It’s been three years since Californian goth-punk heroes AFI were on these shores, a period in which their media-attributed mantle of “world’s most worshipped band” has been under serious threat of thievery by those they influenced (My Chemical Romance and, much more gallingly, Aiden). Tonight they’re here to show the masqueraders the genuine article, how it’s really done, what true love between fans and band actually looks like.
Of course, greatness is not a forced quality, it just is, and tonight AFI don’t proselytise, use gimmicks or compromise. But make no mistake, great they certainly are. Ever thought arena-rock always had to be as dull, lowest common denominator as the music purveyed by the Nickelbacks and Bon Jovis (mid-’90s onwards) of this world?
Then think again. As hard as it is to believe, AFI’s fusion of hardcore punk and early ’80s gothic pop is not only exhilarating – and more so live than on record – but it is unashamedly, gloriously, fist-in-the-air, shout-in-unison, defiantly anthemic.
When the ber-haunting Miseria Cantare preludes, it is time for the hirsute among us to have our neck hairs rise up as if in standing ovation. And yet, even, or rather especially here, the stadium dynamics are in full force as what sounds like thousands of people exclaim: “You are now one of us!” with the fervour of a religious cult gathering.
Tonight, it’s difficult not to be a believer. AFI and their acolytes may be monochromatic in their black garb but 100% of the set is delivered in high-resolution technicolour.
Wisely, the most represented of AFI’s current six albums is 2003’s mainstream-breaking Sing The Sorrow, with bonafide classics such as Silver And Cold and Girl’s Not Grey particularly uplifting and euphoric yet somehow never losing their mournful air.
Tracks from the forthcoming Decemberunderground album are also outed, with Miss Murder’s danceable edge and Kill Caustic’s breakneck blur hinting that neither quality nor variety will be a problem on the new long-player.
In amongst all of this, there’s time for AFI to slip in a cover by “one of the best bands ever” (The Cure‘s Just Like Heaven). However, as well as they do it, and as pertinent as it is in understanding how AFI came to sound as they do, they sound better doing their own songs, whether it’s the huge, floor-shaking Ever And A Day from 2000’s The Art Of Drowning or even older tracks – when they were much more “punk” than “goth” – such as File 13.
During Death Of Seasons in the encore, frontman, focal point and fulcrum Davey Havok sings, “It won’t be all right, despite what they say.” For once, he’s wrong, because for 90 minutes tonight, things are pretty much perfect.