Despite being down one member with the absence of vocalist Ivan Moody, Five Finger Death Punch chose to continue the remaining eight shows on their current tour run with As Lions, Sixx: A.M., and Shinedown. So, the guys tapped friend and fellow vocalist Phil Labonte of All That Remains to fill in for the final leg of the tour. The tour rolled into upstate S.C. on Monday, Dec. 5 and stopped in at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, formerly the Bi-lo Center. This traveling circus of minstrels was met by an array of avid fans from across the spectrum and from throughout the Carolinas anxious to see what the night had in store.
The evening began with London, England hard rockers As Lions, fronted by the energetic and passionate Austin Dickinson, son of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson. Having recently released their debut EP Aftermath in October, the band has been looking to make waves in the US market, expanding from their home of London where they’d already began to make some noise. On this night they worked to hype up a crowd likely unfamiliar with them, but hoping to leave a lasting impression. With a combination of infectious melodies and spirited rhythm, As Lions expressed a great sense of timing and stage presence, leaving no corner unmarked. Dickinson makes his own path on the stage, expressing his dedication in sweat and every punctuated note. The guys ran through song from Aftermath, including the title track and the masses seemed to soak them in with fervor and favor.
Sixx:A.M. recently released their second album of 2016 Prayers for the Blessed, Vol. 2 on Nov. 18, 2016. It’s the “divine” follow-up to their April 29, 2016 release Prayers for the Damned, Vol 1. Comprised of the magnanimous and gregarious James Michael (vocals), DJ Ashba (guitar), and Nikki Sixx (bass). For a Monday night, the arena was pleasantly packed and when Sixx: A.M took the stage, the room buzzed with excitement. Michael’s wasted no time opening up the room with his energy and presence, it immediately felt bigger and warmer, like being welcomed into a friend’s house. Ashba made sure to reach fans on the far end of the stage while playing flawlessly. Sixx could be seen engaging fans, leaning in close and making faces at the crowd, playfully plucking bouncing along the stage.
They didn’t take themselves too seriously and their love of their craft permeated the room as they charged through a set consisting of “Rise,” “We Will Not Go Quietly,” and “Everything Went To Hell” as Ashba and Sixx donned red and silver demon masks and taunted the crowd. There was a sense of unity and revolution in the air as Michaels led the charge, fists in the air and rebellion in his voice, railing against bureaucratic injustices and personal demons. Emotional highlights came in the form of “Lies of the Beautiful,”“Stars,” and “Prayers for the Damned,” as illuminated by every cellphone flashlight in the room. Ending on a high, Sixx:A.M closed out their set with their debut hit “Life Is Beautiful.” The voices of the masses filled the arena as fans new and old sang along with the band on the inspirational hit single.
Next up was Shinedown, and the vocal magnitude of frontman Brent Smith paired with the animated antics of guitarist Zach Myers, bassist Eric Bass, and drummer Barry Kerch made for a lively and entertaining set. Whether you’re a Shinedown fan or not, it’s hard to not respect the level of professionalism and respect they bring to the stage and in the delivery of their music. It’s easy to see that Smith takes his role seriously and doesn’t take for granted the fans that make this work possible. With a blitzkrieg of pyrotechnics, including full flames and explosions of sparks, Shinedown took to the task of continuing the open house feel of the evening. Smith showed intensity and immense gratitude towards the crowd, including taking a moment to encourage some musical solidarity by asking the throng to shake hands with their neighbor. Their set consisted of a mix of classic songs paired with newer tracks from their last album Threat to Survival (2015). Some of the bigger reactions from the crowd came from songs like “Fly From the Inside,” “Diamond Eyes,” “State of My Head” and “Cut the Cord.”
It quickly became clear that as one of the headliners of the night Shinedown had brought out a massive following to the arena on this night, because there were plenty of heads banging and barely a single mouth not singing along. Like house party you wanted to crash, the energy was at high and the GA floor was alive with the movement of bodies dancing and crashing into one another. The flames lit up the room and warmed up the throng as the explosions crashed and echoed throughout the entire area. To bring their funhouse carnival to a close, the men of Shinedown rounded out their evening with “Sound of Madness,” a crowd favorite and powerful, driving anthem that stirred the room right up until the end.
Finally, the time had come for Five Finger Death Punch and sadly, several attendees chose to not stick around, leaving noticeable gaps in the once fuller portions of the room and on the floor. For everyone who chose to stay, it would be an experiment in seeing how Labonte would seek to fill Moody’s shoes, if at all. Kicking things off with “Lift Me Up,” things seem to take off at the expected speed with Labonte crooning along well enough to fool an unsuspecting ear. He made the efforts to apply some Moody-esque mannerisms into his performance, including using and incorporating some interaction with Moody’s signature microphone stand and his engagement with his bandmates onstage. For the heavier duty, more intense songs and moments, those familiar with his work in ATR will recognize the same intensity he applies to songs like “Six,” used in this performance during songs like “Never Enough,” “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Burn MF.” Also, in true 5FDP form, Labonte and the rest of the band invited several of the children in the audience onstage with their parents to hang out during the performance of “Burn MF.”
The guys made a point of letting the crowd know how much they appreciated everyone still being there despite Ivan’s absence and that they were making a video compilation/message for the singer. It was not a question for 5FDP or their fans as to whether or not Labonte would make for an adequate stand-in for Moody, because while his vocal range doesn’t hit the same grit and hollowness that Moody’s can and that has become associated with 5FDP, the spirit was there and he had reverence for the role he was fulfilling. They completed the evening by closing on “The Bleeding” which garnered a mass uprising of voices and a high note worth exiting on.
The most admirable and impressive thing of the night was not the elaborate face paint and elevated drum riser donned by Jeremy Spencer, or the honest and bare acoustic performance by guitarist Jason Hook with guest vocals by Austin Dickinson of As Lions of “Wrong Side of Heaven.” It wasn’t the way Hook can make a guitar sing so beautifully it could break your heart or the great humor and shenanigans of bassist Chris Kael and guitarist Zoltan Bathory. All of these things are true, but the most impressive thing about the men of 5FDP on this night was the way in which they all, Labonte included, showed solidarity for their fallen comrade and have done so ever since his departure. They have been honest with themselves and the world about their struggles, never hiding behind mystery ailments, “exhaustion,” or “unforeseen circumstances,” they are calling the demon (addiction) out by name and refusing to fall asunder because of it, which is both refreshing and commendable.