Words and Photos by Cherry Bharati
California heavy metal band Huntress was first up tonight at Stage AE in Pittsburgh, and singer Jill Janus clearly knew her audience. Nothing is more important here than sports, so Janus shouting “Go Steelers!” to kick off the set was a sure way to fire up the crowd. She was a ball of energy the whole set, whirling like a dervish around the stage and leaning out at dangerous angles to high five fans. Janus has classical opera training as a singer, and her impressive voice was on full display tonight.
Several minutes before the Swedish band actually took the stage, the crowd was already stomping their feet and chanting “SA-BA-TON! SA-BA-TON!” and they didn’t let up all night, taking any break between songs as an opportunity to start chanting again. Sabaton burst onto the stage to thunderous applause. They pounded the audience from the start, opening with Ghost Division as the crowd jumped and screamed along. Their thumping heavy metal anthems focus on war and battle, and the sound was massive and formidable all night.
Taking a cue from Huntress, vocalist Joakim Brodén told the fans how excited they were to play in the home city of one of the best hockey teams in the world (the Pittsburgh Penguins), earning a roar of approval from the crowd. His joking and commentary made for an infectiously fun atmosphere, and the few people in the crowd who hadn’t been chanting from the start soon joined in. At one point, Brodén stopped and could only shake his head and laugh, saying that although “[he’d] played over a thousand shows with Sabaton, as a support band this [was] just crazy, like nothing [he’d] ever seen.”
The band was all smiles during the entire set, and thanks to their unrivaled stage presence and flawless musical execution, so was the crowd.
Finally, time came for the mighty Trivium, who came out to wild screams from the crowd. Vocalist Matt Heafy (himself wearing a Sabaton shirt) showed why he is known as one of the most engaging and disarming frontmen in metal, striding about the stage and bantering with the crowd while working them up into a frenzy. It didn’t take long – during the first song, a fan was launched into the photo pit and had to be escorted out by security. Heafy is a masterful performer and knew just how to work the audience. If there’s one thing Pittsburghers hate, it’s being compared unfavorably to other cities, so when he told the crowd that the best audience the band had seen on tour so far was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the fans went crazy to prove him wrong.
The crowd fist pumped madly and roared along with every song, even when Trivium delved into their older material. As Heafy said, if you still had your voice when you left this show, you did it wrong.