December 8, 2004. A date that rocked the metal community to its very core, whose tremors are still felt thirteen years later. A day that will forever exist in infamy, known simply as the night metal’s ultimate bro was violently stripped from our ears and yanked from our hearts.
Darrell Lance Abbott, known affectionately to all as Dimebag Darrell, was shot and killed while, of all things, performing onstage in Columbus, Ohio with then band Damageplan. By so many accounts, Dimebag was far more compassionate than controversial, a rockstar known to give you the shirt off his back as long as you’d smoke a joint or take a shot of whiskey with him. He had a way of embracing his celebrity, while somehow acting as though he didn’t know it was there. Proud to be loud, yet lauded and incredibly likeable, even if you had never had the privilege of meeting him but especially if you did. Despite being largely regarded as one of the greatest guitarist in heavy metal for his contributions in Pantera, his legacy can’t help but include his larger than life personality, and as his brother and longtime drummer Vinnie Paul would say, a heart as big as Texas.
Now, more than a decade later, metal fans gather in celebration on Thursday evening to show respect for their lost icon, and to put a resounding cap on the first day of NAMM 2018. Hosted by radio personality and “natural born headbanger” Jose Mangin and held at the Observatory in Santa Ana. I could tell it was going to be a good turnout when my parking location was so far from the venue, it had me bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t yet downloaded an app on my phone for counting steps, something I should be doing every year NAMM rolls around.
Live music could already be heard emanating from the venue from about 50 yards away courtesy of Powerflo, a last minute replacement opener formed by members of Fear Factory, Biohazard and Cypress Hill, past and present. Powerflo performed an energetic set of heavy originals to set the tone for the metal classics going forward.
The main event turned out to be a hodgepodge of selections from the metal song index, weighted more heavily by Pantera but by no means exclusive to it. The assortment and combinations of musicians were even more random than the songs, resembling the Metal Allegiance performance at the Grove last year. M.A. put together a show for this year’s festivities as well, but due to bad luck or poor planning, it took place the same night as Dimebash.
At any rate, Dimebash’s roster didn’t quite match that of last year’s Metal Allegiance, but it definitely wasn’t without its share of heavy hitters. In a literal sense, one of these came in the form of a drumming legend, the Atomic Clock himself, Gene Hoglan (Strapping Young Lad, Death, Fear Factory, Testament, Dethklok, etc). The man has a musical resume as large as anyone in metal, and, according to Jose, a brain unmatched in metal trivia as well. Joined by Tony Campos, Courtney Cox and others, they got the Pantera train rolling with “Cemetery Gates” and “Domination,” and would take turns onstage to perform other selections throughout the night.
The fans in attendance were treated to covers from Black Sabbath to Ted Nugent, from Iron Maiden to Thin Lizzy, along with a smattering of Pantera favorites, performed by several metal alums, including Doug Pinnick (Kings X), Mike Muir (Suicidal Tendencies), and the trio of the band Kyng, who played an awesome rendition of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.”
Jose Mangin provided the commentary between songs, and never at a loss for energy or excitement, continually professed his love for Pantera and metal music in general. He even told the story of his first time meeting Dimebag as a young teen and the incredible influence that experience of the man’s genuine good nature would have on who he would become.
The highlights of the night included a surprise vocal by Korn’s Jonathan Davis for a darker, heavier take on the Pink Floyd classic “Another Brick in the Wall,” and a special appearance on bass by the one and only Rex Brown, the sole representative of Pantera for the evening. I had hoped he would be a participant when I saw him walking through the booths at NAMM just long enough to exchange a few pleasantries.
As Rex and Gene held down the rhythm, they blasted their way through “Fucking Hostile,” with vocals provided by Luis Delgado from Los Angeles’ very own Pantera tribute band, Trendkill Revolution. The show concluded with Rex still on bass for “Walk,” this time with Jose himself on vocals, followed by brief but heartfelt thank you’s from Rex and Dimebag’s wife Rita.
For anyone still with enough energy and sobriety to continue, the festivities shifted to the after party at Affliction HQ, where there were additional performances by acoustic duo Whiskeydick, originals by Kyng, and more Pantera covers by Cowgirls from Hell.