AFI with the Explosion at the Opera House, January 29. Tickets: $18. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If you believed the rumours, a high-up mucky-muck from AFI's new label, DreamWorks, jetted in from the West Coast to catch the recently signed SoCal punks' sold-out Opera House gig last Wednesday night. The insanely packed show was supposedly a testing ground to see whether the intense rockers are ready to start selling out stadiums.
There were lotsa bleached-out sky-high mo- and faux-hawks, tons of ripped-up concert Ts (Anti-Racist Action shirts were everywhere, perhaps in response to the chilling skinhead concerts that have been all too frequent lately) and enough piercings to pay New Tribe's rent for the next year.
People-watching was more interesting than the opening set by laddish Boston boy-punk revivalists the Explosion. The adorable scrawny boys played a derivative set of super-speedy, hooky goof punk that betrayed an obvious debt to the Clash. Their wannabe Johnny Rotten faces and puerile lyrics were fun but vapid. No surprise that AFI's merch table did steady business throughout the set.
The headliners were a different story altogether. With dark, dungeony lighting, a healthy clutch of smoke machines and portentous operatic music serving as a crowd-silencing intro, AFI's energy was intense and ominous from the outset.
They position themselves as a hardcore revival band, and while there are thrashy elements, AFI are really more about the ominous doomsday catharsis. They cross over from the Warped Tour set to pasty spiderweb nu-goths and shit-eating hardcore punks, marrying dark, gothy power ballads and supercharged fuzzed-out bass explosions.
The band takes itself a bit too seriously. Sure, there were some impressive scissor kicks and onstage antics, and frontman Davey Havok tried to lighten the mood with a few quips, prefacing one song with a jovial "Not to liken ourselves to such phenomena as Skinny Puppy and Bryan Adams, but this song began here in Toronto."
But the vibe was decidedly dark. Remember, AFI were once signed to a label belonging to Dexter Holland, the dude behind piss-taking punks the Offspring. Where's the fun?
Their musicianship is definitely stellar, and there's something fascinating about lithe, super-femmey, long-haired androgy boys being worshipped by tough, macho, thick-necked frat-ish boys. The moshing dudes in the crowd cheered when Trent Reznor-meets-Johnny Depp Havok writhed onstage, and held him up in rapt admiration when he stage-dove and struck crucified poses atop their shoulders.
In spite of the protracted delay during a bass screw-up, AFI had the club whipped into an ecstatic, emotional frenzy for all of their hour-long set.
No word on whether the label rep showed. Judging from the enthralled crowd's response, though, I'd wager the boys are ready for the big time.