Words & Photos by Scott Murry
“Strength Through Wounding” from AFI’s Black Sails in the Sunset turned 18 this past May. The song is now legally an adult, free to make its own decisions, and it has fallen in love with fans. They return the feeling by shouting its words, “Through our bleeding, we are one” at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, RI. Being the second leg of the Blood album tour, touting a new logo with three solitary iron-rich droplets, and plenty of red stage lighting—the theme and phrase all fall into place with diehard fans new and old.
While it can’t be reported if any blood was shared, there was plenty of sweat as Davey Havok took the stage to initiate the hardcore aerobics session that is an AFI set. He feeds the crowd what they crave. With a quarter century on stage as a band leader and a stint as a Broadway lead in Billie Joe Armstrong’s American Idiot, he knows what to do. Perhaps the latter heightened his ability to tether the crowd’s emotions—he fluctuates tone and pose, bringing dramatic presence to Lupo’s. The flow and cadence of his hands follow the pitch and emphasis of words in a way that is only rivaled by John Williams standing behind his conductor’s podium.
Havok is never one to remain behind the mic in one location. He’s been known for flips and dives into the audience. In recent years, he walks into the crowd atop their hands, finding a safe spot to be held up. With fans crowd-surfing toward him for a shared moment, he sang “I Hope You Suffer” from 2013’s Burials with anguish and sincere vengefulness. As a true stage man, his performance would not be stuttered when a fan grabbed the mic to growl/laugh like a jackal. Even when a bold fan brazenly lunged for his package, the show went on. Havok has theatre chops to hold the stage regardless of outside interruption … but quit grabbing the poor guy’s junk! That must be annoying when angling for a focused mood.
While many get lost in the trance of Havok’s vicious vocals, I’d like to call out the oft-unsung hero of the set: Adam Carson behind the drums. This doesn’t mean Hunter or Jade wilted behind their respective guitars—they kill it every time as well. The whole band is completely, utterly talented, but drummers get lost in the back sometimes, and Carson’s skills need some time in the front. There’s a deep tunnel of emotion in those drum compositions. During “The Face Beneath The Waves” from Burials, his tom-tom drum patterns are like a morose Phil Collins (that’s a hearty compliment). And I swear he’s able to keep two separate beats with each limb for a total of eight rhythms when at his peak. Fans were reminded of this ability by his live layering on “Girls Not Grey.” It’s incredible stuff.
All parts come together to well up emotion in fans, which on countless songs beat their hearts and repeat every word. It’s a bit cultish, yes, but we’re talking about a band with a devoted following (there were dozens camped out front of the venue prior to the show). Whether they play all of Blood or 2000’s Art Of Drowning, it will get the venue sweaty. This set was weighed most heavily in tracks from 2003’s Sing The Sorrow, and it was extremely well received. I’d say it’s about time to re-release that dark tome on vinyl again.
Philadelphia’s Nothing opened for AFI with malcontent delivery and numb vocals to match. Domenic Palermo sings about existential times on their year old (and aptly titled) album Tired Of Tomorrow so the shoegaze vibe was pure and fitting.