As I left for the Aragon Ballroom on Sunday afternoon, October 5, I was in one of those depressed, angsty sort of moodsangry at the world, frustrated with myself. It turned out to be the perfect mood for an AFI concert.
I arrived at the venue half an hour before the doors opened, and was amazed at the line from the entrance, which contained a multitude of preteen girls, lots of fishnets, an inordinate number of Hot Topic black parachute pants, and even more parental figures.
Needless to say, I was somewhat skeptical about the quality of the show I was about to see. I mean, when a good thirty-five percent of the crowd is wearing the band's t-shirt, one has to wonder about the boy-band potential, no matter how "punk" the band might appear to be. I expected sing-a-longs and screams of "I love you, Davey!"
I got at least a little more than I expected.
Opening band Bleeding Through was a disappointment. Lead singer Brandan Schieppati seemed an unfortunate cross between Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath, Vin Diesel, and any one of those ubiquitous, growling, Swedish death-metal frontmen. Middle set Hot Water Music didn't live up to its amazing studio presence, due perhaps to the poor acoustics of the Aragon, as well as the lackluster reaction from AFI's anxiously salivating fans. Some songs, however, like "Wayfarer," were a welcome blast of hardcore energy, even if they weren't well-received.
As I waited, rather uncomfortably, with a few thousand others for AFIalso known as A Fire Insideto take the stage, I reflected on how far the band had come from its days as a garage band in Ukiah, California in the early 90's. The members of the band have developed a unique lyrical and musical style over several albums, and their fan base has grown with them, attracted perhaps by the communicable energy of their live shows and their obvious passion for their chosen art.
I've been to a decent number of concerts in my day, but I've never experienced quite the cult atmosphere created by AFI's devoted following. Waiting for the band to arrive, fans began to chant, "We are one through our bleeding." What this meant, I wasn't quite sure, but that was when things got a little creepy. My skepticism from earlier in the evening returned.
And then AFI took the stage. Drummer Adam Carson's steady beat ignited the crowd into a screaming, chanting frenzy that began surging towards the glowing red stage. Beginning with "Miseria Cantare (The Beginning)," the lead track off the band's most recent album Sing the Sorrow, the band immediately connected with its audience, a mass of fist-pumping and shouting fans that nearly overwhelmed the music.
Unlikely sex symbol/lead singer Davey Havok pandered to the female-filled crowd with a repertoire of dramatic poses, his thin frame accentuated by his close-fitting black garb and long black hair. Guitarist Jade Puget and bassist Hunter, similarly attired, flailed away at their instruments on either side of Havok.
Though the band played many dark, angry-yet-melodic songs from the latest album, it still showed diversity by drawing on less introspective material from its past ten years of existence. Case in point: "Cruise Control," a ditty from 1996's Very Proud of Ya album, a song whose main chorus consists of, "I don't wanna fuck you/So fuck you." This was followed, though, by a slow-paced rendition of "Morning Star," an insightful look at life's worth, "Am I the star beneath the stairs?/Am I a ghost upon the stage?/Am I your anything?"
The night had its share of ups and downs: melody followed by discord, harmonized voices trailed by incomprehensible growls. Havok's frenetic dancing was broken intermittently by virtually motionless stretches at the mic, his voice hovering alone above the engrossed crowd.
Perhaps the most impressive part of AFI's performance was the sheer energy transmitted between artist and crowd. The music, on its own, is hardly notable, a catchy combination of emo-goth lyrics and ear-pleasing guitar. But the obvious enthusiasm and earnestness of the band, combined with a young crowd hanging on its every chord and making each scream their own, transformed a simple rock concert into something akin to a spiritual experience.
The cynic in me interjects that what I felt could have been attributed to those red lights, pagan chants, and that unique variety of mosh which sacrifices any semblance of human dignity. By show's end, however, I was a filthy, sopping-wet, sweaty mess, one among the mass of screaming humanity. And that initially chanted verse finally made the tiniest bit of sense. Through their sorrow and their pain, their contorted and confused teenage anxieties, AFI and its fans still manage to create a sense of camaraderiea desperately needed commodity for those lost teenage souls.