They poetically reignited the steel in the shadow of Pittsburgh

Pantera live 2023 [Credit: Matt Bishop]
Pantera [Matt Bishop/The Rock Revival]

Last night at The Pavilion at Star Lake, the mighty Pantera took the stage to kick off their first full North American tour in over two decades. After several featured and headlining appearances at festivals around the world that began in December of 2022, surviving icons Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown are taking the show on the road with guitarist Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society and drummer Charlie Benante of Anthrax. Poetically, Pantera reignited the steel in the shadow of Pittsburgh. For the fans, it was the most bittersweet of moments, but they wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

After an opening performance by SNAFU, an act from Anselmo’s Housecore Records label, metal veterans Lamb of God stormed the stage. They kicked things off with “Memento Mori” then launched right into the bruising “Walk with Me in Hell.” The proceeded take a walk through their discography, pulling ten tracks from eight of their nine studio albums. Other highlights included “512,” “Ruin,” and “Laid to Rest.” They wrapped things up with the GRAMMY®-nominated anthem “Redneck.”

Godfathers of modern metal, Lamb of God are still an undeniable force to be reckoned with. Deservingly, they are a headlining act. As an opener, they’ll give anyone a run for their money. At this point, booking Lamb of God as a special guests is a very dangerous game for any artist. Whoever it is runs a great risk of being completely blown of the stage into oblivion.

Lamb of God live 2023 [Credit: Matt Bishop]
Lamb of God [Matt Bishop/The Rock Revival]

As the sun set over Star Lake, the anticipation in the pavilion was palpable. A massive Pantera banner covered the stage as the crew worked behind the scenes to change the set over. Seeing was almost odd. It had been so long, and we all thought there wasn’t a change in hell we’d ever see it again.

The lights went out and a video montage graced the big screens. Reels of rare and behind-the-scenes footage of the band mixed in with live highlights played. Just in case anyone had trouble remembering, the clips brought back to light just how absurdly wild Pantera were back in the day. If they weren’t ripping it up on stage, they were doing shit like shaving Tommy Lee’s head or crashing pick-up trucks into buildings. What a time it was.

When the video stopped and the banner dropped, Zakk Wylde’s guitar squealed out the intro to “A New Level.” The same track that opens Pantera’s legendary live album Official Live: 101 Proof, playing that song first was poignant. They wasted no time tearing into “Mouth For War,” and before the capacity crowd could catch their breath – they unleashed “Strength Beyond Strength.” With Pantera’s body of work, it’s hard to put a setlist together that includes songs that aren’t hits.

Pantera [Matt Bishop/The Rock Revival]

Just three songs in, the new foursome was firing on all cylinders. Phil and Rex looked good and sounded good. While it must be difficult to a significant degree to take a stage under the Pantera moniker, they seemed genuinely excited for the moment. Zakk and Charlie were playing with razor sharp precision. It’s a tall order to fill some of the biggest shoes in music history – drummer Vinnie Paul and guitarist Dimebag Darrell. Wylde himself has said in interviews that replicating Dime’s tone and style is essentially impossible, but that he would do his best to stay true to late guitarist’s legendary riffs. He’s doing an excellent job so far.

When the first batch of shows was announced, Wylde was no surprise. Ever since Dime’s untimely passing, fans have always made it known that Zakk would be the perfect choice to play Pantera songs should the occasion ever arise. There was very little talk of who would sit behind the kit for Vinnie, however. Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante seemed like a bit of a random choice, but it turns out he fits like a glove. I wouldn’t call myself a musician. I noodle on the guitar a bit, but I know nothing about drums. Describing it is hard, but they way Charlie hits just feels like Vinnie. Even the tone of his kit (if that’s even a thing) sounds like Paul’s in Pantera and Hellyeah. I suppose choosing Charlie wasn’t so random after all.

Tributes to the Abbott brothers are abound on this tour. The some of the merchandise has the tour’s tagline, “For the Fans. For the Brothers. For Legacy.” Known for his battle vests, Zakk Wylde is donning one on this tour with leather “St. Vinnie” and “St. Dime” patches. The band’s name and iconic “Cowboys from Hell” logo are emblazoned on the back. Beautiful paintings of Dime and Vinnie grace two of Charlie’s bass drumheads.

Pantera [Matt Bishop/The Rock Revival]

After “Becoming” and the bone-crushing “I’m Broken,” the band dropped “Suicide Note Pt. II,” a deep cut from 1996’s The Great Southern Trendkill. It was perhaps the only deep cut of the entire show. No complaints about the setlist, but tracks like “Drag the Waters,” “War Nerve,” “Psycho Holiday,” “I’ll Cast a Shadow,” or “Goddamn Electric.” Perhaps they’ll be running it back this winter or next spring, dusting off even tunes that haven’t seen the light of day in over two decades.

After “Suicide Note,” Phil address the audience. “This rules,” he stated. “This straight up fuckin’ rules, man.” He was clearly soaking up every solitary second of something he never thought he’d get to experience again.

