Grand Rapids, Michigan (January 14, 2018) – On a cold winter night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Van Andel Arena was the setting for one of the most anticipated tours of early 2018. Metal fans came out in force as Avenged Sevenfold, Breaking Benjamin and Bullet for My Valentine took to the stage for the second stop on the winter edition of A7X’s The Stage World Tour.
Opening the night festivities was Bullet for My Valentine, Matthew Tuck (vocals, guitar), Michael Padget (guitar, vocals), Jason James (bass, vocals), and Michael Thomas (drums) who played an abbreviated, high-energy nine-song set. With a high voltage light show and hard driving guitar sound, they put others on notice that this is not just another ‘throw-in’ opening band. These guys are good and a legitimate future headliner whose set shouldn’t be missed!
Next up was Breaking Benjamin, Benjamin Burnley (lead vocals, guitar), Aaron Bruch (bass, vocals), Shaun Foist (drums), Jasen Rauch (guitar), and Keith Wallen (backing vocals, guitar) who, it seemed, created as much buzz amongst the fans as the headliners. This latest iteration of the band, which was originally formed in 1999 by namesake Benjamin Burnley, has remained virtually unchanged since 2014. Although the names have changed, Breaking Benjamin’s signature sound has never deviated much from the metal/alternative origins since the band formed. This trademark sound is primarily due to Burnley being the primary songwriter and overall influence. So when it was time for the stage lights to dim the crowd knew exactly what to expect.
From the opening strains of “So Cold” through fan-favorite number one hit “Diary of Jane” the twelve-song, one-hour long set was consistent and strong. One deviation that the crowd seemed to sense from the beginning was that Breaking Benjamin’s sound tonight was a little harder than the studio version; it was readily apparent during “Never Again” off 2015 LP Dark Before Dawn. The bass seemed to hit deeper and resonate much longer before the signature guitar licks took over. The harder sound seemed to draw the crowd in deeper into the music witnessed by the rhythmic swaying displayed throughout the sold-out arena.
The highlight of the night was when Burnley walked out to the end of the extended stage and confessed to being a “geeky nerd” while displaying a red lightsaber. After doing his best Darth Vader lightsaber duel with the crowd below, the band broke into a metal version of Star Wars “The Imperial March”. If that wasn’t enough to drive the fans into a frenzy, Burnley and the band turned the “Imperial March” into a medley consisting of “Schism” from Tool, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and finally “Walk” by Pantera.
As Breaking Benjamin wrapped up the night with “I Will Not Bow”, ”Phobia (Intro)” and “Diary of Jane” they left a lingering question with their diehard fans. Tonight’s setlist covered tracks off five of their six album releases, only neglecting the 2002 album, Saturate. With their upcoming album Ember finished and currently receiving airplay nationwide, why didn’t they play anything off it? Overall, Breaking Benjamin’s performance tonight was tight and with plenty emotion. The band sounded as good as it ever has and the crowd was appreciative.
The only remaining question left to be answered this night was when are they going to headline their own tour? With Ember ready to be released, that question should be answered in the very near future.
Senior Photojournalist: John Swider