To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of their now-iconic debut album NOLA (Elektra Records), the band Down originally planned a tour at select venues worldwide before a global pandemic shut down the normal cadence of life as any of us ever knew it for the foreseeable future. Not to be silenced on such a momentous occasion, the guys took to the stage at a private location instead to stream The Quarter Century Throwdown as a global virtual concert. Featuring vocalist PhilAnselmo, guitarists PepperKeenan and KirkWindstein, drummer JimmyBower and PatBruders on bass, the event aired live with two encore performances in the days following the livestream for ticket holders.
The perhaps unfortunate reality is that this is not a unique solution in light of the new normal. We’ve now run the gamut of different livestream concerts during the pandemic, all with varying levels of interactivity, actual live content, and production value. Some bands have taken the DIY-quality approach, streaming live performances from friends’ homes (BTBAM), garages (Clutch), or at empty concert halls (Trivium), sometimes taking advantage of existing streaming services that were popular before the world shut down, like Twitch, at times performing with new services that were spun up to meet the new demand for livestream everything. Some live concerts were free, some remained behind a paywall, and some were not actually live performances at all, but streams of never-before-seen concerts from a time before quarantine. Fans were given a forum to interact with each other or interact with the band, sometimes the stream included openers, giveaways, and even hosts. Some were a fully (and perhaps over-) produced show with a plethora of camera angles, high-quality audio, and a light show (Underoath). Others were just one wide-angle camera sitting on top of a dresser.
The Quarter Century Throwdown fell somewhere between them all. To get the lame bits out of the way early: given the somewhat muffled audio quality during most of the performance, as well as the choice to omit any aspect of fan interactivity by way of forums or the like, it was hard to feel like the stream was anything grander than watching a YouTube video of the band alone in your living room. The stream also suffered a few technical glitches and cutouts as well, which can feel unavoidable given the medium, but ultimately further hampered the immersive experience one longs for when attending a live performance.
Now let’s talk about what Down got right: first, importantly, they used their platform to bring attention to the plight of the United Houma Nation, a state-recognized tribe in and around the Southeastern coast of Louisiana, with a portion of the proceeds from both the ticketed livestream and the limited edition merch donated to the tribe. They also put together a uniquely entertaining pre-show, interweaving interviews and pre-recorded skits featuring the band members, home video of recording sessions, and other backstage antics. The pre-show also included video clips sent in from their fans expressing gratitude and love, showing off merch and ink, explaining the significance of the band to their own lives, or sometimes just cheering, singing along to their favorite songs, and doing their own amateur covers from the NOLA album. During a time when we are all feeling awkwardly disconnected from the world, it was a fun and humanizing glimpse into the band’s world behind the scenes.
Down appeared on stage together, sans masks, washed in red lights with a huge LED band logo behind them, two large screens flanking either side of the stage, and standing on ornate rugs strewn about beneath their feet. The show was well produced with camera switches that covered all angles of the stage and a modest but unmistakably intentional light show design befitting of the band’s down-to-earth vibe. The guys themselves were a dance of charisma, grit and Funk, each falling into the familiar grooves of their songs with such precise ease that one would be hard-pressed to find any flaw to their respective performances. Pepper was in particularly prime form during ‘Lifer,’ and when Phil sang “This pain I’ve come to treasure” during ‘Losing All,’ his voice was just as anguished as it was when he spoke those lyrics into existence while recording the album back in 1995.
Between songs, Phil dedicated the performance to a number of different countries and continents that seemed to coincide with places the band intended to play this year. At times, the performance was completely indistinguishable from the album recording itself. Despite a few technical difficulties that glitched the audience out of the performance of ‘Jail’—which was unfortunate because the performance was entrancing, to say the least—the show was otherwise quite flawless, and the band appeared to be truly enjoying themselves throughout. Another notable highlight was the performance of ‘Bury Me in Smoke,’ which ended with a slow transition to a member of the United Houma Nation chanting a tribal song as the band swapped instruments with family and friends who were among the few individuals permitted in the venue with them. It was another humanizing moment that tied nicely to the theme of interconnectedness.
When the performance started, Phil came on stage with a simple statement: “I’m not going to talk too much because it’s fucking weird.”It was just the briefest nod at the fact that this wasn’t how any of them, or any of us, pictured this moment. Standing in my living room, barefoot, in my undies and a ripped band tee, cheering at my television screen as I raised the volume with the remote, I couldn’t help but agree: this is fucking weird—but I was grateful to be experiencing a celebration of one of my favorite albums of all time with the rest of the world; even if we were all just standing alone in our living rooms screaming at our TVs, scaring the neighbors.
Hail the Leaf
Pillars of Eternity
Stone the Crow
Lysergic Funeral Procession
Ghosts Along the Mississippi
New Orleans is a Dying Whore
Bury Me in Smoke
WORDS BY: DAHLIA HUNT