NEW YORK — It’s taken 15 years and seven albums for AFI to scratch their way to the mainstream. And frontman Davey Havok is a man who’s clearly enjoying the ride.
AFI delivered an explosive, bristling set at the Roseland Ballroom Thursday night, honoring their hardcore past and providing an eclectic sampling of new cuts as well. They had every reason to be so enthusiastic — just two weeks earlier, their ambitious, polished Decemberunderground debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart (see “AFI Score First Billboard #1; Ice Cube And Yung Joc Open Big” ).
Screams of sheer adulation greeted the raising of AFI’s banner as it was lofted high above Adam Carson’s soon-to-be-pummeled drum kit. A vociferous roar welcomed the androgynous Havok when the singer, decked out in extra-thick mascara, white suspenders over a black dress shirt and matching black pants and gloves, took his place at the front of the stage, looking like this generation’s most convincing David Bowie impersonator.
“Every day we’re not here, I look forward to being here,” the singer said before guiding the adoring crowd through Decemberunderground’s romantic opener, “Prelude 12/21,” then ripping through the huge-sounding, chant-overloaded mayhem of “The Leaving Song, Pt. 2” and the full-on onslaught of “Dancing Through Sunday,” both from 2003’s Sing the Sorrow.
Through numbers like “Ever and a Day” — from 2000’s The Art of Drowning — the Cure-approximating “The Killing Lights” and “Silver and Cold,” the entire audience undulated to and fro, with rabid circle pits sprouting up. Meanwhile Havok, guitarist Jade Puget and bassist Hunter Burgan scurried back and forth, leaping on top of the amps that were scattered across the cluttered stage. They collided with — and bounced off — one another intermittently, like gothic bumper cars.
Havok alternated piercing guttural snarls with harmonic melodies through “Kill Caustic” and “Love Like Winter,” which inspired a cell-phone-in-the-air salute. They also ripped into “A Single Second” — from 1997’s Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes, a shredding hardcore track Havok dedicated to Sick of It All — and “Miss Murder,” the ubiquitous first single from Decemberunderground.
Following “The Days of the Phoenix,” “Girl’s Not Grey” and “Totalimmortal,” AFI headed backstage for just a few seconds before emerging for the night’s monstrous closers: Sing the Sorrow’s “Death of Seasons” and “God Called in Sick Today,” from 1999’s Black Sails in the Sunset. Before finally retreating to the dressing room, a sweat-drenched Havok stood before the thousands of doting fans, smiling and mouthing “thank you” and blowing kiss after kiss after kiss.
There wasn’t so much love in the air for openers Dillinger Escape Plan, though. The devoted members of AFI’s Despair Faction didn’t quite know what to make of the unclassifiable metal maniacs, who unleashed auditory hell upon the crowd.
For more than three minutes, strapping frontman Greg Puciato was nowhere to be found onstage, making it seem like the remaining band was an instrumental fourpiece. But the folks upstairs in the venue’s VIP area, sipping their drinks at a leisurely pace, knew exactly where Puciato was. As the tips of his sneakers dangled over the mezzanine’s ridge, he started wrathfully barking again as he looked out over the petrified crowd.
It seemed he was mulling the odds he’d break his neck should he take a plunge into the audience. Then, midway through a furiously chaotic “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants,” security guards raced toward Puciato, latched onto one of his sinewy arms and yanked him, like a rag doll, off the railing’s edge. He re-emerged onstage just as the song — like most Dillinger tunes — came to its sudden, almost-too-abrupt climax.
“The security guards are pissed,” he told the crowd, who were still awe-stricken by Dillinger’s frenzied, guitar-flailing performance. When the progressive metallers blasted into “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things,” Puciato announced, “This next song goes out to my friend the security guard — I didn’t catch his name.”
Nor did he blow him any kisses.
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