Over the course of their almost twenty year career, Avenged Sevenfold has enjoyed a virtual fairy tale existence. Formed in 1999 by high school chums, the band has enjoyed practically nonstop success, despite a near breakup following the death of their original drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan in 2010. Their massive world tour, promoting ambitious concept album The Stage, has been another success for the SoCal band, even incorporating multiple projection screens for a show designed in part by the creative team behind Cirque du Soleil. They brought their extravaganza to Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena Tuesday night, and thousands braved the below-freezing temperatures to catch the show, featuring opening bands Breaking Benjamin and Bullet For My Valentine.
Officially formed in 2003 (following a name change and slight shift in musical direction) in Bridgend, Wales, Bullet For My Valentine has had their ups and downs over the years, seemingly stuck on the support circuit for bigger bands. Due in part to the fact that they followed up a strong debut album, 2005’s The Poison, with a string of arguably weaker ones, they have constantly been chasing the dragon that is their former buzz and higher profile ever since.
Playing a smattering of songs from their five album discography, BFMV sounded tight and well-rehearsed to the point of sounding almost a little bored with the proceedings. Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Matt Tuck tried in vain to rile the crowd up at one point, and seemed to simply shrug it off when the crowd didn’t react as he’d hoped. As someone who’d never heard anything from the band before, I thought they sounded fine—not great, but I liked their heavier songs and riffs quite well. Well enough that I looked them up the next morning and listened to some of their stuff. They definitely have their hits and misses, but honestly I’m surprised they’re still struggling to ditch the stigma of “eternal opening act.” In my opinion, they’d do well to headline a tour at more intimate venues, where they can really shine instead of serving as a warm up.
Next on the bill was Pennsylvania’s Breaking Benjamin, a band that seemed to have almost as much buzz among the crowd as the headliners. Over the course of an eleven song, hour-plus set, the band pleased the masses, pulling from five albums of their six album history (neglecting the entirety of their debut, 2002’s Saturate).
Despite the namesake of the band, Benjamin Burnley, being the only remaining original member, Breaking Benjamin’s sound has never deviated much from their hard rock/alternative metal origins since forming in 1999, primarily due to Burnley being the principal songwriter. This accounted for a consistent set, from the opening strains of crowd pleaser “So Cold” to the final notes their former number one single “The Diary of Jane”, with the only real break from their signature sound being when Burnley had a little fun with a light saber (with sound effects!) before launching into a cover medley of the Imperial March from Star Wars, followed by Schism by Tool, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Walk by Pantera.
The band sounded good and the crowd was appreciative, although it felt a bit like it was just another show for the boys. I blame the rigors of playing night after night in the rather impersonal setting of an arena, rather than the more closed quarters of a club or smaller amphitheater. I couldn’t help but think that if Breaking Benjamin played a headlining show somewhere more intimate, say, our fair city’s legendary Cotillion Ballroom, they would have a frenzied crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. Hopefully they return to Wichita someday and prove me right.
During the intermission, classic rock played over the P.A. and roadies got busy setting up while the crowd buzzed with anxious electricity waiting for A7X. When the lights went down in the middle of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, the crowd erupted with approval and roared when the multiple large projection screens across the stage lit up with a deep space motif. After a brief animated intro on the screens, lead guitarist Synyster Gates took the stage to kick the show off with the intro to their current album’s title track, The Stage.
From there, the band launched into a nonstop two hour set, with a nice balance between material from The Stage and fan favorites. As vocalist M Shadows made a note of pointing out, the band was on the brink of celebrating their 20th anniversary, and to blow through their musical history any faster would be almost impossible, not to mention a disservice to the fans who had paid their hard-earned money and braved the cold to see the show.
All the songs from The Stage had accompanying videos that were mesmerizing and at times bordering on psychedelic—presumably thanks to the aforementioned Cirque du Soleil creative team. There was also a large inflatable spaceman floating above the stage during the astronaut-themed Higher.
A highlight for me was the one-two punch of the title track to 2010’s Nightmare, followed by personal favorite track from The Stage, God Damn, both of which were a nice showcase for their newest member, ex-Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman. The pace seemed to slow after that, grinding almost to a halt during the guys’ cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, during which M Shadows explained that, after being introduced to rock n’ roll as a kid by Guns ‘n’ Roses and Nirvana, hearing Pink Floyd changed his life, making the song especially meaningful to him. Shadows’ vocals excelled on the cover, perhaps because it was the only song in the set where the vocalist didn’t have to push his voice to the brink of failing him. The band then played their breakout hit from 2005, Bat Country, before a three song encore to end the night.
Like the two bands before them, Avenged Sevenfold sounded tight and polished and yet seemed to lack the enthusiasm and energy one looks for at a big rock show. It felt like M Shadows banter between songs was stale and rehashed, simply inserting the name of the city he was in where appropriate. Even when he claimed to have stayed in Wichita during the band’s two day break (the other members apparently flew home to watch the Super Bowl), his compliments about the town seemed generic, and I wondered if his comments were genuine.
As with Breaking Benjamin, I found myself wondering if Avenged Sevenfold wouldn’t benefit from playing smaller venues, due to the increased energy that usually comes with playing more intimate rooms. Then again, I know several thousand people, including three enthusiastically headbanging teenagers in front of me on the floor of the arena, who would vehemently disagree.