Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Pantera/Morbid Angel
Memorial Coliseum, Portland, OR
February 8, 2001

Review by Michael de los Muertos
Pictures and Commentary by Ice Maiden

I've always had a love-hate relationship with arena shows. While I've seen some excellent concerts in large venues, like most metalheads the intimate feeling of a small club is vastly preferable in many ways. Unfortunately when your town is suffering a drought of metal club shows as Portland has been for the last several months, you tend to look upon arena shows as the last bastion of the scene. Local clubs and promoters may not have the balls to put money on the line to bring an underground metal band to town, but the big concert promoters still smell a buck or two on the wind with the big-name acts like Pantera...right?

This was my fourth expedition to see Pantera, so I went to this show primarily to see Morbid Angel. Fortunately for Ice Maiden and myself, Kittie -- the horrible, talentless exhibition of the feminine side of mallcore -- canceled this tour. Actually it's a very good thing to see an old school band like Morbid Angel getting exposure to some new fans. Whether any of the mallcore kids there to see Soulfly (and Pantera) would take the lessons of good old-fashioned death metal to heart is anyone's guess, but at least Morbid Angel gave it their best shot.

We arrived at the show at Portland's Memorial Coliseum as the band Nothingface was already playing. We found surprisingly little hassle from security or venue staff, which was refreshing -- the last time I saw Pantera, at the Rose Garden on the Black Sabbath reunion tour in January 1999, the security was reminiscent of a checkpoint on the border of Northern Ireland. Unlike the depressing situation at the Tacoma Dome for Iron Maiden, at least the promoters were making full use of the venue and no part of the Coliseum was blocked off. The floor, while teeming with mallcore kids, seemed surprisingly well-behaved. A nice start for an arena show!

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: I have to say, I wasn't really looking forward to this show at first, except for my incredible desire to see Morbid Angel live again, and to see Pantera for the first time. Essentially, I feared the crowd at an arena show at which Soulfly was playing, and I worried that Phil would go on a drunken rant and encourage the idiot mallcore kids to start flailing and moving the mosh out of the pit. Thus I was quite giddy to find that my photo pass did indeed get Muertos and I up to the direct front of the stage, where a whole line of security goons were thereto stand between the crowd and my back. Woohoo!! Safe to snap pictures from the edge of the stage. Once again, I bless his lordship EvilG and the whole concept of press passes.)

Steve from Morbid AngelMORBID ANGEL took the stage right on time, with a businesslike attitude, and did not seem a bit dismayed by facing a much larger number of fans than they're used to playing to, at least under a roof. Indeed they approached the set exactly the way they would have done a club show: let loose the punishing brutality and never give an inch. While some older fans may long for the return of certain previous members of the band, personally I find Steve Tucker a pretty charismatic frontman, and an excellent choice to carry on the Morbid Angel tradition. (Ice Maiden's Very Unprofessional Commentary: Steve Tucker is a hottie. It just can't be denied-the proof is in the pictures.) The set list was a pretty fair sampling of both older stuff and offerings from their new album, "Gateways to Annihilation." Aside from the absence of "Where The Slime Live" from the set list, my only complaint is not really Morbid Angel's fault: the acoustics of Memorial Coliseum rendered their sound excessively muddy. It's difficult to expect an extreme death metal band to sound particularly good at an arena show, so I can't really throw any stones at them for sounding less crisp and technical than they might have in a small club, or even at Wacken. Yet another reason why arena shows sometimes are unfair to metal bands!

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: Morbid Angel rules, no ifs, ands, or buts. They are right on and charismatic. I have to say, though, that I'd certainly prefer seeing them in a more intimate setting.)

Because of Metal-Rules.com's strict (and wise) policy of refusing to promote, sanction or tolerate mallcore in any way, I decline to provide any coverage of the Soulfly set, except to assure you that it sucked in every way imaginable, and I writhed in agony throughout its interminable forty-five minutes.

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: We got bored during Soulfly. I actually caught myself yawning, and trying to hide it out of politeness to some of the Soulfly roadies who were standing next to us. I tried to see if I liked the music as something other than metal, and while I could enjoy some of the Latin sounds, their set resulted in a mish-mash that really wasn't very appealing--this coming from a gal who admits to liking many types of music besides metal. I will say that the down time during the set-up for Pantera was interesting. On one side of the arena were the obligatory '80's style metal chicks flashing their breasts and making out with each other to the roaring cheers of the crowd, and on the other side, next to us in the pseudo-backstage area, were the prostitutes-for real--brought in for Pantera. These gals were literally wearing higher than crotch level dresses. I wanted to take a picture for all your guys on Metal-Rules.com, but Muertos wouldn't let me. Sorry.) (Muertos's response to Ice Maiden's commentary: I know I will get hell for that, especially on the message board, but those women were skanky! Somebody has to have some standards around here.)

