Show Review: AFI @ Sound Academy

Best Band, Worst Venue

AFI at the Sound Academy

Nov 10 2009

If there’s one word to describe AFI’s performance at Toronto’s Sound Academy, it’s “evolutionary”.  Almost two decades and eight albums into their career, this band has never stopped growing or changing.  Their progression from skate-punk to hardcore to dark synth-pop is all on display tonight.
 
With an hour left until doors open, there are already two long lineups in front of the venue.  One snakes from the doors out to the hot dog vendors who are making the most of their captive audience.  A little further down is a lineup marked for “Despair Faction Members”, the most devoted of AFI fans.  Some of them have been there since 9am in hopes of securing front and center spots against the barricades.  It’s no secret that the Sound Academy is one of the most despised venues in the city, its inconvenient location and narrow stage area being the biggest complaints.  This has no bearing on turnout, however, as the place is full within minutes of the floodgates being opened.
 
Gallows, a five-piece English hardcore band, starts the night off.  A few songs in, lead singer Frank Carter in all his petite ginger glory, launches himself over the barricade to perform on the floor. Besides the few hardcore dancers and fans that swarm his microphone to sing along, most people stay on the outskirts.  This could be the notorious Toronto  indifference, or due to the large percentage of teenage girls in attendance.  However, Frank doesn’t give up, commanding a giant human pyramid be built in the center of the pit.  About twenty fans pull it off, albeit not very well.  Frank’s bold ambition to perform amongst the masses proves somewhat disastrous, “Did someone vomit on me?” he asks, amused, while examining his clothes. “I smell like salsa, that’s fucking disgusting!” Though Gallows don’t receive as much appreciation from Toronto as they should, they definitely dole it out.  Frank sings the praises of everyone on the tour right down to the bus driver’s dog, adding “they don’t get paid nearly as much as they should either.”
 
The crowd’s excitement is almost palpable when AFI’s set finally begins.  The lights flash blue and gold while the first tones of Crash Love’s opener ‘Torch Song’ permeate the room.  One by one, Adam Carson (drums), Hunter Burgan (bass), Jade Puget (guitar) and finally Davey Havok (vocals) appear on stage. “I’d tear out my eyes for you my dear.  Anything!” the crowd cries, hands outstretched to Havok who teeters on the stage’s edge, reaching back.  A true performer, influenced by Freddie Mercury and Perry Farrell, Davey never stays still.  Spinning, kicking and dancing (sometimes spastically) across the stage, serenading every part of the audience, even climbing the speaker rack to bring ‘Death of Seasons’ to an epic screaming finish, it’s clear that these guys are having as much fun as we are.  Davey remarks that it’s much nicer to be playing under a roof and out of the rain and mud, unlike at Edgefest in June. “Maybe my guitar will actually work tonight” Jade adds, referring to the technical difficulties they had at the festival.
 
Most of the set consists of tracks from 2003’s Sing the Sorrow forward.  In fact, both 1999’s Black Sails in the Sunset and 2000’s The Art of Drowning, arguably their best albums, are completely left out.  As sort of a trade-off, AFI plays two very old songs that never see the light of day, concert-wise.  “Pretend like you know it” Davey quips as he launches into ‘Triple Zero’ from 1997’s Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes, which incites mayhem among the older fans in the crowd.  A few songs later, he playfully introduces the “audience participation” portion of the evening, prompting us to decide between ‘Love Is a Many Splendored Thing‘ and ‘This Secret Ninja’ from 1996’s Very Proud of Ya.  A lot of fans already saw the ancient ‘Love Is a Many Splendored Thing at Edgefest, so it’s no surprise that the latter wins.
 
Midway through the set, Jade and Davey are left on stage to perform the haunting and emotional ‘Leaving Song’.  They’re rejoined by Hunter and Adam (playing shaker) for ‘On the Arrow’, a Decemberunderground B-side.  Last in the trio of slower songs is ‘Okay, I Feel Better Now’ from Crash Love, which turns into a sing-along.  Even though the album has been out for little over a month, its lyrics are on everyone’s lips.  AFI is known for filling their songs with “woahs” and “ohs” which transform audiences into choirs.  This is demonstrated during ‘Beautiful Thieves’ when the music pauses for a moment, golden light fills the room and Davey throws his arm in the air, conducting the cries of the entire crowd.  It sends chills up my spine.
 
The set ends with their second-last single, ‘Love Like Winter’ and a “thank you Toronto!” Dying for an encore, half the crowd begins chanting “A.F.I! A.F.I!” while the more experienced half chants, “Through our bleeding, we are one!” the battle cry from Black Sails in the Sunset.  It’s a giant mess, excitement uniting old and new fans. Traditionally, the night should end with ‘God Called in Sick Today’ and Davey’s signature crowd-walk.  However, in the name of evolution, tonight’s show is concluded with ‘Silver and Cold’.
 
Though AFI’s performance is passionate and nearly flawless, I am a little put off by the omission of my favourite albums and the single-heavy set list.  Knowing how modest these guys are, I think they underestimate how many fans have stuck around since their earlier days and still want to hear older material in concert.  For the sake of devoted fans that have yet to see them on this tour, I hope that AFI does some self-realization exercises soon.
 
(Original Publication: Bring Back the Boom Box Magazine- November 16, 2009)

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About J2

What happens when you're a wordsy music aficionado who works for NXNE, CMW, HPX, Olio Music Festival, The JUNOs and Polaris Music Prize? You spend all of your free time blogging about it... Follow on Twitter if you're so inclined: @HearPlugged

Posted on February 24, 2011, in Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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