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A New Level: Metallica, Pantera, and Mammoth VH @ SoFi Stadium Los Angeles, 8/25/23

September 4, 2023
“Now a new look in my eyes my spirit riseForget the pastPresent tense works and lastsGot shit on, pissed on, spit on, stepped onFucked with pointed at by lesser men
New life in place of old lifeUnscarred by trials
A new levelOf confidenceAnd power”
“A New Level” ~Pantera
The year was 1994, and I was peeling back the shrink-wrap on Far Beyond Driven; snuggling the murky blue cover and CD in alongside NIN’s The Downward Spiral, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Alice in Chain’s Jar of Flies, Hole’s Live Through This, STP’s Purple, and The Crow Soundtrack…because 1994 was a strong year for music. It went between NIN and STP because you know I had my shit alphabetized.  I would get to know every curve of Far Beyond Driven; it would inspire mosh pits in my room, catchphrases with friends “Yeah… PANTERA!”, but most importantly, Texas Pride. In those days, everything seemed to be from the far away lands of Seattle and California, but this was damn near local! Even if Arlington was almost the entire state away from me… the huge expanse of Texas.  1994 was an important year for people my age into music like me; it was the year Kurt Cobain died, and as the kid that was always the biggest Nirvana fan that anyone knew, a part of my innocence went away that year. I felt really connected to the other 27 club deaths of the late 60s/early 70s, and just felt like I was living in the modern day version of this. The era I lived in would be important politically and musically… I just knew it! I felt it deep in my bones.
Pantera’s groove metal was an important part of my large CD binder from then on.  I remember when The Great Southern Trendkill came out, and I would just drive around the Texas Hill Country backroads, drinking shit beer, listening to “Suicide Note, Pt. 1 & 2” and think, “Oh no… are they ok?!” I was already untrusting of the well-being of my favorite rock stars and felt personally invested. I was also extremely naive. I would see Pantera twice in those days; I wish I could remember it better but it was a long time ago. The second time was an Ozzfest- and I was really there for Pantera and not giving a shit about ANYONE else there which is a shame looking back; I watched half of a Black Sabbath reunion and went home early because I was bored.
Then I remember getting a live album and Reinventing the Steel, but by then I was in college and had other priorities.  Pantera just kinda faded into the background and if ever brought up, it was a band that “I used to be super into“.
Then came December 2004.
Exactly 10 years after I had picked up that first album, Dimebag was gone. 10 years after Cobain’s death, here we were again.
What a fucking tragedy… Dimebag was the best! I don’t think what happened that night is talked about nearly enough, made nearly enough impact… and I work in the firearms industry! There are too many insane people roaming around today; let’s keep those insane people out of our music venues, please.
It wasn’t long after that that I moved to San Francisco and started this blog.  I realized that Pantera was not very popular in the Bay Area! But in my work the The Recording Academy and The Revolver Golden Gods Awards I got to stand near Vinnie Paul Abbott multiple times, Phil Anselmo once (I would have interviewed him if I hadn’t been brought- wait for it- James Hetfield), and I interviewed Rex Brown at least one time. That 14 year old still inside me was freaking out.
My point is, Pantera were a fundamental band in my teenage existence, and beyond.  There was always some sort of Metal Magic about them floating around the ether in my realm; someone worked for my parent’s company that went to high school with Dimebag and sat in a truck with him at a party where he popped in a cassette and was played the Cowboys From Hell riff for the first time… we took our Bengals- names Dimebag and Vinnie Paul… to a vet where the tech went to high school with the Abbotts… I mean WHAT?! Arlington is kinda big but did everyone of a certain age in Texas go to high school with the Abbott brothers?!
On the day of this Metallica and Pantera show, I was supposed to be in Las Vegas seeing Danzig, Behemoth, Twin Temple, and Midnight… but it was rescheduled.  So I moved things around to make it to this show instead of another one, and I’m glad I did because it was literally one for the record books.
The last time I was at SoFi was for Wrestlmania earlier this year, so I knew it was a slog to get in and out of.  Totally worth paying for premium parking, so that once you get through hours of LA traffic, you’re just steps from being inside.  We listened to Mammoth VH finish their set while going through softball security… I got a security clear bag now and they don’t even want to look in it?! OK fine. Anyway, I saw Wolfgang play with his dad at the last Van Halen show during a period of time where I was not writing on here anymore which is a bummer because it was a magical show.
Once down on the floor, I was overwhelmed with emotions.  I cannot sit in seats for metal shows- sorry- if I make it to my 70s I’ll be down there with a walker. Being on the floor of a huge stadium like that is like being swallowed by a whale; call me Ishmael.  It is overwhelming and exciting. I am used to Metallica’s ‘in the round’ stage setup, but it is quickly clear that this is more complex.  It has probably been ten years since I’ve seen Metallica and something is different in the air… it wasn’t until later that I would recall what.
We just walked right up into view of one drum set and stood in a spot that seemed like it would be safe.  There were not that many people around and the seats were at least half empty!  Before I knew it, I spotted Phil Anselmo, and they all popped up on stage and the show began.  Starting with “A New Level” was like taking my excitement from 0 to ludicrous speed in .5 seconds. I didn’t know I still had it in me.  People were staring because I know how to have a good time still. Do you know how many times I have uttered the line “This is going to take things to A WHOLE NEW LEVEL… OF CONFIDENCE… AND POWER” in a professional setting? A lot. I have to amuse myself somehow.
