ATHENS, Georgia — Frankly, it would have been all too easy for Papa Roach to blow off the fifth show of their Raid the Nation Tour.
Performing to a noticeably less-than-full house on Thursday at the 40 Watt Club (after being moved from the much larger Classic Center), the band could have bugged out at the size of the crowd, played a half-assed gig and saved its energy for the following night’s concert in Atlanta. But the P-Roach refused to succumb.
Though there were no easy answers for the lack of a sellout (Was it the $22.50 ticket price? The school night drop-off in a college town?), Papa Roach know one thing for sure: Despite selling 2.8 million copies of their major-label debut, Infest, their career longevity will be secured via live shows rather than hit singles. Just ask the Stones or Phish or Metallica.
Prior to the concert, Papa Roach frontman Coby Dick did his best impression of Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan as he blamed slow ticket sales on a lack of U.S. publicity afforded the band during its recent European tour.
“We kind of got forgot about by our label [DreamWorks] while we were gone,” Dick said. “So, when we came back it was like, ’Hey, we’re still on your record label and you’re supposed to be promoting us. We’ve got this tour going on.’ So now we’re just out here doing it, plugging away. America can be fickle sometimes; you have to constantly be out and be seen.”
P-Roach drummer Dave Buckner said that despite high-profile touring stints with the likes of Eminem and Limp Bizkit, the group hasn’t had much of a chance to build a solid fanbase outside California through its stage shows.
“Everything happened so fast last year with the album that the touring aspect of our career didn’t have time to catch up with all the radio and video attention,” Buckner said.
“This time around we’re going through a lot of areas that we haven’t been to yet,” Dick added. “So even though we’re big in a lot of the major cities, we’ve never been to Athens, Georgia, and we’ve never been to Panama City, Florida. The whole Raid the Nation tour is really about digging in deep and reaching out to all markets everywhere in the country.”
Raid the Nation has also been affected by a lineup shuffle: Orgy, who were supposed to play between openers Alien Ant Farm and headliners Papa Roach, bailed from the outing less than a week before the tour’s launch after guitarist Amir Derakh came down with mononucleosis.
Darwin’s Waiting Room, a last-minute replacement act from Miami, got the evening off the ground with an impressively raucous performance that gave the early concertgoers plenty to thrash about, even if their tunes aren’t too highly evolved from their obviously Limp Bizkit-influenced origins.
Sporting a double-frontman combo of blond-haired Jabe and black-dreadlocked Grimm — think Incubus meet White Zombie — DWR pimped and punched their way through a half-hour set highlighted by a pair of original songs, “Spent” and “Sometimes It Happens Like This,” along with a crowd-pleasing rip through Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.”
While not as overtly hungry for audience attention as Darwin’s Waiting Room,
Alien Ant Farm — good friends of headliners Papa Roach — also have plenty at stake with their Raid the Nation tour slot, the group’s first major gig since the release of its buzz-making new album, ANThology.
Ant Farm singer Dryden Mitchell appeared slightly nervous as he peered out into the then half-capacity crowd in his plaid, short-sleeved skater shirt and jokingly confessed, “I am the new and improved nerd of rock, although rock nerds are a dime a dozen these days.”
The California four-piece then built a musical hill of hard rock that channeled the thunderous bottom end of AC/DC (“Whisper”) with the relentless rhythms of Ministry (“Wish”). Alien Ant Farm also get credit for being the first to harvest and offer up a ballad, “Attitude,” although Dryden hurriedly apologized to the crowd before and after the tune for playing such a “mellow” song.
By the end of Alien Ant Farm’s set, which closed with a playful yet spirited reading of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”, Dryden had managed to loosen up quite a bit. He even flaunted a few “Saturday Night Fever” disco moves after catching a glimpse of a disco ball dangling from the 40 Watt ceiling.
Shortly after Alien Ant Farm exited the stage, the concertgoers made it clear whom they had really shelled out their ducats to see, erupting into a “Papa Roach! Papa Roach!” chant as other equally restless natives chastised the road crew for taking too long with the set changeover.
A few minutes later, the natives were appeased: The stage was bathed in a sea of red light as guitarist Jerry Horton, bassist Tobin Esperance and drummer Buckner took their positions and erupted into “Blood Brothers” while Dick bounded in and went straight for the lip of the stage, leaning out into the surging throng.
Waves of P-Roach’s tight, groove-friendly tunes quickly swept over the audience, encouraging an almost constant stream of stage divers to take the plunge by the beginning of the second song, “Between Angels and Insects”.
Papa Roach’s no-frills, back-to-basics approach seemed a welcome relief from their occasionally silly and sophomoric high jinks offstage. The group even managed to convey the A-B-C’s of hard rock to a 3-year-old girl (how the hell did she get in?) who was hopping around in rock joy as they played “Infest.”
Dick, who surfed into the crowd whenever he had a spare bridge or chorus, proved himself a more than capable big-tent rock and roll emcee, pouring limitless intensity into his highly personal songs, usually with enough passion and zeal to compensate for his occasionally pedestrian lyrics. During “Binge,” the frontman didn’t miss a beat or complain a bit when he was accidentally kicked in the face by one wayward crowd surfer.
After breaking out the beer bong — undoubtedly an all-too-common sight for many of the frat brothers in attendance — for the ska-tinged “Tightrope,” Dick went into showmanship overdrive by cartwheeling into the mosh pit during “Dead Cell” and rapping the mic against his forehead in lyrical punctuation. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Dicky Barrett would have been proud.
P-Roach kept in step with the show’s cover-friendly theme and made new friends with their romp through Faith No More’s “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.” Dick, Horton and Esperance then tossed off a few heavy-metal synchronized head bobs before capping off the evening with “Broken Homes,” “Walking Through Barbed Wire” and “Last Resort”.
“This energy that we create makes us one,” Dick evangelically told the crowd before launching into “Last Resort.” “Thank you for helping create that energy and being a part of Papa Roach.”