For the most part, Irvine, California is a quiet town but when the FivePoint Ampitheatre has a show going on, it feels more like Hollywood. On July 27th, the summer’s most prominent tour lineup of Bad Wolves, Nothing More and co-headliners Breaking Benjamin and Five Finger Death Punch rocked the city to its core. The bands may have had extensive effects on stage but the Lunar Eclipse which occurred at the same time was an added bonus. Metal fans joined together to celebrate live music and to start their weekend out right.
Bad Wolves came on at 6:00pm which was way too early and quite the disadvantage for Tommy Vext (vocals), Doc Coyle (guitar), Chris Cain (guitar), Kyle Konkiel (bass) and John Boecklin (drums) with it also being the hottest point of the day. Supporting their debut album Disobey released on May 11th, Bad Wolves oozes with the kind of tenacity and sound that will drive their ascension in the metal community. The fans who were there early were lucky to see them perform Officer Down, Learn To Live, No Masters, Hear Me Now (with special guest Diamante) and Better the Devil. And while the majority of people, including us didn’t arrive until the band was finishing off their six song setlist with a cover of the Zombies originally performed by the Cranberries and Vext’s vocals were echoing in powerhouse quality, it was a bittersweet homage to the late Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan and as always it is a fan favorite with all sales from the single going to O’Riordan’s family. It will be exciting to see where the rock n’ roll winds take Bad Wolves next.
Grammy nominees Nothing More came out just as the sun was beginning to become eye level with the stage. Jonny Hawkins (lead vocals), Mark Vollelunga (guitar, backing vocals), Daniel Oliver (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Ben Anderson (drums) started out with their hit Do You Really Want It from their 2017 album The Stories We Tell Ourselves and the energy distinguished them from most opening acts as Hawkins resembled a young Jim Morrison with his slim, shirtless attire. They really let you know who they are right from the start. Let It Burn, Mr. Mtv and Go To War with its righteous hook and juxtaposition of heavy metal and classic rock but in all the right doses. Hawkins then took a moment to talk about his sister and her struggles with addiction as he announced their next song Just Say When. It was a profound and sensitive ballad that obviously means something to him.
Having seen the band perform at last year’s Loudwire Awards for the first, we were eager to see how they’d grown and to see them bring out their 400 pound, 14 foot tall contraption called The Scorpion Tail. Created by bassist Daniel Oliver, it is nothing short of ingenious and resembles something out of a Transformer’s movie. The Scorpion Tail was the highlight when Hawkins jumped onboard for This Is The Time adding electronic and digital effects as the whole crowd pulled out their cellphones to capture the moment. There was certainly something magical happening up there and when they ended their set with Salem, the ampitheatre had filled up and everyone was amped up. Nothing More definitely has something more to look forward to as they certainly possess the qualities and substance of a major headline act, keep your eye out for these guys, they’re starting to heat up.
Co-headliners Breaking Benjamin have not stopped since coming off of their five year hiatus due to frontman Benjamin Burnley’s health problems. But, they have come back with a vengeance and then some creating their most prevalent music with their 2015 album Dark Before Dawn and their newest release Ember, their heaviest album to date. Having recently toured with Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine, rock festivals and their first acoustic tour everyone was ready to hear their new favorite Breaking Benjamin songs and the classics as well.
As the moon began to replace the sun the crowd started to really fill in. Breaking Benjamin’s artwork for their most recent album titled Ember was the stage backdrop and an intriguing light show with varying shades of blue, orange, red and purple and blasts of smoke at heavier parts and a silver trunk with the band’s logo lit up in orange, Jason Rauch (lead guitar, strings, programming), Keith Wallen (rhythm guitar, back vocals), Aaron Bruch (bass, backing vocals) and Shaun Foist (drums, percussion, programming) came out followed by Benjamin Burnley (lead vocals and rhythm guitar) in dark sunglasses making his way to the front as they started playing Red Cold River, the lead single off of their recent album Ember which has topped the Billboard Rock Charts maintaining the success they are accustomed to seeing. Throughout the set Burnley shared the vocals with Wallen and Bruch and delivered all the bells and whistles to go with it. I Will Not Bow from 2009’s Dear Agony followed by Never Again from Dark Before Dawn and Breath from their 2006 album Phobia. The Imperial March/Schism/Smells Like Teen Spirit/Walk/Sad But True medley is always a staple at a Breaking Benjamin concert and the crowd was singing and headbanging along to it. After a drum solo by Foist, Sooner Or Later, Blow Me Away, So Cold and Angels Fall had the crowd going wild while they continued to delve into the older Breaking Benjamin songs. As the Pantera-esque opening guitar riff for Psycho began, the level was off the charts in the crowd and on stage as Burnley had removed his sunglasses and became a bit more personal with fans.
