What separates a solid band from live artists? Amid a huge crop of talented heavyweights on this year’s Soundwave bill, what makes a live act outstanding?
Delivering a show as sophisticated as it was raucous, as honest and raw as it was professional, alt rockers AFI demonstrated that being a performing artist involves so much more than playing a technically tight set.
Frontman Davey Havok’s delivery was enough to give you chills. Whether he was catapulting around the stage during older numbers such as ‘Wester’ and ‘Ever and a Day’ (the Art of Drowning, 2000), or wading out into the crowd, his feet supported by a sea of dedicated fans during new anthem ‘I Hope You Suffer’ (Burials, 2013), Havok belted, screamed, and spat out each and every lyric with absolute conviction.
AFI’s graceful but marked musical evolution – from their energetic hardcore punk of the 90s to today’s dark but melodic brand of alternative rock – has proved alienating for some fans. One audience member yelled out early in the set “play some punk rock, you sell-outs.” But such an accusation just seemed ludicrous – AFI threw themselves behind each song with remarkable passion that attested to the band’s undeniable artistic integrity.
One moment flying off a foldback, energetic and unburdened, the next sinking to his knees in despair, Havok was captivating as the band flew through a mixed set of tracks from their more recent releases, including a generous selection of material from well-loved album Sing the Sorrow (2003).
Havok’s performance was intimate and vulnerable (‘the Leaving Song Pt. 1’), then violent and punky, then suddenly showy and theatrical (‘Beautiful Thieves’).
The intensity of his gaze was arresting as he connected emotionally with each song, yet remained entirely present. His passion was matched only by his fans: the pit was a pool of cathartic sweat as the crowd writhed and surged forward in response to Havok’s dark and deeply personal lyrics.
Chanting the words ‘through our bleeding we are one’ in between songs (from the track ‘Strength Through Wounding’ 1999), the crowd’s emotional connection with the band served as a reminder of music’s power as an outlet and uniting force.
AFI paid tribute to one of their own musical heroes during the encore, proudly performing the Cure’s classic ‘Just Like Heaven’ with the same unshakeable commitment with which they played their originals.
Ending the set with ‘Silver and Cold,’ AFI humbly thanked the audience and saluted support band Crosses.
The relatively new Crosses (formed in 2011), fronted by Chino Moreno – renowned in his own right as the vocalist of the Deftones – delivered an interesting set full of heavy programming, fat bass, smacking and popping electric drums, and engaging, creative song structures.
But despite Crosses’ own merit, AFI’s united energy and unrestrained passion made the two sets incomparable. Whether or not you’re stuck in the 90s, after witnessing AFI’s tight, electric live spectacle it would be very difficult to argue that the band are not incredible performers and, indeed, dedicated artists.
Photos by Kristen Ashton