If you put AFI‘s first album next to their most recent album and listened to them both simultaneously, you would not think it was the same band. At all. AFI (A Fire Inside) has changed so much over the years, it really is hard to tell which direction they will go next. But one thing always remains the same, their dedication to the music. With each new album released you can hear the ferocity in their music, and how they are constantly evolving and getting better. No wonder they have nearly 1.5 million fans on Facebook.
Every fan has their own story about how they got into the band, and how the band has affected their lives. Mine started in middle school around 2000, before they got really big. I was listening to their earliest albums, which in my opinion, are the straight hardcore punk that the true fans will always know them for. Answer That and Stay Fashionable (1995), Very Proud of Ya (1996), and Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes (1997) have all been at the top of my list in terms of some of the albums that shaped me as a pre-punk teenager.
Then they started turning a bit darker and more melancholic in 1999 with Black Sails in the Sunset, followed by The Art of Drowning (2000). It wasn’t until 2003 with their 6th studio album, Sing the Sorrow, that they really gained popularity. In fact, that album become so popular that all the jocks at my high school (the same kids that made fun of me for liking and dressing punk) started wearing AFI shirts and claiming to be punk themselves, even though they didn’t like, or possible even have knowledge of, the band’s earlier work. For this reason, I boycotted Sing the Sorrow. I hated that something that I have always loved was suddenly popular, and liked by people I despised. Punk, to me, was about being yourself, and not conforming to the norm. So I didn’t take this very well. What happens when everybody conforms to nonconformity?? It wasn’t until years later, with some growing up and much heartbreak, did I realize that this album was actually a masterpiece. And it suddenly made sense why they had gotten so big.
It still takes me a few listens to take in each new album. In my opinion, nothing will ever compare to their first three albums. But I still have a lot of respect for this band, because they are still going just as strong as they ever did, and they continue to progress and evolve their sound with time. I have accepted that no one stays in the same state. We are constantly evolving as humans. As is the music we so much love and adore. In fact, their song “Silver and Cold” from Sing the Sorrow inspired the name of my brand, Silver and Cold Photography. So that says a lot right there.
I’ve seen AFI a few times over the years, but never in a venue as small as the Gothic Theater. Usually I have seen them at large festivals in front of tens of thousands of fans. But this was a very different experience for me. Much more intimate and emotional. This show really did get the tears flowing.
In the past, AFI has done a really good job of keeping a good mix of songs to their set list. Even though they are currently promoting their newest record, the Blood Album, they played a wide range of selections from most of their catalog. And they also like to keep it fresh during their sets. Many of the songs they played were songs that they rarely ever play live, if at all. So this was a very special treat for those in attendance. Songs like “Clove Smoke Catharsis” and “6-8” to name a few. “6-8” specifically gave me shivers as my eyes started to well up. My first thought was, “I didn’t know they played this song live!”, and the guy next to me agreed. They also played some of their most popular hits, like “Silver and Cold” and “Miss Murder” while sprinkling in some of their newest songs throughout the night.
There was a lot of energy coming from the stage, which was in turn given right back to the band from the crowd. Singer Davey Havok was constantly moving around, jumping high off the drum riser, and climbing out onto the barricade to get close to his fans. At one point he did a front flip off the stage and into the crowd, crowd surfing for a while until his stage hand assisted him back to solid ground. Towards the end, he climbed out over the barricade, and literally walked on top of his fans. The crowd reached up and stabilized him so he could stand tall over the them and do his thing. And they did no let him fall at all. It was pretty impressive, and shows the dedication and adoration his fans have for him. In between one run of songs, he proclaimed “Denver fucking Colorado, you are so fucking fantastic,” as the crowd roared back in excitement. “You’re fantastic, and I say that from the bottom of my heart.” Denver returned the love.
After the final song, and the crowd started to clear, a strange feeling of disbelief was permeating the air. I ran over to my close friend, and the biggest AFI fan I know, local legend Aaron Saye, and without saying a word he wrapped his arms around me as he was crying uncontrollable tears of joy. I laughed for a while and hugged him back. After a few minutes he let me go and told me as tears streamed down his face “I’ve been waiting 15 years for this show.” I smiled and hugged him tightly again. The previous day, Aaron drove to Salt Lake City to see the band there as well, and drove back the next day to make it to the Denver show. Without time to even go home, Aaron went straight to the Gothic, got there around 12:00 pm that day, and waited in line with all the other hardcore fans to secure his spot in the front row. So we shared a few intimate moments when I was in the photo pit. And he even snapped a few pictures of me while I was waiting for the band to go on. Aaron ended up getting one of the set lists, and no one was more deserving.
Later, we walked out to the bus and waited to see if the band was going to come out. There were about 15 people hanging out in the cold, waiting to meet their idols. One group even had a portable camp heater to stay warm while they waited. After a while, each band member came out to greet the fans. They were all incredibly polite, and were willing to brave the cold to hear stories of how the band changed our lives and sign some piece of memorabilia. When it was my turn to greet the members of the band, I gave them each one of my business cards and told them how they inspired the name of my photography. They all smiled and commented after looking at the name on my card. Davey said he was very flattered by this, and the bassist, Hunter, asked if I was any good. After I said “I think so” he replied by saying “Well we’ll find out!
I really hope they do.
* all photos by Adam Hughes – Silver and Cold Photography
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