Superfan Phil Anselmo made sure he brought along some interesting bands on the Canadian leg of the Down tour. The four band bill started efficiently at 8:00. I arrived in time to catch a few numbers from Weedeater, who played dire, overdistorted sludge with some valiant attempts at power trio jamming that were lost in the low frequency morass. Bands like this are always best when riffing in unison, which is what they did on their last song, sounding powerful instead of hobbled...but it was too late.
Danava, another trio, were more of a players’ band, laying down some lengthy jams with plenty of soloing. The playing was tight and full of proggy digressions, and the vocals were refreshingly vocal-like. They were fun to watch but the tunage generally went in one ear and out the other. After announcing a special guest would be joining them for the next number, a hooded figure with a guitar entered stage left—the night’s first Phil Anselmo sighting! The crowd surged, then tapered off once everyone realized that the Down frontman’s axework was inaudible.
The bands thus far had been playing under a banner bearing the Killing Technology-era Voivod logo. It was now time to put the prop to good use. Considering that Voivod’s first visit to Vancouver was on the 1990 Nothingface tour headlining over Soundgarden and Prong—in this very venue—they had nothing to prove in terms of their status as legends. They did have everything to prove in terms of being a viable band without the singular talent of Piggy on guitar and honouring their legacy. The unmistakable surging tritone introduction to “Voivod” set the mood. Expectations took a nosedive when the song turned into a messy soundcheck-in-progress, with no snare drum, vocals cutting in and out, Snake glaring at the soundman and pointing furiously at the monitors. Thank the cosmos that it all came good for “The Unknown Knows” and the rest of the set, which featured just about every Blacky-era “hit” (for Blacky had returned, playing the same bass he tortured back in the Nothingface days) plus “Global Warning” from Infini. With the set focusing on ’84 to ‘92 material (some of the best, maddest metal songs ever written), the gig was pretty much a dream fulfilled for fans. Angel Rat’s “The Prow” was a personal highlight, while the most unexpected selection was “Overreaction,” a deep cut from Killing Technology. Martyr’s Daniel Mongrain did a remarkable job on guitar, replicating Piggy’s sounds and tones with the touch of a true acolyte. Anselmo, displaying a stage-hopping bonhomie worthy of Ron Wood, joined Snake for a duet on “Nothingface.” With a triumphant charge through “Astronomy Domine,” they were done. Having brought Piggy’s final recordings to fruition on Infini, it’s impossible to say where Voivod may go next, but on this night they gave Vancouver’s chapter of the Iron Gang something to remember forever.
Down were all good things. Not being familiar with their discography, I can’t comment on the quality of the setlist. It was, however, interesting to observe and compare the crowd to the throng that came out to a similarly packed Clutch gig a couple weeks before. Where do all these people come from? Clutch attracts a diverse array of people, from outright metalheads to dreadlocked ‘n’ tiedyed types, to Tim from Sales...all hell bent on partying down. The Down crowd is more burly, buzz-cut, and mosh-crazy. Paradoxically, the level of testosterone was a little lower at the Down show, due to the number of ladies in attendance. Phil and Pepper can’t half pull them. Both shows and both crowds were proof that good old hard rock and metal that translates well live (unlike most newfangled subgenres) are still a big draw. Good riffs played through a wall of amplifiers will always bring the faithful out of hiding.