This may be the hardest show review I’ve ever had to write. How do I write an objective, unbiased review about a band I’ve loved for over a decade? To put this into context, in high school, I had posters of AFI covering the walls of my bedroom. When I turned 18, I was convinced that I was going to get the lyrics from my favorite AFI song tattooed on my ribs. I stood in 100+ degree heat with thousands of other people in a Houston parking lot one summer for the chance to see them perform for 30 minutes at Warped Tour. As I grew older, my musical interests changed and diversified, but I never stopped loving this band. So when I found out that I would be reviewing and photographing this show, I was excited, but worried about how to write an honest and fair article.
To my professional credit, however, I haven’t loved everything they’ve put out. I was never a fan of 2009’s Crash Love. I found that it was too pop-y to connect with me the way the way older albums had. That’s why I was so thrilled when I heard 2013’s Burials for the first time. It was emotional. It was raw. It spoke of anguish and betrayal and darkness and I loved it.
The performance at the Dallas House of Blues on Mon., Jan. 13 wasn’t the first show I’ve been to on the Burials tour. I traveled 3 hours after work last year in October to see them play at The Mohawk in Austin. The Austin venue was considerably more intimate. At the time, the other Texas tour dates hadn’t been announced, so die-hard AFI fans throughout the state quickly snatched up tickets, which led to a sold out show of devotees.
Although The Mohawk was packed, there was some criticism after the show that the band hadn’t taken enough time to practice the new songs. The set was plagued by technical difficulties, and the environment felt more like a spur-of-the-moment punk show than a performance by a world-travelled band of veterans. For most, this wasn’t a bad thing, Fans loved it, and I’ve never seen more people crowd surf than I did at the Austin show. After the lights came back on, I was covered in beer and other people’s sweat- generally the mark of a good time. The general consensus was that the band simply had to stretch their wings after such a long hiatus since their last tour.
For the Dallas show, opening acts included LA-based bands Coming and Youth Code. There was a decent enough audience response to both bands, although I couldn’t help but feel that Youth Code would have been more enjoyable in a smaller industrial club better suited to dancing.
The AFI set started out with two heavy-hitters from their catalogue: “The Leaving Song Pt. II” and “Girl’s Not Grey,” both from 2003’s Sing the Sorrow. These are obvious fan favorites and the bar was set high for the rest of the night. Next up was the first new song, “I Hope You Suffer,” from Burials. Pushing aside any doubts about AFI connecting with their fans, vocalist Davey Havok jumped from the stage into the crowd, who joyfully lifted him above their heads as he continued to sing. In previous shows, Havok had a tendency to lose his belt pack during this part, but this time the stunt went off without a hitch.
After being lifted back on stage, Havok and the band went way back to their roots with “File 13” from 1996’s Very Proud of Ya. This song may not have resonated to anyone who became a fan of AFI after Sing The Sorrow, but it was a real treat for those in the audience who appreciated the band’s gritty punk rock beginnings. The next few songs were “Love Like Winter” (from 2006’s Decemberunderground), “Ever and a Day” (The Art of Drowning, 2000), and “17 Crimes” (Burials). It was clear at this point that the show wouldn’t be dwelling on new songs, and featured heavily from their extensive catalogue from prior years.
Next was “The Leaving Song” (Sing The Sorrow), which provided a surprising, but calm break in the middle of the show. Havok and guitarist Jade Puget stayed on stage while bassist Hunter Burgan and drummer Adam Carson took a break. When they returned, the show continued with “Beautiful Thieves” (Crash Love). I was a bit disappointed with this song choice- in previous shows they’ve played “A Deep Slow Panic” from Burials instead, and I was hoping to hear another new song.
“Kill Caustic” (Decemberunderground) was next and was clearly a fan favorite. Although Havok’s singing has evolved in recent years to include less screaming, it’s still exciting to hear him belt it out. The vocal ability is still very much present, even if he doesn’t enjoy it as much as he used to.
This was followed by “Heart Stops” (Burials), which, to be honest, is not my favorite song. Compared to the rest of the songs on the album, which have a very complex and layered sound, "Heart Stops" just seems minimalistic. The final 3 songs of the main set were “Miss Murder” (Decemberunderground), “The Days of the Phoenix” (The Art of Drowning), and “God Called in Sick Today” (Black Sails in the Sunset)- a great selection of older songs.
The encore had some of the best moments of the night. Playing “Just Like Heaven” (the Cure cover), “Dancing Through Sunday” (Sing The Sorrow), and “Silver and Cold” (Sing The Sorrow), these 3 songs provided a great opportunity for the crowd to sing along. Havok, always the showman, danced and strutted across the stage during “Just Like Heaven,” and Havok, Puget, and Burgan synchronized their jumps and spins during “Dancing Through Sunday” like a well-oiled machine.
Overall, this was a much cleaner show than the one in Austin a few months ago. It seems that the band has had time to practice the newer songs, and performing in a bigger and more equipped venue helped minimize any sound discrepancies or technical difficulties. The audience wasn’t as rowdy at the Dallas show, and there were less crowd surfers, but that was mainly due to the extra space available. (It’s much easier to get grabbed by a burly security guard at the House of Blues than it was at The Mohawk). I wish they had extended their set to include a few more songs from the new album, but they played a well-rounded show that left most fans feeling more than satisfied. It was clear that even though Havok may have different hair and no makeup, seeing this band live is just as exciting as it was 10 years ago. Their sound has evolved and matured, but their performance is just as exuberant and entertaining as ever.
And God bless Jade Puget for still rocking those bangs for all these years.
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