2009.08.05 Voivod Live Review
The Winnipeg Sun has this great review of Down & Voivod’s Canadian date in Winnipeg, Alberta Canada.
Down & Voivod, Wed., Aug. 5,
Burton Cummings Theatre With Danava
Sun Rating: 4 out of 5
New Orleans metal brutes Down and Quebec techno-thrashers Voivod seem like they’d go together as well as jambalaya and poutine.
Truth is, they’ve got more in common than you’d think. They’re both veteran metal acts. They’re both pioneers in their respective fields. They’re both blessed with devoted fans. They’re both living with the ghost of a fallen comrade. And on Wednesday night at Burton Cummings Theatre, they both delivered intense, aggressive performances for a rabid audience of seriously committed headbangers. Down were the headliners, but this was definitely a double-barreled show. So a double-barreled review only seems right.
• • •
Voivod have hinted that this tour may be their last. And after more than 25 years, a dozen studio albums, several lineup changes, and, most significantly, the death of their original guitarist, you can hardly blame them for wanting to call it a day.
But if they’re going out, they’re doing it with a bang — or, to borrow one of their album titles, a Rrroooaaarrr. The band’s long-overdue return to a local stage was a confident, powerhouse set that fittingly possessed all the celebratory joy of a well-deserved victory lap.
“It’s good to see you after all these f—ing years,” enthused grinning frontman Denis (Snake) Belanger shortly after taking the stage at 8:30 p.m. “But we’ve only got a short set tonight. We don’t want to waste time talking.”
So waste it they did not. After opening with the eponymous speed-metal anthem Voivod — the first song from their 1984 debut album War and Pain — the quartet tore through tracks from landmark ’80s discs like Killing Technology, Nothingface and Dimension Hatross, along with their bad-trip cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine and one cut from their new Infini album for good measure.
Like their set list, their lineup was a mixture of new and old. Along with the gravel-throated Snake and founding drummer Michel (Away) Langevin, fans were treated to the return of long-MIA bassist Jean-Yves (Blacky) Theriault, who left the band in the early ’90s. “You remember him, don’t you? How could you forget?” Langevin quipped. And we got to meet guitarist Dan Mongrain, the man with the unenviable task of filling in for late Denis (Piggy) D’Amour, who died of colon cancer in 2005 but left behind recordings that the band used to make Infini. Mongrain is “the one who replaced the unreplaceable,” was how Langevin put it.
Turned out he was right. Mongrain was able to reproduce Piggy’s technically complex fusion of dissonant chords and blistering solos almost note for note — and seemed to be having a great time doing it. Blacky seemed equally happy to be back in the fold, mischievously heaving a beer bottle into the balcony at one point (and getting chided by Langevin not to “do stupid things” in the process). And Away, the band’s sole permanent fixture, was appropriately rock-solid on the drums, concentrating on the intricate rhythms, time-signature shifts and tempo changes inherent in their songs.
If there was one downside, it was the sound. Maybe it was because they were openers. Or because they were using some of Down’s gear — the headliners claimed they were delayed for four hours at the border, which may have cut into setup and soundcheck time — but the mix was basically a massive wall of bass that left Mongrain’s guitar fighting to be heard above the sternum-rattling rumble.
Still, after 45 minutes of Voivod’s swaggering power, sci-fi metal and thrashing mayhem, there were only two things left to say: 1) There’s absolutely no way these guys should throw in the towel when they’re still clearly at the top of their game; 2) If this was Voivod’s last show in these parts, I’m glad I saw it.
The Unknown Knows
• • •
Like Voivod, Down love their fans. But with these guys, it’s more like tough love. Real tough love.
These southern-metal lords aren’t one of those bands that do all the work while audience members sit around and watch. As frontman Phil Anselmo made explicitly and repeatedly clear during their high-impact 90-minute set, he expects fans to do just as much heavy lifting as the musicians. And if you think he’s kidding, just try him.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop,” the 41-year-old singer barked three songs into Down’s set, halting the band in midstream to lecture fans who weren’t rocking out enough for his liking. “I should have said this s–t before … We’ve got one night together. Just let me know you’re f—-ing here. I’m watching!”
