed around 10pm, and Down strutted onto the stage. Phil Anselmo, arguably one of the most messianic figures in heavy metal, announced “This is a song called Hail the Leaf,” and an hour and a half of absolute sonic madness kicked off as the smell and smoke of fans hailing the leaf filled the theater.
The chemistry between musicians is what makes rock n’ roll truly shine - Jagger and Richards, McCartney and Lennon, Axl and Slash - but none of those duos have anything on the collective vibe the four members of Down give off (bassist Rex Brown is sitting out this tour). Guitarists Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein play like brothers, barrelling across the stage at each other, playing not only with their fingers but somehow using their entire bodies to blast out what could only be described as pure, raw, riffage. Drummer Jimmy Bower keeps a fierce beat that keeps everything glues together, and on top of the complex, sludgy yet tight waves of sound roars Philip Anselmo, alpha male extraordinaire.
It’s not just Anselmo’s voice that makes him such a gripping frontman, it’s his ‘stronger than all’ attitude that emanates from his every movement. Down surfs that fine line of aggressive heavy metal without ever descending into real death or thrash, and on songs like Lysergic Funeral Procession the entire venue fed off the paced fire and rage Phil gave off, mosh pits churning and crowd surfers screaming along as they tumbled over the barricades in response to his gripping singing and frenzied screams.