Creed Set Off The Pyro, Take Fans Higher At Tour Opener

Chart-topping band hitting their live stride, judging by two-hour set.

ATLANTA — When Creed last toured in the fall of 2000, the Tallahassee, Florida, group was well on its way to becoming the biggest band in America. Now, with the success of Weathered cementing their status on the rock and roll acropolis, it would seem to be ideal time for them to rest on their laurels and coast.

At the opening of the band's 2002 tour on Wednesday night, however, the core Creed trio of frontman Scott Stapp, guitarist Mark Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips seemed to be aware of how crucial this outing truly is. Would they falter, or — as their own song goes — could they take it even higher?

Judging by their 19-song, almost two-hour set, they could.

Taking to the stage as blue and purple lights circled their gear — and without a word — Creed immediately ripped through the lead track off Weathered, "Bullets," as a series of (seemingly Metallica-inspired) pyrotechnic explosions and swirling firecrackers helped punctuate Tremonti's double-barrelled riffs.

Decked out in a striped gold and gray shirt and black leather pants, Stapp perched himself on a platform behind the drum riser for the opening lyrics to "Freedom Fighter," a coarse rocker whose quasi-religious sentiment has picked up added depth with the current war on terrorism. While Creed are certainly no Rage Against the Machine, there was something noticeably combative and surprisingly dark in their reading of the song, particularly as Stapp leaned into the chorus: "I'm just a freedom fighter/ No remorse/ Raging on in holy war/ Soon there'll come a day/ When you're face to face with me."

Following the song, Stapp made his first comments to the crowd, acknowledging the tour's kickoff on Southern soil. "It's good to be back on tour, and it's nice to start things off here," Stapp said as the band dipped into 1999's Human Clay for a fervid reading of "What If."

As much attention as Stapp commands during Creed's live show, not to be outdone was guitarist Tremonti, whose imposing figure, muscle T-shirt and black jeans made him a dead ringer for either Henry Rollins or James Hetfield's younger brother. His resemblance to hard rock vets aside, Tremonti's playing style seemed more akin to that of U2's the Edge circa the Rattle & Hum tour, as the Creed axeman effortlessly tossed out sheets of guitar and layers of riffs that sounded as if they'd require two or three different players to replicate.

Tremonti was particularly impressive on several of the newer tunes, including "Signs" and "Who's Got My Back?," the latter of which Creed turned into an epic, 10-minute tour de force that managed to evoke stadium bands such as post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd and even Slash-era Guns N' Roses.

Creed concentrated much of the evening's set list on newer material, playing 10 of Weathered's 11 tracks (the sole omission being the album's closer, "Lullaby"). But when you've scored as many hit singles as Creed have, it becomes very easy to drop in the crowd-pleasers to make the mix more listener-friendly. The band was more than happy to oblige, rolling out four selections from their 1997 debut, My Own Prison, and five tunes total from Human Clay.

After telling the crowd, "We need to get it loud in here. We need to hear you," Stapp and Tremonti scorched through a trio of older tunes — "My Own Prison," "Say I" and "Torn" — before Stapp took up a guitar to strum a few chords on another key Weathered song, "Stand Here With Me," which the singer dedicated to the fans and said was "written about all the people who've been with us from the beginning." But the real highlight of Stapp's brief guitar work was that it provided Tremonti the freedom to pull back from his drilling rhythm work to lay down a crystalline guitar lead that got lighters lifted into the air.

Despite the presence of several vintage Creed tracks during the show, the band admitted that it almost chose to sidestep one of its most popular songs, as Stapp introduced "With Arms Wide Open" by explaining, "We didn't know if we were going to play this one tonight, 'cause we figured everyone's heard this [enough]. But then again, we'd hear about it if we didn't [do it]."

Creed avoided such missteps and miscalculations during the concert, even if it was obvious they were still working on certain aspects of the showmanship — particularly with the coordination of several Kiss-like pyrotechnic displays. The only noticeable gaffe of the evening came at the close of the regular set, when a flash pot located behind the stage caught fire during an over-the-top round of sparklers, explosions and fireworks that gave "What's This Life For" an ending as cacophonous as the 1812 Overture.

After stagehands broke out the fire extinguisher to douse the smoldering gear, Creed returned to the stage and Stapp praised the crowd for helping them through the first-night jitters.

"Thank you so much," Stapp told the audience. "We were so nervous after this past year, but this has been great." Creed wrapped the evening via the triple combination of "Don't Stop Dancing," "Higher" and "My Sacrifice," with Stapp prefacing the final two songs by prompting his guitarist, "Well, let's take it, Tremonti. Let's do it."

While only time will tell if Creed are capable of maintaining their pitched level of energy and verve over the next several tours (and years), the Atlanta crowd left confident that they had seen a band that had hit its live stride.

"It's always great to see the first show of a big tour like this," noted Danny Copeland, 23, of Augusta, Georgia. "It may not be the best show in terms of the playing, but it's usually the most spontaneous, and that makes it one of the most truthful."

A pair of rather perfunctory opening sets from Virgos (the band fronted by Creed's current bassist, Brett Hestla, who is pulling double-duty on the tour) and Tantric failed to get much of a rise from the sold-out Philips Arena crowd. While the audience cheered for a pair of Tantric's familiar singles, "Breakdown" and "Mourning," the Louisville, Kentucky, group's 45-minute set was undercut by a muddy sound mix that distorted much of the rhythm guitar and bass into a single dull thud.

The set list for the opening night of Creed's 2002 Weathered tour:

  • "Bullets"

  • "Freedom Fighter"

  • "What If"

  • "Signs"

  • "My Own Prison"

  • "Say I"

  • "Torn"

  • "Who's Got My Back?"

  • "One Last Breath"

  • "Faceless Man"

  • "Weathered"

  • "Stand Here With Me"

  • "Hide"

  • "With Arms Wide Open"

  • "One"

  • "What's This Life For"

Encore:

  • "Don't Stop Dancing"

  • "Higher"

  • "My Sacrifice"

For a feature interview with Creed, check out "Creed: Multiplatinum Underdogs."