In metal circles, Volbeat has become a household name. The band is loaded with metal chops and yet concurrently appeals to genres outside just their home base. The crowds that gather to see the band perform their art range in age and fandom, covering a wide spectrum of musical taste and appreciation. A Volbeat show has practically become an affirming event – patrons are there to see great music and have a great time, in a shockingly well-behaved fashion, which isn’t unwelcome.
The gathered masses were first greeted by Digital Summer, the Phoenix based rock band that captures immediate headlines by the presence of their thirteen year old drummer, Austin Rios. Let me tell you, that kid is better at drums at age thirteen than I am at anything at thirty.
Digital Summer is fully capable of winning over every crowd they encounter through the constant, honest effort they impart into their performance. Every measure is a full-force exhortation, a recitation of the dedication it takes to craft a coercive stage performance. The band members bound back and forth, begging the crowd to feel the music of their singles like “Forget You” as they do. In a workman-like half-hour, the band had brought the crowd around to the point that the clapping and cheering was more than just polite appreciation – Digital Summer had won some fans. The metal elitist is sure to point out that their music doesn’t possess some of the ‘necessary’ hallmarks. Irrelevant. Watch them, then decide.
Wow, Trivium. What the heck happened? There was a moment that feels like a career ago when Trivium was anointed The Next Big Thing. They were the new Metallica, they were going to steward heavy metal into its next golden age, they were going to ascend the throne and dominate the genre as few had done before…only it never materialized. Suddenly and without discernable reason, the band wasn’t a hot commodity anymore, and everyone moved on.
But wait a minute. Trivium on this night was good. Really good. Their performance was loud without being overbearing, the timing was tight and the songs sounded better than they ever have. This on the heels of the abrupt departure of drummer Nick Augusto only two nights before. It seems impossible that a band could recover so quickly from such an integral loss, but Trivium seemed lose and at ease as they performed an array of fan favorites. There was an incredibly powerful and effective three-song trifecta right in the middle of the band’s forty-five-ish minute performance, beginning with a crushing “Built to Fall” and continuing through “Strife” and “Black.” The band was energetic, even the visibly concentrating former drum tech and now johnny-on-the-spot Mat Madiro. To the credit of Madiro, he plays nicely in the pocket of the musicians around him, executing his fills with precision.
Where has this Trivium been? Did something change besides the drummer? In any event, much to the surprise of many, they are not just another direct support act. This band brings it on stage and is an enjoyable experience.
Which brings us to the headliner. Listen, by now everyone has a pretty solid grip on Volbeat – we know the sound, we know the songs, we know the professionalism. Much like the home runs of Willie Stargell (or more recently Carlos Delgado,) there are no cheap ones at a Volbeat show. The band always brings their endemic blend of musicianship, talent and plain fun to the stage, igniting the crowd in sing-alongs and participation, effectively closing the gap between those performing and those watching. We get all that. It’s part of the Volbeat experience. So yes, there was a blasted “Doc Holliday” to open, a mainstay in “Still Counting” and the obligatory “The Mirror and the Ripper” to close. But in the midst of those things, three events took place which should impart everything you need to know about what Volbeat is really about.
First, “Evelyn.” This piece required some help, which came in the ready form of a return of half of Trivium to the stage, with vocalist Matt Heafy capably filling the studio recorded shoes of Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway. It lit the crowd up, a rare treat that seldom makes appearances in the live set. It was a symbol of Volbeat’s willingness to go the extra mile to bring the fans what they want, and to be inclusive of the musicians around them.
Then, not but two songs later, Michael Poulsen explains to the crowd, as he often does, that he places a lot of faith in his musical inspirations and takes every opportunity to pay homage to them. It’s part of Volbeat’s idiom – they want it to be known that they are a product of their musical exposure, fans who recognize that they owe a great deal to the artists who showed them what music could be. With an almost casual gesture as he announces that Volbeat is about to cover the Misfits’ “Angelfuck,” Poulsen then invites the one and only Jerry Only to the stage, allowing the more veteran singer and consummate showman to sing his song with the power of Volbeat behind him.
Lastly, right near the end, recognizing their wide-ranging appeal, Poulsen and Volbeat invited all the young children in the crowd (and there were plenty) to come to the stage to help them sing through “Thanks.” If a Volbeat show has become an affirming experience, then this marks the single affirming moment – when the band grows the next generation of rock and metal fan, celebrates their youth and ushers them into the family. In the process, Volbeat has cemented those kids as fans – they will remember the experience of being on stage and appreciate the music all the more as they walk through their fandom. Much as Volbeat is a product of their inspirations, these kids will be a product of Volbeat.
Volbeat’s performance is more than a simple recital of tried and true songs. It is a revival of sorts, a heady, seamless combination of rock and metal that brings together the disparate fans who have spent too much time trying to drive apart.