I quickly realized that band members were disappearing, that the stage was much bigger than I realized.  Like it could be a full song before you saw anyone again as they took another trip around the field.  It was kind of dumb, but I would still rather be on the ground than stuck in a seat.
Finally some people started gathering that seemed like they knew who Pantera were.  I think it was just where I was, but it was a bit of a walkway for the usual clickity-clack laminate crowd that drag down LA shows.  When did those people get so young… when did their ‘metal’ shirts start to look so new… and then it dawned on me: The Stranger Things Effect! D’oh! The Tik Tok Generation was there to see Metallica because they just learned about them through Stranger Things.  This is adorable.
At this point in the show, they were a bit doe-eyed because I think Pantera was too heavy for them.  It’s ok- I started with Metallica, too…
At this point I think it’s ridiculous the hoopla over the Pantera ‘reunion’ or ‘celebration’ or whatever we are calling this now.  You cannot let this band die.  I knew before I saw it that Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante were excellent choices for this. I also know- from seeing Pantera live a couple times in the 90s- that a whole generation had not had the chance to experience Pantera live.  This is crucial.  Pantera’s music truly flexes when it’s experienced socially. You need to groove together! It’s mosh material! Yes- I have cried alone in my car driving fast to Pantera, I’ve even gone to sleep listening to Pantera… but to scream and pump my fist with bunch of other crazies while screaming “You keep this love, love, love!” was a much needed communal experience.
I do have to say that the “Cemetery Gates” Dimebag and Vinnie Paul tribute was quite shorter than expected- waaaayy shorter than Wylde does at a BLS show– but I guess expected as an opener for Metallica.
Then came the moment when Phil ask- “How many of you saw Pantera back in the 90s?
I was the only one in my area.
It’s weird getting older: it felt like an eternity that I lived my life having missed out on everything cool.  Everyone older than me had hoovered up all the cool experiences and left none for me.  I would never have any cool experiences for myself, that anyone else would be jealous us- I was sure of it…
And then one day I woke up, and I had done all of these things that kids younger than me will never ever get to do.
And trust me, I got NO PROBLEM telling them ALL ABOUT IT!
That’s why I’ve documented my concert experiences in this blog- shit has changed drastically since I started this in 2007. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe! This first time I held my phone up and took a pic of live music to tweet out! Everything a meticulous capture of culture at the time, as reflected through music.  Because as time, and music, marches on… things are not only evolutionary but revolutionary… maddening… and there are so many people we have lost.
Before I knew it, Pantera were saying their goodbyes, and I was eating a piece of pizza.
We moved to a slightly different place for Metallica, and that just happened to be by Corey Feldman.  Yeah yeah, I know- EVERYONE else was talking about moshing with Jason Momoa or seeing John Travolta, Tommy Lee, John 5, The Miz, and a whole crazy mix of other people…. but I’m sorry, I’ll stand in front of the dude from Lost Boys and License to Drive, thank you very much.
People started to pour in from everywhere as AC/DC -> Ennio cranked up, but when “Creeping Death” began- even with earplugs firmly in, apparently we were standing next to the drum sound, because it nearly stopped my heart from beating.  Once relocated, the sound was still very strange, but less of a near death experience.  Here is where I felt we resumed Typically Metallica Fanbase Experience™️ – people in large groups, traveled from near and far, very international crowd, multi-generational Metallica families, and lest we not forget ‘guy who has already passed out on the floor by song number two with friend panicking nearby’.
Onto “Harvester of Sorrow”- I was reflecting on how huge an entity Metallica are.  In fact, I realized that a long time ago, I stopped seeing Metallica as a band and instead look at them as a BRAND (that’s my job).  They are so interesting in that sense- never stopping- never afraid to try something new, never showing the fear of success that hinders so many bands in the genre.  And perhaps all of these things have come to their detriment in some ways, but you have to shed skin to move forward.
I’ve always been kind of the outsider in the bunch of friends who are hardcore Metallica fans, err, family; this really goes back to the “Nothing Else Matters” video.  The year was 1992, it was played incessantly on MTV, and while I loved “The Black Album”… I found this video to be so disappointing and boring (I was 12).  Like they are just sitting there playing in a studio… give me a story! I changed the channel every time. From then on Metallica was always dinged in my book because I am petty.  What can I say- I was living in the era of November Rains.  Fast forward to “Some Kind of Monster” and while I thought it was super interesting that they did that, I was just like ‘hmmmm’.   HMMMMM.  So I have just always been the asshole at Metallica shows with friends crying during songs going “awww Metallica FAMILY”… but don’t worry, they have all given it right back to me during NIN things.  We all have our bands we get weird about….
Anyway…this tour was ‘No Repeats” so the setlist was a big focus, which is always exciting because you never know what may happen.  I’ve seen Metallica in a lot of weird situations over the years- Bridge School Benefit… home town shows, Orion Festival, GRAMMY Awards, so I have been kind of spoiled.  But for me, to return after about 10 years, it was crazy to just see them so happy and playful. No putting on a moment of ‘evil-ness’, no sense of danger… we’re not even pretending any more.  It’s been interesting to see how this all ages, and on this night- the answer was WELL.  IT IS AGING VERY WELL.
Due to a long drive back to the desert, we left a bit early.  Hearing Metallica play us out, along with the muffled crowd’s cheers felt otherworldly, as the distance between me and the world’s largest metal band grew even further and more muffled.

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