Toward the end of the Strokes' ultra-solid set at Saturday's BFD show, singer Julian Casablancas made a gracious observation, especially for a guy who's not exactly known for being humble.
'I'm so glad we're playing before AFI,' he said, of the Bay Area headliners, going on next at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. He pondered it for a second. 'Playing after AFI -- I don't recommend that.'
Even big-time rockers from New York City got it. This was supposed to be AFI's night. Headlining one of the summer biggest shows, in front of the hometown crowd, was an epic no-brainer.
Even on a bill that included the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, H.I.M, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and others, this was going to be one of the biggest shows in the punk-metalers' career. It was like a movie, about to triumphantly come alive on the Mountain View stage.
But nothing is that easy, especially when it comes to such seemingly easy set-ups. AFI indeed came out like a bullet train, befitting their reputation as one of the best live bands on the planet. The band was tight and singer Davey Havok threw himself about, screamed his throat raw, and worked 20 times harder than any other main stage singer to interact with the crowd.
If AFI wouldn't put on a great show, it wouldn't be for lack of effort. Which may have been the problem. Most of the crowd responded favorably -- it's hard not to get caught up in what AFI does. But it was difficult not to notice 10 percent to 20 percent of the lower bowl of seats emptied by the last third of AFI's set.
AFI was like a roaring, charging predator weeding out the herd. It was obvious, watching middle-aged people with younger kids and others flee the sonic assault. AFI was loud and intense, which doesn't play well for some after grooving to the milder strains of bands like the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. AFI was ready for BFD. It just wasn't clear if all of BFD was ready for AFI.
No matter -- there's no shame in a rock band breaking a few unprepared eardrums, even if they tried easing them into it by playing big 'Sing the Sorrow' single 'Girl's Not Grey,' early on. Actually, it was kind of fun watching some guys, looking like they'd come straight from their frat house, fleeing from Havok's first scream on 'Kill Caustic.' Which is too bad, as they left right before new song 'Miss Murder.' Hearing something from the radio might've kept them there to see the rest of the show.
Just short of an hour, the set was typically raw and earthshaking. It's reminiscent of a harder-charging Tool when they take songs way down and so high, it may require earplugs. On songs like 'Ever and a Day,' Havok continuously got his goth James Brown going, twirling, hitting the floor, and coming back again.
Crowd favorite The Strokes didn't need to try so hard. No longer tripping around with a cooler full of beer, like their last sloppy BFD appearance, they were typically solid. Second song 'Juicebox' had the crowd up and bouncing through 'The End Has No End,' a rocking 'Reptillian' and on down through a rousing 'Someday.' It's an old point, but watching guitarists Al Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi play off one another is a real pleasure. As usually, most of the band except Hammond could move more on stage, but the cool-guy thing is a staple of the Strokes' persona. The songs do the real work in keeping things moving.
Franz Ferdinand got better as its 40-minute set went on. They're upbeat, they're stylish, and they're good-looking. They're also confident, with enough experience to know how to pack the end of their set with the best songs.
Watching the first 15 minutes would've led one to believe FF's shelf life is expiring. Things changed once they kicked into the early-Beatles sounding 'Walk Away.' From there they fairly rolled through the set, with the very Scottish-sounding new song 'L. Wells,' 'The Dark of the Matinee,' and upbeat single 'Take Me Out.' 'Michael' was about as punk rock as FF could get, which went right into the early 80s Brit-wave song 'Outsiders.' They finished up nicely, prompting the crowd to scream through the fast-anthem chorus of 'This Fire.'
Finland's H.I.M. was a bit disappointing for those putting too much stock in their bone-crunching catchiness (of which the music world needs more). A bit disjointed at times, they nevertheless showed more power and abandon musically then anyone else on the main stage not named AFI. Plus there was just something endearing about singer Ville Harmanni Valo grinning madly while smoking through the whole set. Things came together nicely for single 'Rip Out The Wings Of A Butterfly,' and a terribly fun cover of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game.'
Echo & The Bunnymen occupied the traditional old guys revival spot at this year's BFD. Usually this is a chance for a band from Live 105's 1980s glory days to come back and show the whippersnappers how it's down. Previously it worked really well with bands like New Order and the Violent Femmes. Not so much this year. Echo & the Bunnymen reminded those old enough how wonderfully catchy they could be, but hardly breathed on stage. They generally lacked passion and at times seemed like they didn't really care they had a chance to play before 20,000 people in 2006. Hopefully they stuck around to watch the rest of the show, and perhaps let a bit of AFI's enthusiasm rub off.
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