words & photos by Blair Hopkins

On August 4, Eyehategod frontman Mike IX Williams announced via his Facebook page that: “Due to some recent very important health issues I am dealing with, I would like to announce that Philip H. Anselmo (Down, Pantera, Superjoint etc…) will be filling in for me at two special Eyehategod gigs; New Orleans, LA’s Southport Hall - August 19th and the 7th annual GWAR-B-Q - August 20th in Richmond, VA. Phil has my full blessings for these shows & with all forces willing, I will return to the stage as soon as I am physically able.”

The first thing I do when I land in a city is set up a show calendar, and Eyehategod is always the first band I look up when I stumble into New Orleans. I’ve seen them in several cities over the years but had never managed to catch them in their hometown so was excited to have the Southport show line up with my most recent trip. Needless to say I was saddened to read that Williams’ health issues were still ongoing and preventing him from performing. I am in good and plentiful company in wishing Williams a speedy recovery.

Phil Anselmo is an intuitive choice for a fill-in vocalist. While his and Williams’ styles are extremely different -- Anselmo vocals are raw aggression and Williams is the master of the anguished, screaming dopesick groan -- Anselmo has the range as well as the rapport with the band and their fans to make it work. After my initial disappointment at the announcement subsided, it was easy to begin looking forward to what was sure to be an interesting show. Anselmo can be a bit of a wild card and he’s had some troubling controversy recently, but the man sure as hell delivers.

Southport Music Hall is a large and well-laid out club located next to the Orleans-Jefferson Parish line, just outside the city. Its history includes having operated as a music venue, party hall, and in the early 1900s, an illegal gambling hall. It was once owned by a reputed mafia boss and is rumored to be haunted. On this comfortably humid evening, though, it is neither gangsters nor ghosts, but metalheads making use of the expansive porch and milling about the premises with their go-cups.

I arrive part way through Recluse’s set. They are are loud and primitive and fun, traditional punk/hardcore and well worth one’s while. Eat The Witch is an instrumental doom ensemble. They seem a little out-of-place. EHG’s guest vocalist is not the only shake-up in tonight’s lineup; two of the bands originally on the bill had to cancel due to last minute schedule conflicts and I’m uncertain as to whether or not Eat The Witch was part of the original lineup. In my experience, EHG openers tend to lean grindcore/punk. Eat the Witch are received without tremendous enthusiasm, but politely, and they play well.

EHG opens up with “God Song” and plows straight into “New Orleans is the New Vietnam,” after which Anselmo addresses the crowd.

“Hey man this set goes out to Mike Williams, man. Let’s give our love and fuckin’ support New Orleans style.” Cheers erupt. “Yeah I knew it’d be half-assed. No no no, get loud on me motherfuckers that’s right!” He chides, “That’s more like it! Thank you all. And thank you for the opportunity fellas. Hey, this is a dream come true you know that? If anybody remembers, back in the '90s I did this one other time when Mike was in jail for shoplifting. Fuck off man this next... What are we doing? Alright, this one’s called ‘Depress.’”

Anselmo is beloved by his fans to the point of near-worship, and it’s not hard to understand why once you’ve seen him live. His vocal performance is consistently outstanding. He has an excellent range that has stood the tests of time and aggressive stylistic use. His on-stage persona is commanding yet good-natured, and outside his history of saying stupid and controversial shit when he’s drunk, his reputation off-stage among fans is that he’s accessible and affable.

Several times in the first half of the set Anselmo loses track of the setlist and has to check with the band to get back on course but that aside, he absolutely nails each song. I was particularly impressed with his performance on “Motel Parish Sickness”. He and guitarist Jimmy Bower are delightful to watch together, having a long and storied collaborative friendship (Bower plays drums for Down and guitar for Superjoint Ritual). Bower, of course, is a blast all his own. He laughs frequently and easily, smokes continuously and is quippy and animated throughout a set that he almost certainly can play in his sleep by now.

I was expecting an Anselmo-headed EHG to stick to their older catalogue and for the most part, that was the case, though I am pleasantly surprised to hear “Medicine Noose” (my favorite off their 2014 self-titled album) kick up after “Lack of Almost Everything”. Among the “classics” is “Sisterfucker” (Parts I and II), which Anselmo introduces by asking “Y’all like rock hits? ...This next song is absolutely uh.. It should be like, nominated for a Grammy. What is it, an Emmy or a Grammy, what do they nominate you for? It’s so boring I mean fuckin’... Best song of the last… 66 years. Next to fuckin’... ‘I’ve been wasting my time… (I assume in reference to the Sam Phillip’s song).’”

The band finishes out with “Methamphetamine” and “Run It Into The Ground” after reminding each other that they’ve got an early flight to catch for GWAR-B-Q.

EHG will be touring as direct support for Discharge on their upcoming US tour, which kicks off in Seattle on October 6.

More From Brooklyn Vegan