The year was 2001. I was 24 years old, and obsessed with metal, as I still am today. Pantera were like Kings to me. I’d never seen them live, so when they announced the Real Steel tour with Morbid Angel and Soulfly, I knew I had to go. I was a massive fan of Morbid Angel and I liked Soulfly well enough. The show was actually a reschedule of one previously cancelled, and had a better lineup. Originally, It was Kittie instead of Soulfly.
I went with my then-girlfriend/now-ex-wife, and a friend and his girlfriend/current wife. I have no idea why we even took them, because it wasn’t their thing at all, but whatever.
So there’s a fight in line as soon as we arrive at the Myriad Convention Center. Some drunk old redneck tweaker called a maintenance guy the n-word and ran off screaming “Pantera!!! Woooo!” Security promptly dragged him out. We all laughed and joked that he was about to get lit up. It was the first of many such draggings to come.
We go into same hall that I’d previously been to a Star Trek convention in at 16, and later a dog show at 38. They played hockey in there at the time, too. They rolled out a wooden floor over the ice during conventions and concerts.
Big crowd, of course, as Pantera were quite literally the only high-profile heavy metal band in America at the time. Sure, “nu-metal” was huge, but I’m talking about bands with guitar solos. Phil Anselmo even said so from the stage. He goes, “We’re the only band doing a show like this on this scale, and we’re proud to fly the flag for heavy fuckin’ metal. And if you call Metallica a heavy metal band I’ll kick your fuckin’ ass! Yeah I’m talkin’ you in the Slipknot shirt!”
I remember that moment like it was yesterday. He probably said it every night.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Morbid Angel was amazing, and during Soulfly’s set the drummers from all three bands got up and did this crazy drum jam. Phil Anselmo came out and did “Day of Suffering” with Morbid Angel, as seen below from another date.
But man, when Pantera hit the stage, they had this giant metal flaming sign that you could feel the heat from. You could see heat waves. It was insane. And it was not used sparingly. So much fire.
While the band and the flames were raging onstage, venue security was snatching kids by the hair and dragging them out with little provocation. I mean, they were absolutely brutal. No phone cameras—the good ol’ days, right? I remember one kid was smoking on the seated level just above general admission, and an ember floated down past the face of a security guy. Security guy jumped, and adopted a fighting stance. That’s how high-strung they were. It was wild. Beating the living shit out of these kids at the drop of a hat, lol.
There was still a palpable sense of danger at these kinds of adrenaline/alcohol/testosterone-fueled rowdy-ass, pre-woke events, and it was intoxicating. Every time I listen to Pantera, I remember what it felt like to be there.
Anyway the midst of all that brutality, I’m looking up at the stage from down there on the floor in general admission, and there’s Dimebag Darrell, in all his glory, just standing there shredding right in front of me, existing in the same universe as me. I was awestruck.
I’d watched all three Pantera home videos dozens of times. They were Jackass before Jackass was a thing. I’d seen them doing all this crazy, hilarious, awesome shit and now here they were, right in front of me, like four superheroes. I was enthralled, the entire time.
Three years later, when Dimebag was shot and killed onstage playing with Damageplan(the band he and his brother Vinnie started up while Pantera was on hiatus), I felt that shit deep in my soul. This memory he gave me that I still cherish to this day, they did that every day, for thousands of people, and he had a great time doing it. That band is still sacred to a great many people. Sure, they have their fair share of 2-Kool-4-Skool elitist metalhead haters now as they did then, but go ahead and try to talk that shit at a metal show around here, in Oklahoma, where Pantera, a Texas band, was a popular regional act throughout the ‘80s. See how far that gets you. People knew him. He was a real person who worked his ass off to achieve his dream.
Had he not been killed, I truly feel like Dime and Vinnie would’ve reconciled their differences with Phil Anselmo. Pantera would be headlining big festivals and enjoying their well-earned status as elder statesmen of Metal.
Dime was 38 when he was shot. He was an old guy to me when I was 24. Now I’m 5 years older than that, but he remains frozen in time. A legend. An icon. He died 17 years ago today. RIP.