MILWAUKEE— Since the success of "Girl's Not Grey," AFI have become a band at a crossroads, facing a dilemma as old as punk rock itself: They can keep trying to reach a bigger audience by letting their music evolve, thus potentially opening themselves up to cries of "sellouts!" from the fans who knew 'em way back when. Or they can hide behind their hardcore cred and watch their music wither as they hold on to their original fanbase.
As they proved at the Rave on Tuesday night, they can actually have it both ways. In a 75-minute set that emphasized material from Sing the Sorrow and The Art of Drowning, but didn't ignore the earlier tunes that endeared them to the hardcore set, AFI demonstrated all the earmarks of a band with real superstar potential while maintaining the fan connection that found them welcome on this year's Warped Tour. More often than not, frontman Davey Havok let the crowd sing the lyrics for him, whether on hits like "The Leaving Song , Pt. 2" or older material like the bitter "Cruise Control."
It was the 11th date on the band's Death of Fall Tour, with opening sets by Bleeding Through and Hot Water Music (see "Next Up For AFI: New Single, Electronic Side Project, Fall Tour").
The Butch Vig-produced Sing the Sorrow let Havok dig deeper into his goth tendencies, lending layers of drama and dynamics to the band's established sound; how many other punk bands sing songs with Latin titles like the show opener, "Miseria Cantare - The Beginning"? With purple lights bathing both the audience and the stage, a tape of the song's gloomy keyboard introduction swelled as Havok took the stage dressed in a white tank top, suspenders and black trousers, his trademark long black locks framing a face made up in white, mascara and black lipstick. The crowd took over the chant of "You are one of us" from the get-go, led by Havok, who cut a commanding figure as he stood atop his vocal monitor, engaging in some Roger Daltrey-style microphone twirling.
If such a rock star turn is decidedly un-punk, the crowd of just under 1,500 didn't seem to mind. Led by Jade Puget's guitar riffing, which featured liberal use of harmonics and even the occasional pseudo-classical solo, AFI were exceptionally tight. "Bleed Black" began with a slow guitar strum and built into an anthemic onslaught anchored by bassist Hunter and drummer Adam Carson.
AFI dug deep into their catalog for "Cruise Control" off of 1996's Very Proud of Ya, and just as many in the audience sang along to its obscenity-laden chorus as to their latest single, "The Leaving Song, Pt. 2" (see "AFI Aim To Correct First Impressions With 'Leaving Song' "). Halfway through the latter, Havok did a somersault flip off the stage and into the crowd, landing on his back on top of dozens of outstretched hands.
When he returned to the stage shoeless, Havok revealed that despite AFI's sound and his goth getup, he's still more adorable than antagonistic. "Who steals a f---ing shoe? For future reference, anyone who takes a shoe is a poseur," he laughed. "Anybody else who wants to take other people's stuff can feel free to leave right now." (The missing footwear reappeared during "Silver and Cold.")
Havok let the crowd choose the next song, with "This Celluloid Dream" narrowly beating out "No Poetic Device" off of the band's 1999 release, Black Sails in Sunset. They closed the regular set with "Girl's Not Grey," delivered with far more fury than is evident on the recorded version, ending with Puget playing atop Carson's amplifier.
The show ended with a two-song encore of "Death of Seasons," which Havok sang much of crouched in front of the drum riser, and "God Called in Sick Today," two songs that showcased both the band's hardcore and goth tendencies. By not giving in to the phony "purist vs. sellout" dichotomy, AFI have proven themselves worthy of both chart success and longtime fan devotion.
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