The fans and I were lulled into a false sense of security by what we thought was Mother Nature’s cooling rain. We were completely fooled. Florida in August is sweltering, and while the boys from Vegas were playing their hearts out, fans, photographers and staff were really feeling the effects of a steam room. That did nothing to dampen the spirits of all who attended the over sold show. Artists, other industry people and fans have been crying over what they see as the dying music industry, but the truth is, if you put together a strong line up of true entertainers who interact with the crowd with high energy, then fans will show up.
Doc Coyle, the self-described “new age, heavy metal, band whore” seems to have found his place at lead guitar and backing vocals along side Tommy Vext: lead vocals, Chris Cain: rhythm guitar, Kyle Konkiel: bass guitar, backing vocals, and John Boecklin: drums, percussion in Bad Wolves. They are getting a great reception on this tour from press and crows alike. It is a solid in your face act with great power behind them.
Nothing More always delivers a fascinating show. So much energy and their odd visually stunning contraptions are a joy to watch. Musically they are very talented and dedicated to putting on a great show. As always, Jonny Hawkins performed shoeless and shirtless to the delight of many in the audience. When I asked previously why he comes out on stage that way, the guitarist: Mark Vollelunga commented “ We told him it would be stupid if he came out and then took his shirt off, so he had to start with it off”. If ever there were a rock and roll caveman I think he wins the title. His vocals are still very strong despite the nearly endless touring of the last few years. I feel sure we will see them as headliners on a good self-supporting headlining tour soon.
Breaking Benjamin has certainly changed their stage presence since the first time I saw them. Ben is looking great. They make use of their stage and have some very nice visual effects as well. Possibly one of the most touching moments was when Ben brought many children from the audience up on stage to join him for a song. He knelt to speak to one young man who needed the assistance of a walker and after the boy hugged him he turned around wiping tears from his eyes. He wasn’t the only one. When the Rockstar cries, it is over for the rest of us. Breaking Benjamin played a rather long set going from 8 PM to nearly 9:20PM. They were so good they left fans wanting more.
By the time Five Finger Death Punch made it to the stage, it was still hot. Florida in August, it was 9:45 PM and still nearly 85 degrees and incredibly humid. Fans were still rocking and overwhelmingly loud despite their somewhat discomfort. No fans are more passionate than Five Finger Death Punch fans. In a recent press release Zoltan Balthory was quoted as saying “We have an extremely loyal travel-to-the-end of the world die-hard fan base”. He’s not wrong. Fans are rabid about their FFDP, and wear the colors with pride. They are also an extremely magnanimous audience to play in front of for other acts. They never let their spirit get low, and even in the heat, and made each feel loved and welcome. Of course, acts such as Bad Wolves, Nothing More and co-headliners Breaking Benjamin were so strong, it is difficult for anyone to argue this was not a golden ticket show. It has been a difficult road for FFDP with rumors, breakups, makeups and possible lawsuits, but it seems they are all in a great place mentally, physically and musically. I say this, as flattery for them didn’t come easy for me at first. Some of the most familiar images of Ivan were melt downs: Three songs into a set at Memphis in May a few years back and the most memorable one last summer when he quit forcing a replacement while he entered rehab, All I had ever seen of him was not a nice guy. It has often been difficult for me to write fairly about artists who do not seem friendly and kind to their band mates and fans. There are two things which turned this around for me. The first was the availability of interviews with both Zoltan and Chris, who are frequently in the public eye, and a chance meeting with Ivan himself at Carolina Rebellion. I walked around the almost empty press tent and there he was. Laughing and smiling chatting to anyone who spoke to him. He ventured into my area we ctalked for a little while, took some adorable photos, and then he won my heart by facetiming a couple of my colleague’s kids. He was nothing of his past and a wonderful human being. Suddenly, I became more willing to attend more shows and focus on stories about them. Which is what lead me to cover their show this time.
Musically you cannot ask for a tighter band. The stage design, the pyro, the lights, sound, and fog had some of the best effects I’ve seen in a while. A visually appealing show and much thought went into the design. Whatever conflicts they may have had in the past seems millennia away compared to the unity and smiles on the stage this evening. The roars from the crowd was deafening, and seemed to feed the enthusiasm on stage and vice versa, creating a kinetic positive energy field around the venue. Everyone was smiling, enjoying, and in some cases dancing. That is something that has been lacking in live music of late and quite possibly one of the reasons many do not purchase tickets. So, what set them apart? None of the members are in the same place on stage for long, they are constantly smiling, and they make eye contact and interact often with fans. This keeps everyone interested.
I have been to quite a few shows lately where members are so stoic it almost feels as if I am watching a tv show and I lose interest quickly. I could watch all four of these bands play all night. Live music was alive and well in Tampa, and the bar of expectations of shows has been raised. This show is a do not miss. ( If you can still get tickets, that is.) If not, do not fear. The new dates for fall have been announced and it appears to be larger venues. See Below for dates.
Photos and Story by Belinda Glass Reedy: The Metallicougar
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