When Phil Ansemo comes to town, people take notice.
I’ve been a Pantera fan since 1990. I know a lot about Phil…maybe more than I should as just a fan.
Superjoint played the Hawthorne Theater on May 3, 2017 to a full crowd in Portland, Oregon.
So, I mentioned that I am a big Phil fan. Let me clarify. I love Pantera. I love Down. I love Superjoint. I even liked the short period when Anton Crowley was in Necrophagia. I became a Vision of Disorder fan when Phil sang on one of their songs on Imprint. I own Detroit Rock City, two copies of every Pantera cd from Cowboys through Reinventing the Steel. VHS copies of Pantera 1, 2, 3 and repurchased on DVD. I have every special edition Down CD available, and tour shirts from nearly every project. I have bootlegs of Down and Pantera VHS given to me from a friend in New Orleans, I own Viking Crown, and am aware of Eibon, Southern Isolation, and Christ Inversion. I have hidden away safely the Necrophagia DVD (which is hilarious) and even two Pantera references tattooed on my body. Maybe my most important Phil connection is that he was born on my third birthday (hahaha, but it’s true). OK…enough about my Pantera fan resume. What strikes me with regard to Phil is how everyone is a Phil expert…and it’s awesome. I walked around the venue before the show started and just listened as pods of people talked about their knowledge and love for Phil. From the misinformation from the pod of three 40 something truck drivers, to the correct, but limited information from the punk rocker group, to the super fan dialogue from the majority of the metalheads. People, for the most part, were aware of everything Pantera, Down, and most side projects, but I was taken by how prevalent conversations were about private things about Phil. From drug use, to his ex-wife, to his current girlfriend/tour manager, and even his pets. His love of boxing and horror, his back injury and subsequent surgery, to his favorite bands, and even his profile name on Facebook. I listened as people debated “who is the better singer,” Phil against a plethora of other metal singers. I listened as they debated which of Phil’s side project was better. I watched as they showed each other their Pantera, Down, Superjoint, or Phil tattoos. I listened as they compared old Pantera memorabilia, to boast about who has the better collection. I listened as they tried to outdo each other regarding who had been listening to Pantera the longest, who had seen Pantera the most, etc. There is no doubt that Portland loves Phil, and likely this story can be repeated in every city Phil steps foot in.
Starting off the night was one of local drummer extraordinaire Duncan Allen’s projects, Sacrificer. Duncan, possibly the busiest musician in Portland (who also drums for American Me, Sustainer, xXHARAMBEXx, and True Form) was joined by Jamie Hanks of Seattle’s, I Declare War in this band. Guitarist, Taylor, who played a telecaster, which is traditionally used in country music for its twang, showed that more than brand, it is skill which makes a metal guitarist. Rounding out the band was bassist Tony, who played his last show with the band on this night. They started the set promptly, and threw metal in the faces of all in attendance. Duncan’s drumming was impressive, and Jamie’s “in your face” vocals was as startling as it was awesome. This first glimpse into the night set the tone well for Superjoint, the band that we were all there to see.
Again, promptly and professionally, Portland’s premier and polished band, Proven, was up next. Always energetic, always a class act, Proven’s brand of metal meshed well with the opening band, creating more momentum for the fans. A small mosh pit brewed, and more people trickled into the venue. Singer Marc Halverson, a well-documented Pantera fan, referenced Pantera and nodded to Phil on a few occasions. Donning his signature Pantera windbreaker, Halverson paced back and forth in the small space provided to Proven due to the backlog of gear from the three national bands that would follow. Karl, the always colorful bassist for Proven was more animated than I’d seen in a while and brought out his beast of red bass, which is always a crowd pleaser. Josh and Josh, the two guitar players were on point, and added to the classiness that is Proven. The organic synchronization that they employ to not smack each other in the heads with their instruments is impressive. And, typing this just now…I realized that three-fifths of Proven are named Josh!
This is where the night took a bit of a turn for me. Just a small detour in what would be an awesome night from start to finish. That detour sign read, “Child Bite.” Let me first say, I’m not the biggest fan of Clutch. As a matter of fact, I loathe Clutch. Ok, ok… bear with me for a minute. As one very seasoned and knowledgeable friend opined, “Susie, you must not like this band very much; they are ‘Clutch meets Death Metal.’” He was right. I didn’t love them. Actually, I didn’t even like them. What I thought was so funny was, they all came out and did a quick sound check. We saw them all. Then they exited the stage and the most irritating music intro played for what seemed like a half an hour (it was probably 5 minutes, but long enough to be irritating.) They took the stage to crowd applause. I watched two songs and then had to step outside. It should be noted that I came back in for the last two songs because I always want to try to see what the appeal is for others. Am I just not ready for it? Do I not get it? Or is it just crap? Well, I am comfortable saying that perhaps I just didn’t get it. How I really feel inside? They were crap. The singer appeared to be wasted. His writhing on stage was uncomfortable, and the music was mediocre at best. I wasn’t a fan of this band, and from the looks of the quantity of people outside, I’d say I was not alone.