There were a few special moments during their 15 song set and Burnley brought a more intimate feel to the show with an inspirational speech extending his appreciation to fans for sticking by them during their five year hiatus from 2010-2015 due to health issues. He went on to talk about how important it is to live life to the fullest regardless of any obstacles you are facing and that they only push you to be a better person. “So keep on keeping on and taking things one day at a time,” concluding his heartfelt speech Burnley said “Because you cannot have success without Failure” stating the intro to the next song Failure from their 2015 album Dark Before Dawn and Burnley surely has a sincere way of bringing an ampitheatre of fans closer together. The effects were impressive especially once the sunset began and Until The End and third single from Ember titled Torn In Two kept the momentum going.
For the finale, Burnley invited kids onto the stage in honor of all of the donations and work they are doing with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital (www.stjude.org) and Shriner’s Hospital (www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org) which included 100% of the proceeds from their album sales at the event going to the organizations. It was a tender moment once again as kids excitedly came up and Burnley joked about how people were just giving them their kids. One caught his eye in particular and Burnley complimented him on his hairstyle and high-fived the boy before performing their final song and fan favorite The Diary Of Jane. Breaking Benjamin once again proved their well earned spot as one of the best live bands around.
And then there was Five Finger Death Punch. During the intermission/set-up the theme song from children’s television show Barney played until the moment the curtain dropped. Ivan Moody (lead vocals, piano), Zoltan Bathory (rhythm guitar), Jeremy Spencer (drums), Jason Hook (lead guitar backing vocals), Chris Kael (bass, backing vocals) came out in their intense makeup and costumes which are a signature of Five Finger Death Punch going hand in hand with their intense lighting, explosive pyrotechnics and the massive skull & Bones in the background. Moody’s mic stand was wicked looking, a silver snake-like creature with a human skull at the top. FFDP by far had the best visual effects of the night which coupled with their heavy sound, fueled the fiery exuberance of the crowd.
They opened with their song Lift Me Up from 2013’s The Wrong Side Of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Vol 1 minus Rob Halford who was featured on the track recording followed by Trouble which debuted on their greatest hits album called A Decade Of Destruction and Wash It Away and Jekyll and Hyde from their 2015 album Got Your Six. There was an unambiguous change in the mood as people became a bit aggressive pushing closer to the stage and Moody mediated from the stage and was quickly resolved from real “trouble.” Ultimately, everyone was there to have a good time and to enjoy the show. Moody sounded the best he ever has after addiction resulted in spending some time in rehab. During that time, Tommy Vext (lead vocalist of Bad Wolves) stood in for him but Moody has reclaimed his throne. There seems to be a theme in the rock n roll industry these days and respectively some of the musicians on this tour which could explain the line-up on not only this tour but others as well. It makes sense that bands want to surround themselves with other bands who know the struggle and have survived.
Moody spoke about his appreciation for the Military and dedicated Bad Company and an acoustic version of The Wrong Side of Heaven both from 2013’s The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Vol 1 and showed a softer side of Five Finger Death Punch’s rather tough exterior and sound. Like Breaking Benjamin, Moody invited kids up onto the stage but made it abundantly clear that any parent forcing their child to go up there is an asshole. He went on to provide details of the occurrence a few nights prior where some kids were crying but their parents made them go up anyways and he would not stand for it. It is always refreshing to see the simple humane side of an artist especially when they are as hardcore as Five Finger Death Punch. The kids helped the band during the chorus of the acoustic version of their song Remember Everything. It was bittersweet but slowed things down a little too much as people were beginning to leave or roam around the venue which also offered lounge areas and outdoor games on the grass area near the concession area. Although it favored a more personal vibe perhaps spacing out or saving the majority of the acoustic songs for the end of the set.
As Five Finger Death Punch concluded their 10 song set with Coming Down, Burn MF, Gone Away, they took us back in time with Under and Over It from 2011’s American Capitalist and The Bleeding from 2007’s The Way of the Fist. For those who survived the heat and the long night, it was worth sticking around and bearing the traffic to leave.
When all was said and done, it was one hell of a show! More fall dates have been added to the tour. Check out the dates and locations on the band’s social media sites and try to make at least one of the shows.
CLICK HERE to view more pics of Five Finger Death Punch from the show.
CLICK HERE to view more pics of Breaking Benjamin from the show.
CLICK HERE to view more pics of Nothing More from the show.