American Family Amphitheater
The band name Pantera resonates an emotional charge around the world of metal. Their history is a rocky road of chaos, heart, and addiction. Their story is well known to everyone who has listened to metal within the last 20 years. Their reach as artists and personalities has loomed large since their split and unfortunately the Abbott brother’s deaths. Their albums are works of art that had crossed over into the mainstream rock charts. That momentum created a massive following and turned them into quite possibly the Godfathers of modern metal. Many of the largest modern metal bands cite them as inspirations. Dimebag Darrell created riffs that are legendary. Strums that are ingrained into your brain leaving you to wonder how he bent the strings and created that now infamous guitar tone.
All of these factors built up to the return of Pantera. It is a tour built of paying homage to the history and tradition built by Phil, Rex, Dime, and Vinnie. The overwhelming fan reaction to the tour announcement was very positive. The American Family Amphitheater on Milwaukee Wisconsin’s lakefront venue was playing host to this behemoth of power. The fresh lake air wafted over the hill and into the 23,000-seated bowl. The courtyard on the famed Summerfest grounds was filled with mobs of fans purchasing t-shirts and trinkets at the multiple pop-up shops lining up nearly 200 yards back toward the main entrance. The suds from the beer stands were flowing over and the food outlets were packed. The area was festive and electric. With the large black gates opening, fans with pit tickets rushed into the venue. The large unseated pit area became packed from right to left and had folks hanging over the fencing. The hallways of the open-air venue were filled with fans. Groups of people congregated enjoying the views of the lake and downtown. The two seating levels filled out quickly. The ambient noise levels rose quickly. Impressively, the age range of patrons entering the facility was large. The volume of fans under the age of 40 was quite noticeable. The appeal of hearing the thundering bass of Rex and the raspy vocals of Phil for the first time seemingly drove a new generation of fans out in full.
The deep stage had a huge black curtain with orange letters spelling out Pantera. Having it draped over the front of the stage flashes of bright lights in the shape of marijuana leaves shot through it. The fans up front had their heads tilted up sky-high with mouths agape. With the intro of A New Level slowly being introduced by the mythical Zakk Wylde filling in for Dimebag Darrell on guitar a largely familiar squeal was let loose and the curtain dropped. The entire amphitheater erupted with CO2 firing off over the venue. A deafening roar floated across the seats. Pantera armed with a lineup the Abbott brothers would’ve been proud of consisting of Phil and Rex continuing in their positions, but Zakk Wylde on guitar and Charlie Benante of Anthrax fame filling in on the kit. The raw emotions electrified the air. The legacy was on full display.
All eyes though were fixated on Phil Anselmo. His vocals were clear, raspy, and ever so impactful. He fully dominated. Which in turn led to his obvious happiness up on stage. For how heavy the material is lyrically he often had a smile on his face and shared it with the audience in front of him. His ferocious screams and soothing singing echoed out into the vast space of Lake Michigan. The power radiated off of the front man and yet he looked like he found serenity again. The timeless words poured out of his soul. His movements around the center of the stage were backed up by a large screen above projecting their band’s logo or images associated with the songs being performed. They delivered perfect moments in time. In tune with the potency of their legacy.
Off to Anselmos right for most of the night stood the longest-tenured member of the band, Rex Brown. Armed with his signature Gibson Thunderbird and a pick in the other hand he laid down the walking bass lines to compliment the Dimebag riffs. With the Cowboys From Hell CFH logo behind him, Brown moved across the stage with his well-known stare and grimace. His backing vocals were crisp and delivered with fire. Occasionally, he had a smile on his face when engaging with fans was warming. Complimenting the two Pantera legends were the aforementioned Wylde and Benante. Unsurprisingly, Benante caught a lot of heat from the bottom feeders of the internet and those clowns couldn’t have been more wrong. His addition was fantastic. His kit was perched high above the rest of the stage. His kick drum heads donned the Abbott brothers’ images. The pure emotional fire was dished out at every snap of the snare. Those rare double kicks that most drummers wouldn’t be able to handle were delivered with ease. On a few rare occasions, Charlie would point his stick toward Vinnie’s image. All in all, he didn’t miss. His fellow fill-in Zakk Wylde was exactly what you’d expect, killer. Armed with an arsenal of Dimebag signature guitars he slayed the the timeless riffs. Even added a little BLS flavor to boot. Hunched over his long flowing blonde hair waving in the air his his fingers danced across the fretboard. Steadfast and unwavering in the merciless assault. An occasional glimmer of a smile peered through the one-time friend of the man he was filling in for. Those small instances provided the bigger picture at hand.
The setlist was nothing more than an impeccable encompassing of their historic 5 album run as a unit. If you thought this was anything other than a tour honoring the legacy and giving fans new and old a taste of what they miss, then you are sorely wrong in every which way. The evening was an incredibly tasteful way to celebrate the lives of Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell. Their images are all over the stage. Zakk Wylde’s vest with Dimebag patches strewn across it was bright and visually stunning. The band took a break at one point and had a video dedicated to the Abbot brother’s lives with Cemetery Gates being looped over it. The crowd opened up a massive circle pit in front of the stage during every metal anthem performed. Anselmo’s frame of mind delivered many gracious commentaries to the crowd. Often commenting on the youth of the crowd and telling small snippets of stories. At one point he waved over the opener SNAFU to sing the backing chorus to Walk. A group of men who never had the chance to see them in the past because of their youth. Everything was a celebration and was coming full circle. Overall, this performance covered everything one could hope for. This tour is something not to be missed and if you do you may never have another chance. A thing fans of Pantera know all too well. Which is why the tour’s moniker rings ever so true FOR THE FANS. FOR THE BROTHERS FOR LEGACY.
1. A New Level
2. Mouth For War
3. Strength Beyond Strength
5. I’m Broken
6. Suicide Note Pt.2
7. 5 Minutes Alone
8. This Love
9. Fucking Hostile
10. Planet Caravan (Black Sabbath Cover)
11. Walk (with Snafu)
13. Cowboys From Hell
15. Revolution Is My Name