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NEW YORK CITY IS A DYING WHORE: Down Rocks the Roseland

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wa_302673.jpgOkay, so: Vince and I were walking through Times Square to get to the Roseland Ballroom last Saturday night, and I suddenly realized we were on the block where i) a hooker once approached me and offered to show me a good time even though I wasn’t yet in double digits (I wanted to go with her but my bitch mommy wouldn’t give me the cash) and, ii) a sailor once made cat calls at my twelve year old cousin who, admittedly, was very mature for her age, in the chest if not intellect department. How odd then, that this was now the ‘hood where tourists come to have their pictures taken in front of some giant M&Ms before grabbing a bite to eat at the imaginary restaurant from Forrest Gump. This observation could’ve ruined my whole night, if Vince and I hadn’t been on our way to see a concert so raw, so dirty, so bad-assed, that someone actually passed us a joint in the middle of the show. Dude, that hasn’t happened since the 90’s. THE 90’S!!! But that’s the kinda shit Down bring out in people, dude. There are only two supergroups that have ever mattered: Derek and the Dominoes, and Down*. And nothing- not even more than a hour of vintage music videos serving as the band’s opening act or Phil Anselmo’s worn-out voice- could dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm for a little quality time spent with the good ol’ boys in Down.

Not that Down didn’t earn it. Even with Anselmo’s voice a little shoddy (“If I suck, I suck,” he admitted apologetically), the former Pantera frontman was in high spirits, headbanging and jumping around quite a bit more than he has in recent years – presumably because he’s finally recovered from the incredibly painful back problems he’s been suffering from in recent years (to say nothing of the subsequent surgery he endured). And he seemed in high spirits, too; all good frontman must interact with the crowd, but few could get away with ranting quite as much as Anselmo does. His natural charisma more than makes it work.

And the rest of the band was ready, willing, and able to match Phil’s spirits. From opener “Lysergik Funeral Procession” to “Lifer” to “Eyes of the South” to “Temptation’s Wings” to the now-more-timely than ever “New Orleans is a Dying Whore” (“This song is the truth” Anselmo proclaimed), Down absolutely blew the roof off the joint. Tandem guitarists Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein sounded super tight as they whipped leads back and forth at one another (“Stone the Crows,” with its quiet-loud-quiet structure, was a particular highlight), and bassist Rex Brown ran around the stage like a man half his age.

But the band does quieter, more introspective moments as well as they kick ass, as first encore “Jail” more than proved; as the room went practically dark save for the lighters in the crowd, the song became a genuinely moving moment in an evening full of high-octane explosions.

Every once in awhile, the whole band would form a semi-circle around drummer Jimmy Bower and headbang like a bunch of drunk teenagers playing their first gig in a friend’s basement, and their enthusiasm for the material was absolutely infectious. I’ve never heard a crowd sing along with each and every song before, let alone sing along so fucking LOUDLY. Even if the performances had the sheen of well-rehearsed professionals, the vibe was that of a bunch of beer-swillin’, pot-tokin’ dudes who had just come together and whipped up a batch of tunes earlier in the week. But that’s what makes this band such a marvel: at a time when so many bands are struggling – and usually failing- to make good, old fashioned, dirty hard rock, Down make it feel effortless and, more important, incredibly fun (if I’d done a shot every time the band high-fived or hugged one another, I’d wouldn’t even have made it halfway through the show before puking and passing out)- and if new song “I Scream,” from the band’s upcoming release, III, is any indication, the years they’ve spent apart while recording and touring with their various other bands hasn’t put them in any danger of losing that gift. By the time show closer “Bury Me in Smoke” concluded- nearly two hours into the gig- it still felt as though the band could keep playing and continue to hold the audience as their willing captives.

And as I walked back through the monstrosity that has become “Times Square,” I thought: NOLA and NYC may be dying whores, but Down sure as fuck ain’t.

-AR

*Since the letter “D” is obviously real good to supergroups, I say that the next one should consist of Axl Rose, Eddie Van Halen, Scott Ian, Jason Newstead, and Vinnie Paul, and should just be called “Dicks.”

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