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Scott Gries, Getty Images

The metal community was turned upside-down on Dec. 8, 2004. On the twenty fourth anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon, music fans across the globe were bombarded by instant messages, emails and phone calls from friends and family informing them or wanting to know if the rumors that Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell had really been killed onstage. Was his brother and drummer Vinnie Paul still alive, and what happened to everyone else?

As the hours passed, the horrible truth was revealed and the metal scene was irrevocably altered. Dimebag had, indeed been shot and killed while performing onstage with his band Damaegplan. Not only had the world lose a charismatic wildman, a generous soul and a stellar musician, the game instantly changed for nearly every other musician. No longer were fans rushing the stage viewed as welcome participants; they became potential assailants.

“After something like that happens to one of your best friends, how could you ever feel safe, anywhere, ever?” said Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. “The few times that kids have made it up onto the stage during our show, no matter how friendly the scenario, the first thing I think is, ‘Dude, you should not be on this f—ing stage. You should know better.’ To me, everything changed after Dime was killed. The stage became off-limits for everyone but musicians. I don’t give a f–k how much fun you’re having. Stay the f–k off the stage.”

At the time of the tragedy, Damageplan were two shows away from the end of a tour to support their debut album, New Found Power, and Dime and his brother drummer Vinnie Paul were looking forward to celebrating the holidays and then getting and getting back into the studio to work on a follow-up record.

The afternoon of the shooting, the band arrived at the Alrosa Villa club in Columbus, Ohio. Soundcheck went without incident and then Dimebag, who remembered playing the place in Pantera’s early days, thanked the club owner for booking Damageplan, the group he and his brother formed when they put Pantera on hold. After soundcheck, Dime went back to the band’s bus to get ready for the show. Then the two brothers stood by the side of the stage to watch the opening band.

“They were doing Parliament songs heavy metal style and they were all dressed up like G.I. Joes,” Vinnie Paul told me in 2006. “We were catching such a nut on them. We were back there doing shots and peeking out and cracking up about the whole thing. So, we were all in a good mood and we had a full house that night and went up on the deck and right before we went on Dime was warming up his hand and putting his lip gloss on. The last thing I ever said to him was ‘Van Halen?’ And he gives me five and says, ‘Van f–in’ Halen!’ That was our code word for letting it all hang out and having a good time. And that’s the last thing he ever said to me, man. It’s insane.”

Just a few bars into the opening song “Breathing New Life,” a six-foot-five inch former marine, Nathan Gale, burst out from behind a seven-and-a-half foot-high wall of amps and ran across the stage with a Beretta 9mm handgun. He stopped directly in front of Dime and fired three shots at the back of the guitarist’s head and one that hit his hand. Gale kept firing as members of the crew charged him. The gunman killed four and injured two before putting Paul’s drum tech, John “Kat” Brooks” in a headlock and taking him hostage. That’s when officer James Niggemeyer, responding to a 911 call less than three minutes after it was made, arrived on the scene without backup and shot Gale dead with a single well-placed shot from 12-guage Remington 870 shotgun. Gale had 35 rounds of ammunition left when he was killed. “I knew from that distance I could shoot the suspect, as long as I aimed high enough and wouldn’t hurt the hostage,” Niggemeyer told MTV News in 2005. “At that point, almost immediately, I fired.”

While he was proclaimed a hero, Niggemeyer suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety and eventually quit the police force. In 2011 he got a civilian job and was still seeing a counselor because of the emotional distress he suffered in 2004.

At first, the police thought Gale shot Dimebag because the he was convinced the guitarist was responsible for breaking up Pantera, his favorite band. The news widened the already huge gulf between Vinnie Paul and Pantera vocalist Philip Anselmo, whose continuous pursuit of side projects and lack of communication with the other members of Pantera contributed to the Abbotts’ decision to stop trying to get Pantera back together. During that time, Anselmo and the Abbott brothers exchanged verbal barbs in the press and Vinnie Paul was especially miffed by a comment Anselmo made to UK magazine Metal Hammer that Dime “deserves to be beaten severely.”

“There’s no doubt the guy who did this was out of his f—in’ mind,” Vinnie Paul told me. “He’s somebody that should have been incarcerated. When you’ve got somebody with obvious mental problems, it’s not a great idea for his mother to go get him a gun that’s used for killing people in the military. And obviously, he knew how to use it. He wasn’t just some ragtime dude who grabbed a gun. I saw what happened, and I knew exactly that the dude was on a mission, man, for whatever reason. And the kind of s— [Philip] said [to Metal Hammer] is the kind of s— that might incite the guy that did this to do the kind of things that he did.”