Now for the precursor to what we were waiting for: Battlecross. Battlecross ruled! The singer was personable, comfortable, and didn’t seem to take himself too seriously. From comments like, “This is a song I wrote about my dick,” to his ending comments, “You all get to go home and have sex and take a shower, fuck you fuckers,” vocalist, Kyle Gunther was a great front man. Technically good musicians with an appealing groove and stage presence, Battlecross was a delight to witness. You could see the interaction between the members, possibly inside jokes or acknowledgement of an error in playing or a mishap that wasn’t visible by the audience, you just wanted to hang out with the guys of Battlecross, because they were just that cool. The pit formed in force at this point in the night, with many brutal “slide to home plate” bodies hitting the floor by aggressive moshers. If someone hit the floor, they weren’t there for any longer than 5 seconds, and at least two people picked them up and dusted them off. In true Portland style, a fight nearly broke out, but onlookers quickly bearhugged the two heavyweight fighters and diverted their angered attention back to the band. This is why I love my city. Of note, I did see two pretty girls with tattooed faces and limited clothing on at this show. I’d never seen them before, but I believe Phil brings out curious onlookers as well as fans. One of the girls leapt over those in the front row as Battlecross’ set was ending, screaming, “Can I suck your dick? I really want to suck your dick”! The band seemed to ignore the offer.
By the time 11:00 PM hit, the pit participants were a bit tired. It was Portland’s first nice warm day of the last 8 months. The venue’s air conditioning was on full blast, but there absolutely was no chill in the air. It was hot, and sticky, and the anticipation for Superjoint was audible. Sans Hank III, the original sound of Superjoint was achieved perfectly. Phil did a great job keeping the vibe and sound of the original Superjoint. The Godfather of Southern Metal, Jimmy Bower (Crowbar, Eyehategod) and the rest of Phil’s band were the epitome of cool. Seemingly with a “we don’t give a fuck what we look like” punk attitude, they blasted out Superjoint songs that were aggressive, loud, and sometimes frantic. Regardless of how great they were, the audience was loyal to Phil. As he waked to front and center stage, the roar of the crowd was something I hadn’t seen in a while. While many of the same people attended Superjoint as attend the other major metal shows we have had in Portland lately like Overkill, Kreator, Max and Igor, etc., the demeanor of the audience tonight was different. Phil looked good, albeit maybe a little tired. His head was shaven and his signature head tattoos were visible. He was relatively fit, and incredibly cordial. He was a presence, yet very humble. While the years have taken away his headbanging and on-stage antics, it did not take away from the power in his voice. Often screaming with his eyes shut and hands shaking due to the energy he exerted to belt out the song, between each song, he stood proud, kind, and addressed the crowd with appreciation, smiles, and thumps to his heart.
About three songs in, a girl was lifted to the shoulders of a man. Phil addressed her as follows: “Hey, there is a pretty girl……oh! here it comes!” as she moved both hands to the bottom hem of her concert T. There was an anticipatory rogue mini drum solo as she lifted her shirt and bra to expose her bosoms, apparently to show appreciation to the band by letting them see her breasts, a relatively uncommon gesture since circa 1986. But apparently, time and tradition do not exist when you are star struck by being in the presence of Phil Anselmo. I watched as Phil’s longtime girlfriend watched with a smile, likely something she is used to seeing. Phil stood center stage for the most part, but if he moved left…the crowd moved left. If he ventured right, the crowd followed him.
Phil’s command of the audience was strong, but seemed effortless. Gone are the days of Phil’s drunken babblings, gone is the intense metal front man movements that are copied by so many today, gone is his dirty, “I don’t give a shit” appearance…. You can say what you want about Pantera and Phil, but if it was anything negative on this night, you would have been the one face down on the floor, placed there by those that are loyal to Phil.
Phil is a vital piece of metal history, undebatable from 1990 – 2003. But I can attest to the fact that from the crowd response on this night, Phil is still relevant, admired, loved, and likely will always be.