By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
No one here will ever pretend, even at this late date, that we ever quite got Damageplan or, before that, Pantera; the Observer archives are too stuffed with unflattering words to try to take them back. We felt the loss of guitarist Darrell Abbott, absolutely, but from the distance reserved for those who write about local musicians and cross paths with them. I'd met the man several times--he and brother Vinnie Paul even showed up to a Dallas Observer Music Awards shindig several years ago to claim a prize they needed as much as another doorstop--and found him charming and guileless, a superstar who pretended as though he were unaware of the status bestowed upon him. And certainly, we were all stung by the news of his murder on December 8 on a Columbus, Ohio, stage--at the hand of a deranged fan, no less. But it didn't hit us as hard as it did those who, on December 14 of last year, crowded into the Arlington Convention Center to mourn his passing and share their grief and final fuck yeahs for the man called Dimebag. They were his family, immediate and extended and forever.
But getting it isn't so important anymore, because we're well past having to; Abbott and Damageplan and Pantera have now passed into myth, the realm of legend to which beloved and tragic figures are allowed instant access. Abbott is another Marvin Gaye now, another Sam Cooke, another Peter Tosh, another Tupac--or, at least, another Mia Zapata or Bobby Fuller--a rock-and-roll martyr whose death guarantees he will live forever, a rock god made immortal by an assassin. For proof, look no further than the countless rock-mag covers he graced after his death, listen no further than the hallelujah choruses sung by the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Zakk Wylde and the other guitarists who filed onto the stage in Arlington. Now, everyone in town will claim to have known Dimebag, to have partied with him at the Clubhouse, to have built a guitar for him, to have ruined his liver with him in 18 states (as Wylde mentioned from the stage that night).
What becomes of Damageplan now? No one is quite sure, though there have been the inevitable rumors of a DVD release, of a second album mostly completed, of outtakes from the New Found Power sessions. There's also talk of old, unreleased Pantera tracks finding their way into stores, including some from a never-completed post-Reinventing the Steel disc. And what will become of the music made by Rebel Meets Rebel, Dimebag and Vinnie Paul's country collaboration with David Allan Coe? Answers will come shortly, but the music business has taught us that dead musicians live profitable afterlives on the new-release schedules.
If nothing else, Abbott's murder did get some of us, the disinterested or the unfairly dismissive, to go back and listen to what we might have missed the first time around, and sure enough you can hear what so many others got from the very beginning--the groove beneath the growl, the rumble beneath the roar, the look-at-how-much-fuckin'-fun-I'm-havin' smile of a talented man who dug playing sidekick to front men (Phil Anselmo in Pantera, Pat Lachman in Damageplan) who always seemed so pissed off about something. So, to Damageplan we offer our congratulations on this award, handed to you not just by us, but also from the thousands who voted for you and the millions who cheered for you then and now. --R.W.
The Polyphonic Spree
The first mistake The Polyphonic Spree made was recording an album. The second was recording another one. I'm not trying to piss on their parade. You may enjoy The Beginning Stages of... or Together We're Heavy, and that's perfectly OK. But you'd be hard-pressed to make a compelling argument that either record is revolutionary. Go ahead and take that case to a jury. They'll be out less than an hour.
Here's why they shouldn't have made a record, or two of them: While there's nothing much avant-garde or experimental about the band in the studio, there is plenty of it onstage. With 20 some-odd people in matching robes singing and swaying and stomping like a church choir as imagined by David LaChapelle, The Polyphonic Spree's stage show is a breathtaking happening that lures in even the most cynical observer. It's an overwhelming blast of sight and sound, leaving your eyes and ears as helpless as the last Texan rebels at the Alamo. Go to one of their shows and you will be entertained, whether you like it or not. But none of that, not one single bit, comes across on a CD. Which is a shame. They should have taken their show on the road, invading a town for a few days as the word of mouth built into a tidal wave, then scurried off to conquer another city. They would have had an air of mystery, that certain something that turns rock shows into events. They did this in Austin at South by Southwest and New York at the CMJ New Music Marathon, never needing an album to put asses in the seats. It would have worked. They've actually talked about this. (Broadway, perhaps?) After a couple of tours, then they could put out a DVD, so people could hear and see The Polyphonic Spree, the way the group should properly be experienced. I'm telling you: genius. Would that make any money? I don't know. That's why I don't manage bands. --Zac Crain