A thorough police investigation following the shooting determined that Gale was a troubled schizophrenic who believed that the members of Pantera were stealing his thoughts. Although Anselmo hasn’t spoken with Vinnie Paul since before the shooting and was told he wasn’t welcome at Dime’s funeral, the vocalist continues to speak highly of his former close friend Dimebag and insists “it just keeps getting tougher and tougher” every year without him. In addition, he continues to extend an olive branch to Vinnie Paul.

“He can come through that door with fifths, a handshake — any of the above — just as long as he comes because I love the guy,” Anselmo told me in 2010. “I love him. I love Vince. He’s a big part of my life, man. I just want to say on my end, I am an open door. I am an open door.”

As the first decade since Dime’s death passed in 2014 it became clear that Vinnie Paul isn’t ready to welcome Anselmo back into his life and he may never be. “It’s just not important to me,” Vinnie said during a Hellyeah interview. “If you had an ex-wife and it was a pretty bitter split, you might not ever want to talk to her again. Who cares if everybody in the family and your friends want you to say hello again. It’s your choice whether you want to do it or not.”

While time has helped heal the wounds of seeing his brother and bandmate killed in front of him, whenever he stops and thinks about Dime, Vinnie starts to get depressed. That’s the main reason he bought a house in Las Vegas, where he spends much of his time.

“Texas will always be my home, but me and my brother used to go to Vegas all the time to escape,” Paul said. “When my brother was taken from us, there were so many ‘I’m sorrys.’ In Dallas that never stopped. It’s always a reminder of what happened when it comes up. People don’t understand that. They mean well, but I could be out somewhere watching a show, having a good time and I’ll hear, ‘Hey, sorry about your brother, man,’ and I’m right back to thinking about that night and him. It was hard to deal with. So I started going to Vegas for a few weeks at a time and I didn’t hear that as much. Then I found out you could buy houses for nothing because the housing market crashed. So I got a really nice house and now I really enjoy spending time in both places.”

By Jon Wiederhorn

13 Years Ago: Dimebag Darrell Slain Onstage

Rush In Concert

On this date in history, 8/9/2002, I saw Rush for the last time at Deer Creek in Noblesville, IN. Rush were touring in support of the Vapor Trails album and had no opening act.

By this time in their career, Rush had a nearly bottomless well of quality songs to choose from. They played 2 full sets with an intermission, and to no-one’s surprise, they played majestically. Rush truly had no weak spots instrumentally. The only criticism I have ever heard from anyone is the occasional complaint about Geddy Lee’s voice. I’ve always liked his voice, so I have remained a fan since I first heard “Working Man” about a thousand years ago.

One thing I was thrilled with at this show was Alex Lifeson’s guitar sound. For a time in the ’80’s I felt that Alex got away from sounding like a guitar hero and had drifted a little too far into the guitar synthesizer realm. During this show he sounded more manly than ever before, with the tone of the gods.

Speaking of gods, Neil Peart demonstrated repeatedly why he is on the Mt. Rushmore of rock drummers, delivering flawless playing throughout the show. His drum solo was so epic that at the conclusion of it he played along with a rear screen projection of a black and white film of a big band jazz orchestra. Neil revealed his ‘swing’ chops to staggering effect.

 

Directly after the drum solo feature, Geddy and Alex sat down with acoustic guitars and played a stripped down version of “Resist” that was hard to resist! Really cool to hear some unplugged Rush.

After the set break, another excellent screen projection featured a gigantic dragon gradually flying across a desert landscape and making a thunderous landing in the foreground of the rocky terrain. The dragon pulled out a cigar and lit it with its fiery breath, simultaneously setting off huge pyro fire blasts on the stage and kicking off the 2nd set with “One Little Victory”, a killer track from Vapor Trails.

The crowd were amused and curious about 3 clothes dryers on the stage and at one point during the second half of the show we were rewarded to find that they contained Rush t-shirts that were then launched into the crowd.

This tour eventually found its way to South America, where a show was filmed in a Brazilian soccer stadium in front of an ecstatic crowd of around 60,000 Rush fanatics. The DVD is called Rush In Rio, and basically is the same show as the one that my friend and I saw in Nobleseville. I highly recommend it, and I’m thrilled to have such an awesome souvenir of my final time seeing a band that has been part of the soundtrack of my rocking life!

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka The Concert Critic

Rush In Rio

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOvZejUqe74

 

 

On This Day in History