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PAPA ROACH, THE USED, VILLAINY: Trusts Arena, NZ, 18/04/23

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Words by Kev Rowland 

Pix by Chris Morgan

So, a school night found me making my way out to Trusts for the first time in many years – in fact, I think the last time I was here was when Slipknot played, supported by Machine Head.

Tonight, we were seeing Papa Roach and The Used, who originally were not supposed to be playing in NZ at all but there was such a clamour from fans wanting to see the tour which was only organized for Australia that in the end, the bands arranged their own one-night-only gig in Auckland. This meant people had come from all over the country for this, and the bands had made it an all-ages gig which meant it was going to kick off tonight with doors at 5:30 and first band at 6:30, and what a first band it is.

Villainy were on fire at Homegrown last month, so to see them again so soon afterwards is a real treat, there was no way I was going to miss this one. Their backdrop was high and proud at the rear of the stage, and I knew we were soon going to be rocked into a party as Neill Fraser (vocals, guitar), Dave Johnston (drums, backing vocals), James Dylan (bass) and Thomas Watts (guitar)know no other way to play and always give fans what they want.

A beat heralded their entrance, Neill told everyone who they were and then crunched the riff as we went into Raised In The Dark. We were then into this pop rock monster with a band who are incredibly confident in playing a stage this size, and looking at the crowd, there was no doubt they were making an impact right from the off (even if it is way too early to be watching a band of this quality).

Then we were straight into the crunching staccato monster which is Safe Passage, with Neill switching between melodic vocals, screams and falsetto with ease, all the time with the beat being created by drums, guitars and bass in perfect harmony.

Beggar is a song which tends to confuse people as do you dance to it or headbang? I think the answer is to do whatever you want as Villainy are in the house and having a blast, and the fact they are mixing so many styles in one song just shows what a great band they are and certainly all the crowd were paying close attention to what was taking place in front of them.

The filthiest bass imaginable could only mean one thing, we were heading into Alligator Skin, which got some cheers of recognition. How Dave can hit the high notes while punching the kit is quite remarkable, but he is the perfect foil to Neill, providing wonderful harmonies. From this they went into Tiny Little Island, a song I have been playing on repeat since Homegrown as it has just installed itself in my brain. I’m not the only one, as the crowd quite happily sang the chorus a few times with Neill conducting.

Thomas gently started the next one, then we were into the slow groove which is Dreams, which soon had people swaying and dancing along. This is one of their slowest and heaviest songs, with more than a hint of doom alongside the melody, and those at the front had their arms in the air clapping along. Then they totally switched the tempo as we went into The Launch, one of their fastest, and it was great to see they were being given full use of the lighting rig so kudos to Papa Roach for letting that happen, as it isn’t always the case with support acts. They had also been given a fair time for their set, and even though it was a cut-down version of what they played at Homegrown, it still gave them plenty of time to get the crowd loosened up. They ended with IFXS, which of course had Neill running around the stage while he was screaming.

I am sure seeing Villainy was a new experience for some of the people in the crowd, yet by the end they would have been converts with the audience pressed up against the stage as Neill stood on the edge and then got everyone to get down on the floor, until the count of four when everyone started jumping up and down like mad. There may not have been any Villainy balloons or appearance of a dinghy, but yet again these guys played like headliners. What a start to the night.

Although the audience mostly seem to have come here tonight to see Papa Roach, there is no doubt there were also many who were primarily here for The Used, who were due onstage at the ungodly hour of 7:30, which makes a very nice change indeed it must be said.

Singer Bert McCracken, bassist Jeph Howard, drummer Dan Whitesides, and guitarist Joey Bradford have made quite a name for themselves over the last 20 years, and they still have two founder members in Bert and Jeph, while Dan has also been there for a significant period with only Joey being relatively recent, and even he has been in the band for five years now. Given their longevity, it was going to be no surprise that tonight’s set was going to be a greatest hits package in many ways, and when the lights went off, the backing track started, and their backdrop was lit up the crowd were all cheering.

It built and built, and then The Used were there cranking into Take It Away. The band were kicking hard, and the lights had gone from being manually changed into a programmed show and the result was incredibly dramatic – this would not be a good place for anyone who suffers with epilepsy, and found myself being blinded at times, but there is no doubt it was effective. Even though it was also too much. The over-the-top drum intro let everyone know we were crunching into Bird and Worm, and the crowd were all singing as loud as possible to try and match what was happening on stage in front of them. Their style is emo with punk sensibilities and melodic rock tendencies, and there were loads of cheers when Bert told the crowd it had been 16 years since they were last here.

They have a high-energy style, which certainly works well in the live environment and Listening is a fine example of this, with the music and lights working overtime. Blow Me is a song from their most recent album, Heartwork, and is one of their most melodic with nice pop-punk emo tendencies. From this they went all the way back to the second album with I Caught Fire, which is more heavily emo, with more space within the arrangement although there is still plenty of crunch from the drums.

The crowd were more than happy to sing along to the chorus, and the lighting also slowed down for this which meant there was a much warmer feel. Contrast that to Fuck You from the forthcoming album which could have come straight from Avril Lavigne, which felt very modern, heavy and somehow also more lightweight all at the same time.