Later on before they tore into “Fucking Hostile,” he told the crowd, “I’d bet a hefty sum that ninety-eight percent of you know this next song, so you better fucking sing it.

And they sang every fuckin’ word.

Midway through the set, the group chooses to play the studio version of “Cemetery Gates” over the speakers as a heartbreaking tribute video to the Abbot brothers played on the big screens. It was tough to take, and there were a lot of misty eyes in the crowd. Looking at everything Pantera accomplished in their career, it’s crazy to think about where they would be now if tragedy hadn’t struck. Music aside, though, fans and family especially would just be happy to still have them here on earth.

Pantera live 2023 [Credit: Matt Bishop]
Pantera [Matt Bishop/The Rock Revival]

After the tribute, the performed the closing track of their chart-topping Far Beyond Driven album. “This is for Dimebag and Vince, man,” Phil stated. “It’s a Black Sabbath song called ‘Planet Caravan.'”

The band took another pause to wish Rex a happy birthday. The bassist turned 59 yesterday. “Rex turned 74 last night,” Phil said laughingly. The crew wheeled out a cake and the whole crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”

From there, another tripod of hits including the monstrous “Walk,” their classic “Domination/Hollow” mash-up, and the seminal “Cowboys from Hell” closed out the set. Referring back to “Fucking Hostile,”

“I’ll say this, man, the percentage we talked about earlier in that last song [“Fucking Hostile”], I’m gonna bump this up, before we play – I’m gonna say a hundred percent. All of you know this fuckin’ song. Some of you have been waitin’ around to just hear this motherfuckin’ song. It is unstoppable. And it draws you in. And maybe it brought […] Pantera on your radar to begin with. We love you, man, this is incredible. Really hard for me to put into words, but this song here I want you to sing loud as a motherfucker!”

With that, Wylde let the unmistakable opening riff of “Walk” loose and the crowd went nuts. After that, their classic “Domination/Hollow” mash-up and the seminal “Cowboys from Hell” closed out the set.

After withstanding the barrage of Pantera hits, the crowd was still hungry for more. Wanting to send them home completely spent, the band returned to the stage for an absolutely brutal encore of back-to-back bangers. They whipped out “Slaughtered” and finished up with “Revolution Is My Name,” the crown jewel of their final album Reinventing The Steel. Neither song has seen the light of day since 2001, and the fans went ballistic. While it certainly isn’t their biggest hit, “Revolution Is My Name” may just be Pantera’s most finely crafted song. It served as a fitting end to the first show of this unexpected tour.

Pantera [Matt Bishop/The Rock Revival]

After years of speculation, this Pantera reunion of sorts has finally come to fruition. When it was first confirmed, it was met with a fair amount of backlash. In the minds of many, Pantera is no longer Pantera without the Abbott brothers. While the may have been the backbone of the band, it’s fair to say that there would be no Pantera without Phil and Rex, either. They put in the same amount of sweat and blood on the band’s five incredible classic albums that would come to define their legacy, not to mention the arena tours and massive festival appearances.

In October, Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor are mounting another tour without bassist John Deacon and frontman Freddie Mercury, who passed away in 1991. Led Zeppelin have played shows with Jason Bonham, the son of founding drummer John Bonham who died in 1980. Hell, Foreigner and Quiet Riot are still touring with no original members. And I’m fairly certain that if Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr decided to hit the road again together and call it The Beatles, no one would bat an eye.

For some reason, though, Phil and Rex wanting to resurrect Pantera was met with significant negativity. Are they not entitled to play their songs under the Pantera moniker? They absolutely are, and if you’re thinking this is a cash grab – you’re right, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. They’re entitled to profit off the music they made. You know who else benefits from this? The estates of Dime and Vinny. No amount of money will every bring them back or make the pain of losing them go away, but if a new tour can churn out a profit for the Pantera entity, it’s wonderful for their loved ones to be taken care of this many years on, not to mention the crew and techs that are getting a paycheck. It’s a win across the board. Everyone is getting paid, and the fans get to once again hear these incredible songs in some capacity. Most importantly, Phil, Rex, Zakk, and Charlie are doing it right with this Pantribute, acknowledging the Abbott brothers every step of the way and celebrating their legacy the best way possible.

Pantera [Matt Bishop/The Rock Revival]

Pantera’s North American headlining tour with Lamb of God rolls on through September 15, wrapping up at Jiffy Lube Live in Virginia. In the fall, the band is slated to perform at Louder Than Life in Kentucky and Aftershock in California. Starting August 4, the group will serve as special guests for Metallica as part of their massive M72 World Tour in between their own headlining shows.

Pantera’s last studio effort was their 2000 watershed album Reinventing The Steel. The album landed at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Many fans and critics maintain that the album is the band’s best overall piece of work. In October 2020, the album was re-mixed by producer Terry Date and re-released on CD, vinyl, and digital download to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

In 2001, Pantera’s classic lineup went on an indefinite hiatus and never reunited.

To date, the four-time GRAMMY® Award nominees have sold over 20 million records worldwide.

Pantera setlist Burgettstown 2023 tour