Just over five months ago Black Sabbath, the band who the term ‘heavy metal’ was coined for, played their first hometown show in Birmingham in thirteen years. Tonight, their friends and fans in New Orleans super-group Down, rolled into ‘The Workshop of the World’ as a headliner themselves, of a completely sold-out show and with support from comrades native to both the UK and the US respectively in tow.
Opening the night is Warbeast, a band championed by Down front-man Phil Anselmo, who signed them to his label Housecore Records and has even co-produced some of their tracks in his home studio, ‘Nodferatu’s Lair’. It’s impossible not to like this Texan bunch; they’re old school thrash through and through, not necessarily breaking any news ground, but sure are getting the crowd warmed up. And with Anselmo and drummer Jimmy Bower swigging beer and sitting on the drum-riser behind them as they play, it’s impossible not to. In the kindest possible way, frontman Bruce Corbitt bears a slight resemblance to Freddy Kruger. He screams with twisted aggression and gripss his chain link half-mic stand tightly, occasionally pointing it menacingly at the crowd; one wrist adorned with a Batman sweat-band, for this merchandise has become his known stage attire. Guitarist Scott Shelby may look like the bells and whistles of the band with his studded leather waistcoat and spiked arm-bands, but his guitar-playing is truly top-notch. The focus is certainly always on him when it’s not on Kruger. I mean Corbitt.
I wondered how long it would be until someone mentioned ‘The Home of Heavy Metal’ and Orange Goblin are quick off the mark to point out to the audience that they are in fact standing on hallowed ground. The long-time friends of Down fit the bill seamlessly and they don’t use a moment of their stage time on anything but serving up decadent lashings of stoner rock. Statuesque frontman Ben Ward could very well be intimidating if he wasn’t clearly enjoying himself so much, but at 6”5 there’s no denying that he’s real beast of a man. It's not long before various members of the line-up and the road crew are visible of stage, swilling booze and watching Orange Goblin perform – tonight is very much about appreciating music spanning three decades as a fan; some as new as this year, some as old as the early 90's. Now. these guys are tight. Like, really tight. They own every single note they play and command the venue with conviction; there’s no doubt that Orange Goblin are a well-oiled machine. True veterans of their trade, seasoned pros and owners of riffs that have the potential to make you wet your fucking pants twice. Ward prefaces OG favourite ‘They Come Back’ with his inspiration born from zombie films, the title actually originating from the Steven King novel ‘Sometimes They Come Back’. “What can I say Birmingham, you’re fucking awesome!” hollers Ward in the middle of ‘Scorpionica’, which they finish on, having tantalised the crowd sufficiently for the main act of the night.
Intro music isn’t something that they've done before (in the UK at least), but ‘Down’ by Harry Nilsson is quite frankly genius; the psychedelic pop tune is a nod of the guys’ honky tonk roots and the kind of music you might still experience in the French Quarter of New Orleans today. The band take the stage and open with ‘Eyes of the South’ from their debut record ‘N.O.L.A’, a perfect choice which slow-burns at first, but quickly grows with intensity and as Anselmo bellows the first lyric ‘GODDAMN!’ – the entire floor turns into a gigantic heaving pit.
The energy both on and offstage is incredibly impressive; balled up fists are pumped relentlessly and the entire room is instantly transformed into a sea of beer and hair. Down play nothing from their last full album ‘Down III: Over the Under’, but do pepper (no pun intended) the set with three tracks from ‘Down IV: The Purple EP’; the debut single ‘Witchtripper’, plus ‘Open Coffins’ and ‘Misfortune Teller’ – these three slip into the set list alongside material over two decades old with authentic ease and are received well. Down have never chosen to address the departure of Rex Brown and the addition of Pat Brudders on bass in a live capacity, but it doesn’t actually matter as much as it threatened to. I’m sure that die-hard Down fans will agree – this is simply a new chapter for them professionally. The camaraderie, friendship and brotherhood shared between this group is evident as they joke and jostle throughout the performance. It demonstrates the love and history between them and gives the show an edge of fun, which is just as well because these musicians play with such passion and such strength that it would be easy for a live show to become a serious affair. But this is A) Saturday night B) in the home of heavy metal and C) with Down and these factors combined mean that a good time is imminent.
The band never play ‘Lifer’ without dedicating it to ex-Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell who was brutally murdered in 2004 and tonight is no exception. Anselmo turns the mic to the crowd repeatedly throughout the entire song and they respond by screaming every single word back, deafening in volume and rich with emotion. Guitarists Pepper Keen and Kirk Windstein thrash about the stage, shredding ferociously, the former holding up his Gibson under the flash of blue and red stage lights. Down leave the stage after ten songs and return with an encore, before ending the only way to possibly end a Down show – with the mesmerizingly anthemic ‘Bury Me in Smoke’, which they start to play and the smoke-machines do overtime as they emit billows of think dry-ice, coquettishly enveloping the whole stage as friends and crew members rush on, taking possession of and playing each live instrument to the end of the track, allowing the band to enjoy the final moments of the show with their punters.
Everyone then departs, leaving Anselmo alone. He urges all present to take a deep breath of the air around them and can’t help but crack a grin – at this point the stench of turgid body odour and weed is both formidable and unavoidable. He asks everyone to sing with him, the famous Led Zeppelin lyrics, acapella – ‘And she’s buying a stairway to heaven’. After this signature ending Anselmo then drops the mic on the stage with a dramatic thud and thanks everyone for coming. Thunderous applause roars from the crowd before everyone exits with fresh battle-wounds. Birmingham has been torn a new arsehole tonight and the home of heavy metal has been renovated by the class of ’91.
- Eyes of the South
- Open Coffins
- Lysergik Funeral Procession
- Pillars of Eternity
- Losing All
- Ghosts Along the Mississippi
- Temptation's Wings
- Underneath Everything
- Misfortune Teller
- Hail the Leaf
- Stone the Crow
- Bury Me in Smoke