Fans had been lined up for many hours in the icy winter weather for the AFI (A Fire Inside) show in Nashville this past Sunday, January 25, 2014. Some had arrived at Marathan Music Works at 8:00 AM that morning and had road-tripped from other states, having seen multiple shows for this tour (supporting AFI’s latest, Burials) and tours before. This is not surprising. AFI is one of those bands that has imbued that sort of ardent inspiration and devotion in their fan base for much of their 22-year-long career. The almost four-year wait for them since their last stop in Music City in March 2010 intensified the almost tangible anticipation. Hours spent in temperatures cold enough to freeze fountains around Nashville were well worth enduring for what was to come that night.
Coming was the first opening band, straight out of Los Angeles. They delivered a raw energy that I was familiar with back home at California punk shows. Lyrics like “I want to rip out your bones and veins/The very pillars and wires that hold you” piqued my interest. Youth Code, an industrial duo also from L.A. that followed them, was not my cup of tea to say the least. Their screechy flat vocals left me bored.
It’s that instantly recognizable moment when the stage goes dark and the first notes start to seep out, momentarily drowned by the loud collective scream of the audience. I miss having AFI shows start out with introductions that felt almost ceremonious, like “Miseria Cantare” or “Prelude 12/21.” Those built up the anticipation and made a statement, though starting straightaway with the ominous intro to “I Hope You Suffer,” a single from Burials, leading straight into “Leaving Song Part II,” from the much-beloved breakthrough album Sing the Sorrow, was no disappointment.
Their nine-album catalog leaves them with a lot of shining choices, but the 17-song setlist was a balanced and harmonious flow of AFI throughout the years that showed off their powerful dynamics. “File 13,” from their Bay Area punk days in the ’90s, came right before the more glam rock “Love Like Winter,” off of their double platinum 2006 album Decemberunderground.
“Ever and a Day” was definitely a crowd favorite, reaching back to one of their best albums, Art of Drowning. “Leaving Song” was beautiful and poignant, a rare calmer moment with just Jade Puget’s guitar and Davey Havok’s vocals, the latter fused with the crowd’s. The two songs off of Burials, “I Hope You Suffer,” (powerful and dark) and “Heart Stops” (lighter and more melancholic), were very well received—the crowd knew all the lyrics.
Though AFI has been a “rock” band for years now, their versatile discography tells us there is no exact genre for them to fit into. They’ve done it all it seems, touching upon metal, punk, electronic, pop, while the AFI sound is unmistakable at its core.
Normally Marathon Music Works doesn’t need a barrier, but it was very clear why one was needed that night. The word “wild” applied not only to the enthusiastic crowd, but also to the band members onstage, particularly bassist Hunter Burgan, reminding us of their East Bay punk roots. It was enthralling to watch Burgan’s spectacular jumps and tiger-like, untamed movements barely contained. Jade Puget’s bright guitar playing is exciting not just musically, but visually. His leaps and spins are smooth, cool, and nuanced. The efficacy and vigor of Adam Carson’s drumming does not get enough recognition—precise, yet spontaneous and natural. Havok’s vocal range, flair, and beautiful voice express the gorgeous emotion that permeates his poetic words perfectly. His expressions and charisma are his own.
Each of the members embodies his own distinctiveness and technical talent, but together their miscibility crystallizes the passion and conviction that has defined their music. The strong bond AFI has as friends also shows in their musical chemistry and performance quality. Their burning stage presence does spark an enduring, coruscating intensity in their live atmosphere, special to AFI shows.
From the first song to the last, the audience sang together with Havok to every word. No matter how much AFI has grown and changed over time, that aspect has always remained a constant. AFI concerts are a visceral experience. The screams, the tears, the bruises (even the band gets them on occasion) are a testament to that very real passion. “Let’s amend the classic story, close it so beautifully,” Havok sang during “God Called in Sick Today,” while the audience deafeningly sang the backing whoa‘s, making it clear how much A Fire Inside and their music are loved. No matter how much time passes between albums, this band is one that cannot be forgotten.
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