When I saw Pantera at the Thomas & Mack Center in 2001, frontman Phil Anselmo seemed determined to terrorize the audience. At one point, after admonishing everyone to get on their feet, he told the crowd to kick the ass of anyone left sitting down, and he didn’t sound like he was joking. For years Anselmo carried a reputation for his hard living, drug addictions (he nearly died of a heroin overdose in 1996) and volatile personality.
But the murder of ex-Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell in 2004 seemed to be a wake-up call for Anselmo, and at tonight’s House of Blues concert by his current band, Down, the metal legend was downright mellow. That’s not to say the music wasn’t intense—even with bassist Rex Brown sitting the tour out, Down still tore through a heavy set of powerful groove metal, and Anselmo led the charge with enthusiasm. He was also in a friendly mood throughout the show, lavishing compliments on the small but eager audience (“Money sucks in America right now, and you’re here”), dedicating “Lifer” to fallen ex-bandmate Dimebag and gleefully singing a short a cappella Led Zeppelin medley as the crowd was filing out.
The band hit the stage on time, played its venue-mandated shorter set and left the place wanting more. Anselmo drank only water onstage, and even his encouragement that “Everybody smoke some dope” was a celebration of togetherness. Around the fourth or fifth song, two guys in front of me got into a fight, and by the time security arrived to break it up, they were hugging.