Some say, “Rock is dead,” but Tampa, FL is out to prove the contrary – it is quite alive and doing just fine. Numerous rock tours have made their way through the area this summer, from Weezer to Vans Warped Tour to Bush, all with huge crowds in attendance. Five Finger Death Punch and Breaking Benjamin’s co-headline appearance at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre last Saturday was no exception either, with an OVER sold out crowd of 22,000 in attendance!
Doors to the show opened up early around 4:00 PM, but the parking lot was full of tailgaters well before then. Some stereos were blasting songs from the headliners, but others were rocking out to opening act Bad Wolves, who hit the stage at 6:00 PM. The Los Angeles, CA, native supergroup formed only just last year, but quickly caught the world’s attention with their cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie”. Bad Wolves managed to pack 7 songs from their recently released debut studio album ‘Disobey’ into their 30 minute set. Highlights included a performance of their first single from 2017 “Learn to Live” and their latest single “Hear Me Now,” with a guest appearance by female vocalist Diamante. Needless to say, vocalist Tommy Vext took a moment to dedicate set closer “Zombie” to the late Dolores O’Riordan, and the entire crowd sang along passionately enough to cause goosebumps.
Following a brief set change, Nothing More came out full of energy as they’re becoming well known to do. Vocalist Jonny Hawkins started out as the band’s drummer back when they founded in 2003 and still incorporates his skills into their set. He pounded away the intro to “Do You Really Want It?” on a separate, industrial steampunk style drum set (also known as the “Drumtron”), engineered by the band’s bassist Daniel Oliver himself. The entire first half of Nothing More’s set consisted solely of singles off their 2017 album release ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves,’ which was one of the Grammy Award nominees for Best Rock Album last year. Guitarist Mark Vollelunga pulled out an acoustic guitar and he and Hawkins rounded out the new songs with a heartfelt performance of “Just Say When” before switching the focus over to a couple songs from their 2014 self-titled, mainstream breakthrough record.
One way or another, Nothing More always succeeds in catching attention from people who haven’t seen them before. If anyone hadn’t been paying attention before, they certainly were after Hawkins jumped on a one-of-a-kind contraption referred to as “The Scorpion Tail” and was hydro-launched a few feet into the air. The Scorpion Tail is equipped with electronic effects that Hawkins controls while singing a cover of “First of the Year (Equinox),” originally performed by well known electronic artist Skrillex. Their set finale included one more round of surprises as every band member grabbed a drum and drumstick to accompany Hawkins and the band’s official drummer, Ben Anderson, play “Salem (Burn the Witch).” Nothing More got their first big break in 2013 as part of the Aftershock Festival and have been delivering nothing less than their best, winning crowds over ever since.
A curtain was draped over stage while backdrops changed and objects were shifted around in preparation for the night’s first headliner. Fans were on their feet as soon as the curtain lit up with Breaking Benjamin’s logo spinning over it and the soft intro to “Red Cold River” began playing. The curtain dropped with a massive blast of CO2 and pyro accompanying bassist and backing vocalist Aaron Bruch’s growling screams of, “Run! Run! Run!” as the chorus hit.
In contrast to Nothing More’s set, Breaking Benjamin vastly mixed their selection up with songs from across five of their six studio albums. The sixth album ‘Ember’ was released earlier this year in April and the large backdrop featuring the album artwork shows that this run of shows is still in support of that album. Lead vocalist and sole founding member Benjamin Burnley seems to be adapting well to the rebirth of the band and easily commanded the stage and audience through, “I Will Not Bow,” “Never Again,” and “Breath.” Burnley also embraces the multi-talent of his bandmates, going so far as to let rhythm guitarist Keith Wallen showcase his vocals on “Sooner or Later,” while Bruch regains the spotlight for vocals on “Believe.” lead guitarist Jasen Rauch and drummer Shaun Foist also got their chances to shine during a mash-up medley that included snippets of Tool’s “Schism,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Pantera’s “Walk,” and Metallica’s “Sad But True.”
