Considering the heyday of his career resulted from fronting the heaviest and most well-known metal band to come out of Texas, Phil Anselmo doesn't have to be told it's mandatory to include his Pantera history in concert. Still, considering that band broke up in the early 2000s and that half of its quartet has passed on, Anselmo has no choice but to evolve as a musician.
So while Anselmo continued to make good on his mostly biannual visits to San Antonio last Friday night by headlining the Rock Box with Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, those in attendance were just going to have to wait patiently for what they came for. Touring in support of his second solo album Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue, the singer from New Orleans who considers Texas more than a second home had business to take care of ahead of the really good stuff.
With Anselmo also having fronted post-Pantera band Down and continuing to lead Superjoint -- which headlined his own Housecore Horror Festival in 2015 at the Aztec Theatre (coverage here) -- fans who came out to his rescheduled show after a postponement in May due to recovery from another back surgery could feel fortunate Anselmo was touring as a solo artist given that he doesn't often play Pantera tracks with the other bands.
The Illegals, however, are another story. Anselmo, guitarists Stephen Taylor and Mike DeLeon, bassist Walter Howard and super drum beast Joey Gonzalez simply require a longer route to the old stuff.
So Anselmo and his mates tore through two albums’ worth of solo material first, including "Finger Me,” in which he acknowledged, “You probably won’t know this one” (ATM footage here). Also on the docket were “Little Fucking Heroes,” “Utopian,” "Bedridden" and the title track to his latest album and to 2013 solo debut Walk Through Exits Only. Though not exactly in the metalcore realm of heavy metal, Anselmo's solo material is a grinding assault that requires a lyric sheet to understand a bulk of what he's conveying more than Pantera offerings. But to illustrate the importance of something bigger, Anselmo utilized one of his breaks between tunes to inform the approximately 200 in attendance that September is Suicide National Prevention Month, in conjunction of sorts with his new album’s theme.
A larger turnout for the Pantera patrolman, particularly on a Friday, would've been automatic if not for another rescheduled show taking place down the street at Freeman Coliseum, as the Scorpions were making up a gig postponed 11 months earlier (coverage here). Anselmo could not ignore that fact, asking the audience prior to his first note, "Did anyone go check out the Scorpions? Did they play 'Another Piece of Meat' or 'Lovedrive?' "
Though the answer was no on both counts, it was a rhetorical question of sorts on Anselmo's part. All he cared about was unleashing his furious styles of metal on a crowd devoted to him. And even those who checked out the Scorpions in lieu of Anselmo's openers King Parrot and locals Cheese Grater Masturbation, Flesh Hoarder, X.I.L. and Wrathtongue were thankful he was mindful enough to go on after 11:45 p.m. to accommodate the late arrivals.
So after more solo offerings such as "Bedroom Destroyer" and "Mixed Lunatic Results," the latter resulting in Anselmo’s praising of X.I.L. (ATM footage here), the time had come for the nitty gritty.
Anselmo began his encore segment: "We're going to do a song that will probably sound familiar." And with that, he broke out the first track from Pantera's final album Reinventing the Steel, surprising his fans with "Hellbound." Although it would've been too predictable for Anselmo to adjust the "Helllbooouund in Fort Worth, Texas" part to "San Antonio," it was slightly disappointing he didn't choose to. Nevertheless, it was exciting to hear a song rarely played live given that Pantera’s existence ceased shortly following that record's tour, which included a 2000 Ozzfest appearance in West Palm Beach, Florida, in which that song wasn’t played.
Neither did that festival show include Anselmo's second Pantera offering, also from that album, "Death Rattle," which he performed during The Illegals' debut San Antonio gig in 2014 at Backstage Live. To his credit, Anselmo not only brought back deep Pantera cuts, he played them — period. While other artists attempting to evolve as solo musicians sometimes ponder whether to leave their more famous past out of their sets, Anselmo went the opposite route.
He played. He punished. He Pantera-ed. Thank goodness.
Ending with the pit-stirring combination of "Domination/Hollow," the tornado-like fury of the fans limited to tight space amidst a couple of poles still spun admirably. Watch ATM's footage of all of Anselmo's Pantera tracks below.
Anselmo, of course, was always outspoken about his relationship, or lack thereof, post-Pantera with the Abbott brothers, as can be seen during Part 2 of our three-part interview in 2011 (watch). But with "Dimebag" Darrell having taken his Flying-V to the heavens in 2004, it was more surprising Anselmo didn't mention nary a word about the death only 2 1/2 months ago of drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott.
Instead, Anselmo let his delving into the musical past speak for itself, giving the Rock Box’s patrons just enough of a taste and wanting more. Which, perhaps, will have to wait for another solo visit sometime down the road.
One thing’s for certain. The Alamo City will be here. Ready, willing and able to take it all in. Again and again.
SETLIST: Little Fucking Heroes, Utopian, Choosing Mental Illness, The Ignorant Point, Bedridden, Delinquent, Usurper’s Bastard Rant, Bedroom Destroyer, Finger Me, Walk Through Exits Only, Mixed Lunatic Results. Encores: Hellbound, Death Rattle, Domination/Hollow