That was all the encouragement the rabid moshers down front wanted. And all the warning the rest of us at the back needed to keep us on our feet. Because make no mistake, the Down boys are some seriously scary-looking dudes. Bearded, burly lead guitarist Pepper Keenan (also from C.O.C.) looks like Zakk Wylde crossed with a Viking warlord. Bearded, burly and bald rhythm guitarist Kirk Windstein (also from Crowbar) could be a Russian wrestler — or a human cannonball. Drummer Jimmy Bower (also from EyeHateGod) certainly seems like some sort of wicked redneck (though he was a fine southern gentleman when I interviewed him last week). The heavily tattooed Anselmo is comparatively thin but wiry — and with his long locks shaved into a limp mohawk, he has the unhinged look of one of the brothers from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even no-necked bassist Danny (The Magic Frog) Theriot — filling in for MIA Rex Brown, who was back at home attending to a family matter — resembled an evil refrigerator repairman. Bottom line: If these guys had waded into the audience intent on doing some damage, they could have taken out the first several rows without breaking a sweat. (And that’s saying something; there was enough mayhem in the most pit to keep the extra-beefy security guards’ hands full for much of the night.)
Thankfully, Down confined their carnage to the stage. But they were still able to inflict plenty of destruction from that vantage point, bulldozing and barnstorming through a 13-song set of Sabbathy sludge, grim-reaper boogie and old-school ’70s metal culled from their three studio albums. And without fail, it was massively, malevolently, majestically heavy — whether it was the brutal Lifer (dedicated to slain Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott, Anselmo’s former bandmate), the hard-chugger The Path, the slow-grinder Losing All, the achingly bruised Nothing in Return, the demonic Lysergik Funeral Procession, the slamming funk of On March the Saints, or the classic metal of Beneath the Tides (which included some surprisingly sweet vocal harmonies). The stark lighting — all rich monochromatic washes, moody backlighting and throbbing strobes pointed directly at the audience — only served to emphasize the relentless, uncompromising and harsh attack of the music. And through it all, drill sergeant Anselmo kept demanding more from his audience — gesturing for more applause after every song, constantly urging the crowd to pump their fists, clap, chant and sing along (and until you’ve heard several hundred people bellowing the chorus to New Orleans is a Dying Whore, you don’t know what you’re missing). “I wanna see you go apes–t / make some noise / headbang,” was his constant refrain — and “Don’t bulls–t me Winnipeg!” his constant caution when audience participation wasn’t up to snuff.
But it wasn’t all work and no play, thanks to the singer’s smart mouth. When asked for an autograph during the show, he teased: ” ‘Sign my poster, please!’ Yeah, you’re the most significant person in the place.” When a joint was tossed onstage — nicely timed just before the marijuana ode Hail the Leaf — he said he’d save it for later since he still had work to do, then laughingly admitted he had already indulged before the show. Sizing up Theriot, he claimed that “with the Magic Frog in the lineup, Down are the hottest-looking band in the business. We could drop these guitars and become male models!”
And while he demanded a lot from the crowd, he gave it all back. After mocking the autograph-seeker, he signed that poster (then told anyone else with a similar idea to forget it). When a local metal band handed him a flyer for their upcoming gig, he read and plugged it onstage. When they finished their set, he repeatedly told the crowd, “We love you, we love you, we love you.” And after the encore — which saw them turning their instruments over to members of the opening acts so they could shake hands with fans and distribute picks and drumsticks — Anselmo closed the night by leading everyone in a singalong of the vocal breakdown from Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love.
See? They may look scary, but really, Down are a bunch of cuddly teddy bears. Just don’t tell them I said that, OK?
Eyes of the South
New Orleans is a Dying Whore
Lysergik Funeral Procession
On March the Saints
Beneath the Tides
Hail the Leaf
Nothing in Return (Walk Away)
Stone the Crows
Bury Me in Smoke