Toward the end of the set, Burnley made sure to express, “We’re so freaking grateful to be on tour with Five Finger Death Punch.” He shared his appreciation by inviting a handful of children on stage, specially selecting a few “little dudes” to join him. A few eager parents went so far as to send their children forward over the barricade without joining them, but the band made sure to keep a careful watch on all the kids. Once everyone was lined up and out of harm’s way, Breaking Benjamin broke into their most notable and successful, 2x Platinum hit “The Diary of Jane.” The band walked through the line of children on stage, dolling out hugs and fist-bumps. Burnley displayed his own soft spot for children throughout the song, jumping off stage to hold hands with children that were sitting on their parent’s shoulders in the crowd and taking a very particular and dedicated moment to hug and sing directly to a young boy bound to a wheelchair.
Another curtain over the stage left some to ponder how, or if, Five Finger Death Punch could top such a well received set – but all thoughts were completely derailed when the Barney Theme song (yes, the one that goes, “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy fam-i-ly…”) came blaring through the Ampitheatre’s speakers. Some people shot each other confused looks, some smiled and laughed, others sang along… and then gears got fired right back up when the curtain dropped and immediately contrasted with two loud explosions and the heavy drum hits and guitar riffs of “Lift Me Up.” Five Finger Death Punch released their seventh studio album ‘And Justice For None’ in May and quickly broke out a new single “Trouble” from the deluxe edition of the record. Rhythm guitarist Zoltan Bathory (who also co-manages opening act Bad Wolves!) and bassist Chris Kael were especially playful, interacting with any and everyone who held eye contact with them.
Midway through, the set turned a little softer when Jason Hook broke out an acoustic guitar for two songs. Frontman Ivan Moody has been very upfront and public about his ongoing battle with alcohol, but in Tampa he was 100% coherent and candid as he addressed the crowd to say, “For the last two years, I’ve been fighting alcoholism. I’m not telling anyone out there not to drink – if you can have a good time without hurting anyone, go for it. Unfortunately, I can’t. I almost lost everything, my family, my friends, my band… including you. Thank you for not giving up on me. And I want to let you guys know, I still ‘remember everything’.” Hook glanced up from his acoustic guitar to flash an encouraging smile to Moody before the duo led into the song.
Over the years, Five Finger Death Punch has been growing and evolving their stage production steadily. For the pyromaniacs out there, this tour stepped the game up with intense fans of pyro and flame pillars firing off around both sides of a giant skull and oversized baseball bats that were hanging over drummer Jeremy Spencer’s kit. As if Florida wasn’t hot enough already, the pyro was enough to warm the Ampitheatre up an extra couple degrees, especially on the final verse of “Burn MF.” Moody, who had attended an Imagine Dragons show at the Ampitheatre the night before, gave them a shoutout while joking about the heat, “I saw our Vegas friends in Imagine Dragons for the first time last night. I’d give anything for those cold little bubbles they had right now!”
After “Under and Over It,” the lights dimmed and it was obvious the end of the night was drawing near. Instead of faking an exit, the band stayed on stage and Moody asked the crowd to light the room up while they performed their 2007 debut album’s lead single, “The Bleeding.” Confetti blasts covered the crowd while the entire band and crew tossed out handful after handful of guitar picks, making sure nearly all the “Knuckleheads” left with a keepsake. Fans were reluctant to end the night, and why wouldn’t they be? With both Moody and Kael in newfound sobriety, Five Finger Death Punch is back in their prime and sounding better than ever. Five Finger Death Punch’s cover of “House of the Rising Sun” played in the background as the crowd filtered out, half of them shouting, “Five Finger!” and the other half echoing back with, “Death Punch!”
Five Finger Death Punch and Breaking Benjamin’s co-headline tour began in mid-July and was originally schedule to run through September. Due to the overwhelming fan demand, additional legs of the tour have been added, with dates extending all the way into December. For those who missed (or just want to relive) the Tampa show, a stop at Orlando’s CFE Arena on December 5th was one of the most recent additions to the tour!