Pantera Put All Doubts to Rest at Darien Lake!
Let's be honest. We've all been watching the videos of this tour, from the very first soundcheck right up through now and the fan reaction has been overwhelmingly positive from the start. Without a doubt, there have been some nay-sayers claiming that this touring lineup isn't "really" Pantera. From the perspective of a complete original lineup, how could it be? The band that grabbed the metal world by the balls in the 90's and never let go will always consist of Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown, Vinnie Paul and "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. Unfortunately, the world of Pantera changed irreversibly almost 20 years ago, and that version of this band is no longer possible. This is no different than other legendary artists losing key and/or founding members, which have affected everyone from Metallica to Slayer.
Fortunately, the Pantera camp has really done their legacy a solid, by respecting the legacy that is Pantera, both by hand-selecting the most fitting members to tour with this time, as well as doing an absolute bang-up job of bringing their catalog to life on stage. It took me mere moments of being in front of this band to realize that my highest expectations were about to be blown away. I won't make you wait until the end of this write-up to learn that my first impression on this night never changed. The show was amazing, and I want more!
The evening started out with a brief tailgate in the parking area. The first sign that the night would be one for the records books was that I can't remember the last show I knew so many close friends at. Seemingly everyone came out to see this tour, whether it be excitement or curiosity. Many of my friends had seen Pantera back in their prime, but so many never had the chance. For anyone here in the Western New York market, here's a brief rundown of Pantera's visits to the Buffalo market prior to this show.
March 18th, 1993 - Blink Melon's in Cheektowaga - Touring 'Vulgar Display of Power'
June 28th, 1994 - Darien Lake - Touring 'Far Beyond Driven'
November 23rd, 1996 - Buffalo Convention Center - Touring 'The Great Southern Trendkill'
I was lucky enough to attend that final show back in 1996 as a junior in high school. Below are a few gems from my personal photo collection during that tour.
Phil Anselmo and "Dimebag" Darrell Abott in Buffalo on November 23rd, 1996
Phil Anselmo in Buffalo on November 23rd, 1996
So, despite Pantera still being an active touring band for several years after their last stop here, it's easy to understand how so many fans discovered them back in the 90's, but still had not yet gotten to see any of these songs live. All of that was about to change...and it was worth the wait!
Child Bite kicked things off at Darien Lake
The night started out with a short set from Child Bite. I hadn't heard of this band before, but Phil has brought them along as an opener for his tours as Superjoint and Down.
Despite being completely unfamiliar with any of their music, the band brought a frenetic energy to the stage that was exactly on point to set the tone for the evening ahead. The first thing I noticed was that this band was not young, but it didn't slow them down one bit. Vocalist Shawn Knight was jumping around the stage while delivering an aggressive vocal performance.
The rest of the band was every bit as active and used the large stage space well as they ripped through their brief set. Their sound is a bit hard to label, but I got bits of hard rock/alternative, funk and metal. I didn't run to the merch tent, but it was a welcome kickoff to an evening of intensity!
Next up was Lamb of God. I really can't think of a more appropriate band to open for Pantera. From the first time I heard Lamb of God (opening for Metallica on 2009's 'World Magnetic Tour,' my early impressions were that this band came with a heavy Pantera influence. While not as south as Dallas, Texas (or New Orleans, LA in Phil's case), they hail from Richmond, Virginia and have been delivering consistently heavy music since 2000 (earlier if we're counting their Burn the Priest days).
Randy Blythe of Lamb of God, winding up the crowd at Darien Lake
Currently, Lamb of God is touring in support of 2022's album, 'Omens.' They opened their show with "Memento Mori," from their 2020 self-titled album, and then dove right into the blistering "Walk With Me in Hell" from 2006's 'Sacrement.'
Lamb of God has always been one of those bands that I just haven't clicked with in terms of their studio material, but every single time I see them live I'm blown away. Without fail, I'll go back and build a playlist of what I just heard (as I just did today) and these songs absolutely crush! I'm beginning to think this band needs to land on my gym playlist.
Back to the show, vocalist Randy Blythe (completely with freshly shaved head) could single-handedly tune up the entire packed house at Darien Lake. Fortunately for him, he didn't have to as this band is rounded out with a dynomite lineup consisting of Mark Morton on lead guitar, Willie Adler on rhythm guitar, John Campbell on bass and their most "recent" addition, Art Cruz on drums. This band is a machine and honestly, closing out their set with "Redneck," there was only one band that could take the stage and drive the energy to the next level. Fortunately for everyone, Pantera was waiting in the wings!
As I outlined above, its' been since 1996 that I'd last seen Pantera. I was excited for this show, and it was one of those days where despite the buildup, I had no idea how excited I really was until it hit me. As the curtain was raised and our small group of photographers were escorted to an area just to the side of the photo pit (that place were crowd surfers get pulled over the railing by security all night), that's when it started. I was taken back to the first and only time I had seen Pantera perform and I remembered all over again how much this music really meant to me growing up. All the teenage angst that had built up during those years, this music was a huge part of how I let that energy out.
Zakk Wylde performing with Pantera at Darien Lake
The PA system cut the house music and began blasting "Regular People" as the crowd instantly took notice and put their game faces on. The entirety of the song played as I could see the band begin to take their positions on stage. As the track ended, the band immediately cut into "A New Level" as the curtain dropped in sync with some brief stage pyro. As we entered the pit, the faces along the rail were telling the story. I saw no range or anger, just pure joy and bliss as everyone was banging their heads with smiles from ear to ear.
The set for this show was a non-stop barrage of some of Pantera's greatest. I'll list some "highlights," but the full setlist is below, because there's no a single track that I'd have left off this set. In fact, one of the greatest takeaways from the night was that, despite a 90-minute show packed with hits, there are so many more songs leftover for future tours! That said, hearing "Mouth for War," "I'm Broken" and "Suicide Note Pt. II" live again was simply amazing.
By this time, I had finished photographing my three songs, checked my gear and literally ran to the lawn to meet all of my friends so I could enjoy the rest of the show with my people. Singing along to "5 Minutes Alone," "This Love" and "Fucking Hostile" was an absolute blast.
I couldn't count the number of concerts I've been to over the years, where the venu will play "Walk" over the PA in between bands. To hear that live was so exciting for me, but I'm sure also fulfilled the dreams of countless fans who have also heard the studio version of that song countless times, likely thinking they'd never get the chance to see it performed. The early favorite and absolute must-have live track for me will always be "Cowboys From Hell," though. Needless to say, I was thrilled to catch that at the end of the set, just before the encore.
What's left to say? Phil may not hit the high notes like he used to, but he hasn't lost a step in terms of raw power in his voice. Rex is consistently laying down the low end of Pantera. Zakk Wylde was every bit the Zakk we've come to expect on stage, but also paid a noble tribute to Dimebag, staying true to the songs every step of the way. Similarly, Charlie Benante was fantastic on the drums. To anyone that can't stomach the idea of Pantera with some close friends (and extremely talented) members standing in, you're missing out. To everyone that's seen this show, you know what you've seen. Lastly, for those that are looking at a future date, either with tickets in hand or are still undecided, you will remember this night forever. If Pantera's music means anything to you, go! I'm so glad I went and even more glad I got to enjoy this show with so many friends!
A New Level
Mouth for War
Strength Beyond Strength
Suicide Note Pt. II
5 Minutes Alone
Planet Caravan (Black Sabbath cover)
Walk (with Child Bite)
Domination / Hollow
Cowboys From Hell
15. Revolution Is My Name