I was not sure what to expect from PANTERA. This was my fourth time seeing them, so I'm pretty familiar with the basic features of the show: lots of blistering thrash metal, Phil riling up the crowd with familiar homilies such as, "There you are, the marijuana smokers of ___________!" (fill in current geographical locality), and a generally testosterone-flavored evening. Pantera checked off all the boxes, but instead of merely business-as-usual they gave an excellent and above all fun show. Their set list contained a large number of tracks from their new album, "Reinventing The Steel" ("Goddamn Electric" and "Yesterday Don't Mean Shit," for instance), but I think this helped their set tremendously. The new tracks, while no one in particular stands out, are all groove-oriented, fun songs, and from this experience I wonder if they weren't written specifically to be performed in concert. Dimebag Darrell, while hamming it up for Ice Maiden's camera, approached his material, both new and old, with the competent but light-hearted touch we've come to expect from him. (Ice Maiden's Commentary: Dimebag smiled at me and stuck out his tongue for the camera! I feel so honored! ;) ). Phil was probably at his best. Gone is the hyperactive, shaven-headed lunatic from the "Vulgar Video" days, and in his old(er) age Mr. Anselmo has actually mellowed a bit without losing his edge. In fact, compared to his appearance and performance the second time I saw Pantera, in December 1997, Phil has improved remarkably. In recent years his voice has tended toward a gravelly, drug-addled moan. Not so at this show: his tones were clear, his vocals strong, and he even managed to find a melody or two. As if announcing the return of his fairly formidable vocal talent, Phil teased the crowd by singing the opening of "Cemetery Gates." That would have been a treat if he'd have continued! (Ice Maiden's Commentary: I had heard horror stories about Phil staggering around at shows too drunk to sing. I must say, I was really pleasantly surprised. He didn't seem that intoxicated, was lucid, and actually sounded good! Bonus. )

Phil AnselmoWhile I'm not usually partial to the between-song soliloquies of frontmen, something Phil said turned out to be the highlight of the show. Apparently he noticed someone toward the front of the crowd wearing an old Venom shirt, and he commented favorably on it. He urged the crowd to go back to the roots of heavy metal and discover the old, classic albums that are the backbone of the genre. Then he snarled, "I'm talking to the kids in the Slipknot T-shirts right now!" which elicited long and sustained applause. While a bit hypocritical (Phil Anselmo is, after all, single-handedly to blame for the introduction of Coal Chamber), I thought this was a brilliant touch, and a perfect middle finger to raise in the direction of Pantera's growing legions of critics who claim their appeal to young, unsophisticated listeners has somehow magically transformed their meaty thrash metal into mallcore. Pantera are still a metal band, and a damn good one.

Pantera's emphasis at this show was clearly on giving the crowd a good time, and they succeeded. My only real complaint is the lack of certain older songs. While Pantera seem to acknowledge the obligation to play at least "Cowboys From Hell" and "Fucking Hostile," their far-and-away best song -- "Mouth For War" -- was not even attempted here, and some other fine gems from albums past ("Five Minutes Alone," anyone?) were conspicuously missing. (Ice Maiden's Commentary: They played "Fucking Hostile." I was happy. But he certainly could have eliminated about three of the overly-long and tiresome ballads. How many Pantera fans really want to hear Anselmo sing a ballad? Ok, besides Muertos? My personal opinion is that I watch Pantera to hear aggressive music that sounds like it is being spit out in a venomous rage. Don't be given me any wussy ballads. Also, Phil needs to chill a bit on the rants. One or two good ones is fun. More than that and I start wishing they would play a little music.) However, the lack of old stuff did not significantly detract from the energy or punch of the show as a whole. By the time the encore ended with flames spouting out of an impressive larger-than-life steel Pantera logo, the crowd was very satisfied. There was even something here to titillate fans of Pantera's infamous home videos ("Watch It Go," et. al.). Phil and Dime were chucking cups of beer into the crowd, and camcorder addict Bobby Arntberger could be seen recording the mayhem as usual. I did not, however, see "Big Val" as I did the last time Pantera played Portland. Bummer!

The crowd at this show was, unfortunately, infested with mallcore kids. I saw numerous K*rn and Shitknot T-shirts and I cringed at every single one of them. However, in the kids' defense, I did see a few young'uns who looked as if they were on the path to true metal -- always a pleasant sight. One kid in particular, about 17, with a T-shirt wrapped around his head Lawrence-of-Arabia style, virtually attacked me when he saw my press pass. "Dude, I'll do ANYTHING to get backstage to see Pantera...I'll do anything for that pass!" As he said this he actually pulled a wad of money out of his pocket. Unfortunately my pass couldn't get him (or me) backstage, but when I told him about Metal-Rules.com and the nature of my mission for them, he and his friends all seemed quite interested in finding out more about what we do here. True metal may have to conquer the world one kid at a time, but we may eventually pull it off. (Ice Maiden's Commentary: I have to say, too, that the crowd was not bad at all. I saw very few fights, and very few people drunk to the point of incoherence. All in all, it seemed like a lot of kids out for a good time in the general admission area, and a lot of old school long-haired (or losing their hair) metalheads in the stands. Not bad.)

So, overall, I'd say of the four times I've seen Pantera, this was the best. While club shows are vastly preferable in every way, as arena shows go, this one was pretty good. Whether I re-enlist to see Pantera again will probably depend on what bands open for them, but if I do go, I know chances are pretty good that I'll go away with a smile.

Pantera V

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