Twenty-six years as a band, California based AFI can still put on one of the most killer live shows one will ever see. In fact, their sets are better than ever, and on Sunday, June 18th, the band brought The Blood Tour to Sayreville, New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom to perform one of the most career-spanning sets thus far.
Setting the table for the current tour, back in January, AFI released their eponymous tenth full-length album, now mostly referred to as The Blood Album after the now-iconic blood drops adorning the album’s crimson-stained cover. AFI fans – some of the most dedicated around – helped the album make it all the way up to #5 on the Billboard charts following its release, but it is not the first time AFI has experienced chart success. In fact, AFI’s 2003 major label debut Sing the Sorrow and 2006’s Decemberunderground are certified platinum, with Decemberunderground reaching number 1 on the success of lead single “Miss Murder.” Even for those who think that they have never heard an AFI song, there is no doubt that “Miss Murder” might ring a few funeral bells.
In addition to their major label success, AFI has built up a huge fan base that has continued to grow since the band formed in Ukiah, California back in 1991. The most devout among them are known as The Despair Faction, many of whom proudly wear their AFI tattoos and travel far and wide to see the band when they come around. Wrapping up the second leg of The Blood Tour, AFI are hitting those cities that got left out of the first go ‘round, but before they could take the stage, fans were warmed up by Nothing and Souvenirs.
First up was fellow Californian’s Souvenir from Carpinteria forming back in 2011. Recently having released their second album, Posture of Apology, through Other People Records, the band was fired up to deliver a memorable opening set.
Kicking off their set with “Proof,” the opener of their newest LP, Vocalist/Guitarist Tim Riley began to charm the crowd with the band’s melodic Rock jams. Continuing the set with “Gradient,” a track from their debut record, and breezing through lead single “Roman Candle,” the band went into the slow jam “Float.” AFI Vocalist Davey Havok is featured on the recorded version of this track, giving fans unfamiliar with Souvenirs even more of an incentive to check out this band. In the spirit of Father’s Day, Riley closed the set with “4th and Holly,” saying that the song was about his father. By the end of their thirty minute set, Souvenirs had the crowd won over and ready for Nothing.
With Palermo on Guitar and Vocals, Vocalist/Guitarist Brandon Setta, Bassist Nick Bassett, and Drummer Kyle Kimball, Nothing crafted a dreamy, hazy soundscape with tracks like “Vertigo Flowers,” “A.C.D. (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder),” “Bent Nail,” and “Eaten by Worms.” The crowd was relaxed but attentive in spite of the band’s heavy songs, and Palermo noted that he knew people were there only to see AFI. While that statement may have been mostly true, Nothing still put on an excellent show well worth seeing.
With the solid opening acts done, the packed club began to buzz with anticipation for the grand finale. It had been nearly four years since AFI’s last stop at Starland Ballroom, and fans were eager to see the band again. Before AFI appeared, chants of “through our bleeding, we are one” began to fill the room. The chant originates from “Strength Through Wounding,” the intro track to the 1999 album Black Sails in the Sunset. To the joy of everyone in the crowd, once Drummer and founding member Adam Carson, Bassist Hunter Burgan, Guitarist Jade Puget, and Havok materialized on stage to wild cheers and dove right into the rarely played “Strength Through Wounding.”
Right off the bat, Burgan and Puget were flying and twirling across the stage without missing a single beat, and Havok’s untouchable stage presence demanded that every eye in the room was focused on him. Diving right into fan-favorite “This Celluloid Dream,” this fast-paced Sing the Sorrow track has only just begun being played by the band this year, so fans flung themselves toward the stage at hearing it for the first time. Following that was one of the best tracks off the Blood album, “So Beneath You.” Though the record has only been out for a few months, the crowd knew every word and screamed them right back at Havok.
The band kept the momentum going with “Beautiful Thieves” from their underrated 2009 album, Crash Love, but the real treat was when the opening cymbals and heavy guitar riff from “Malleus Maleficarum” rang through the room. It was the first time the song has been played live in over ten years, and fans practically exploded with excitement. The song got even better when Havok stepped into the crowd for the first time that night. They held him up as he lorded over them, while crowd surfers all scrambled to get as close to him as possible. The energy flying between the band and the crowd seemed as if it were the final song, but the night was only just beginning.
Next up was another rarity, a B-side from Decemberunderground, entitled “Rabbits Are Roadkill on Rt. 37.” Charming, right? Then came “Lost Souls” from 2000’s Art of Drowning, which was dedicated to one of the band’s biggest musical influences, Sick of it All. The crowd went insane for this favorite, and Havok responded in-kind with another crowd walk. Most nights he does this only once, but AFI have always treated New Jersey with even more passion and gratitude than they do at most of their other tour stops.
After “Aurelia,” Burgan and Carson left Havok and Puget alone on the stage for the stripped-down “The Leaving Song Pt. 1,” before returning to play another Art of Drowning deep cut, “Of Greetings and Goodbyes.” The set list somehow kept getting better and better with “Silver and Cold,” another crowd walk during the heavy-hitter “I Hope You Suffer,” and another fan-favorite, “Days of the Phoenix.” To close the set, AFI played new single “Snow Cats,” and, of course, “Miss Murder,” after which they filed off the stage to raucous screams and pleas for “one more song.”
As expected, AFI obliged the crowd by playing yet another Art of Drowning treasure, “6 to 8,” which Havok dedicated to his father who was present for Father’s Day, and Havok claimed he was one of the band’s biggest supporters since the beginning. Following that was another only recently brought out track from Sing the Sorrow, “Paper Airplanes (Makeshift Wings).” Fans went wild for what they expected to be the final song of the evening, but AFI surprised everyone with a second encore of “Totalimmortal,” just as they did the last time they brought down the Ballroom.
Thanking New Jersey for being such staunch and dedicated supporters of the band before diving into the crowd, Havok tried to stand in the crowd once more during the song’s break, but got swallowed up by the roiling mass for several frightening moments before finally reappearing. No matter how much they tried, the over-hyped crowd could not keep him afloat. Havok even said something along the lines pf “you’d think no one’s ever been to an AFI show before!” Watching this spectacle was both pretty funny and somewhat harrowing, but Havok managed to make it back on the stage after considerable difficulty to finish out the song without missing a beat. Then, with bows and waves, the band left the stage and fans buzzed about the incredible performance they had just been a part of.
Simply put, AFI always put on one of the best live shows, but their Sunday night stop at Starland Ballroom somehow managed to be even better than most. Each member is an incredible musician – Puget’s single guitar creates masterful sounds that many bands with multiple guitarists cannot manage, Carson’s underrated performance behind the drums keeps everyone in line, and Burgan’s bass playing chops while flying through the air are unrivaled. Of course, Havok’s vocal ability and stage presence need to be seen to be believed. Now, with The Blood Tour in the rearview mirror, get out there and catch AFI on their co-headlining tour with Circa Survive featuring support from Citizen come August.