Almost two years ago, Birmingham’s Carling Academy played host to Down’s first ever performance on UK soil. It was gig that had been some fifteen years in the making, and as such the response afforded to them on that fateful evening was little short of hysterical. More impressive still was the fact that this was a band without any form of record deal. A band that had decided to book their own shows, arrange their own travel and do everything solely for the love of music – a people’s tour down to the last detail.
Now, with a new label and a new album to boot, Down fever is officially an epidemic. It’s a fact that’s obvious simply by taking one look at the pubs and bars that surround the venue hours before the band will take to the stage. Much like the venue itself come show time, they’re full to the brim and bubbling with anticipation. If ever proof were needed that Down is a band very much in it for the long haul, and that the success of their previous visit was due to more than mere novelty, tonight is a case in point.
With a collection of home videos and behind-the-scenes clips taking the place of a support band, every last details of the night is about one band only. As they make their arrival shortly after 9pm, the screams that fill the air are nothing short of deafening, with the band themselves turning in a performance that more than justifies such adulation. For just over two glorious hours this evening, the New Orleans quintet are nothing less than stunning; a shining example of rock and roll and its absolute pinnacle. With their roots planted firmly in the same soil gave us the likes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple forty years ago, songs such as Lifer, Ghosts Along The Mississippi and the ever-filthy Hail The Leaf positively soar, providing the type of soundtrack that’s tailor-made for late night smoking sessions of the most pungent kind. At the back of the stage former Eyehategod drummer Jimmy Bower unleashes a stunning range of swaggering percussive beats, locking in perfectly with the low end rumble of former Pantera bassist Rex Brown. At the sides Crowbar main man Kirk Windstein and Corrosion Of Conformity legend Pepper Keenan let loose with an array of dirt-encrusted riffs and blues-drenched leads that demand a shot-downing response; something Phil Anselmo – who tonight is on fine form despite cutting an unusually humble figure up front – could likely provoke with ease.
However, what shines most tonight are the effects that such songs and indeed such a performance have on the crowd itself. At one point this evening several people will openly flaunt the smoking ban – not to mention the illegal drugs act – while at the same time building a precariously structured human pyramid. Others will climb atop the shoulders of their friends to wave banners and flags with pride. The rest will simply stand in awe of a band that are – to those here tonight – legends in their own right. You see, for those who hold them dear, Down is much more than a mere band: it’s a way of life. And, for tonight at least, it’s easy to see why.
Photos by Graham Pentz @ G-Tizzle Photography