Then we dropped back to their debut single, The Taste of Ink which did not need any vocals as whenever they stopped the crowd were there singing along at full volume, and they needed little encouragement to all have their hands clapping above their heads. Bert invited a youngster up from the audience for this and there is no doubt he had a great time, even more so when Bert kept him onstage for All That I’ve Got as well. He played air drums all the way through and was obviously having the time of his life, and he even got to stay up for Buried Myself Alive while the audience attempted to start a circle pit.

He then left the stage to thunderous applause as Bert announced they rarely played the next song but would do so if people sang along, and then they launched into Blue and Yellow, which again has more restraint and emotion than the newer material, with the crowd jumping along in time. The new number Numb is one of the more varied in the set, having both plenty of space and loads of crunch, and is being released as a single in a few days’ time. There were loads of cheers when Bert said, “Emo is fucking back” and loads of boos when they were requested, and then they went into Blood On My Hands (where Bert wanted both a circle pit and boos when they finished).

The crowd were then separated into two in readiness for the next song, Pretty Handsome, and the separation was soon lost as the dirty riff got everyone moving. They finished with the classic Box Full of Sharp Objects and the crowd went mad for one last time, especially when they segued into (Smells Like) Teen Spirit. The Used could do no wrong tonight as they were in front of a crowd full of fan seven before they played a note.

Soon it was time for Papa Roach, who kicked things off with Kill The Noise which is a monstrous pop-punk number which gets everyone moving right from the off. As with The Used the lights from the rear of the stage were very direct indeed, and there were times when it was just not possible to see anyone, but the music was certainly driving the energy as they went straight from the opener into Getting Away With Murder.

Jacoby Shaddix (lead vocals), Jerry Horton (guitars, backing vocals), Tobin Esperance (bass, backing vocals), and drummer Tony Palermo are a touring machine, and alongside touring member Anthony Esperance (rhythm guitar, keyboard, percussion) they know exactly what they are doing on stage and ensure the audience are along for the ride.

Help may be more melodic in places, yet it still has a huge anthem like chorus and a drummer who sounds like he is going to beat through the kit, he is hitting it that hard. They have a really heavy bottom end, and this provides the foundation for them to be melodic over the top. The crowd were already going nuts, singing along with everything and Jacoby said he could not believe this was happening on a Tuesday. He then split the crowd in readiness, and when they launched into Blood Brothers the mosh was well and truly on and from this they segued into Dead Cell, two songs from the classic Infest, back-to-back.

In memory of Keith Flynn, they gave us a blasting version of Firestarter (I do wonder if they know this was the last venue he played before he died), and the crowd went nuts, and rightly so. Before the next number Jacoby said he wanted an old-school circle pit going, like it was 1989 all over again, and then they launched into the Ramones influenced (we even had some “Hey Ho’s”) To Be Loved. We were then told to understand how life is hard, and we all fight the struggle, but we are never alone, and Jacoby asked for lighters to be held up, and we were into Scars, a slower and poignant song about a horrendous night suffered by the lead singer which changed his life.

This rock ballad is one of the band’s biggest-ever songs, and very different to the rest of the set, and coming in halfway made perfect sense as it allowed people up front to recover somewhat and check their bruises. The audience were more than happy to provide vocals when the band stopped, and there was a real feeling of oneness, with lighting which also assisted in bringing everyone together. They may be a punk band, but Papa Roach have a real understanding of how to build a set and provide contrast.

I could already see why these guys have such a live following as they are a truly great band in this setting. Tribal drums led us into Forever, which is another that is much slower and sedate, packed full of drama and angst which builds into an anthem.

No Apologies is one which has sections which are just the rhythm section, others where it blasts, always with the vocals and drums front and centre. While None of the Above also starts quite slowly, this is another with a blasting chorus, and verses which veer towards melodic rap at times, showing yet another side of the band as they went into Still Dre, but then brought the guitars back to play with Swerve. The way they keep moving in and out of styles is infectious, one never knows what they are going to do next, yet there is purpose to everything with hints of nu-metal here, punk there, rap in another, all coming together with powering drums and a frontman who is in total control.

Jacoby was having a blast, getting the crowd to repeat a variety of noises, and then the drums kicked in once again (with Anthony also joining in the fun to provide extra heart), the guitars riffed, and we were into Born For Greatness, which even includes some Dub with a massive groove. The crowd had by now been bouncing for nearly four hours, on and off, but showed no sign whatsoever of slowing down as this is music which demands to be moved to.

Old School Shit was shouted out, and then we were into Between Angels and Insects which immediately got shouts of recognition and everyone joined in on the words as the guitars riffed yet again. It ended with delicate bass, and the stage in total darkness. What was going on? Had they finished? Would there be any more? Okay, I’m kidding, we all know there is no way they can leave without playing that song, and suddenly a spotlight shone on Jacoby as he sang the words “Cut my life into pieces, this is my last resort”, and we were off for one last ride with the audience and band as one.

We were even invited to sing along to “We Will Rock You” during the drum section, which was a nice touch. That really was the end, three great live bands on a Tuesday night in Auckland. I am already wondering when Papa Roach are coming back as that was some show tonight.

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