The first band, POD, took the stage first. With a lot of confidence, they played their songs. They are a Christian band but did not preach anything but rock & roll. The crowd reacted favorably to songs that have been played on the radio. They began their set with their latest single "Lost in Forever" and included "Youth of the Nation" around mid-set. They ended their set with my personal favorite, "Alive". As the opening act, they were given the smallest stage and didn't have a lot of room to move around. They earned points with the crowd when vocalist Sonny Sandoval jumped down from the stage into the space between the stage and the crowd gate, and proceeded to stand on the barrier and sing. Bassist Traa Daniels and drummer Wuv Bernardo provided a solid foundation while guitarist Marcos Curiel laid out thick riffs. They were a better band than I expected them to be with a lot of energy. I was impressed. They ended their set with a brief cover of Sublime's "What I Got" which was executed to the satisfaction of the crowd in the arena.
After a brief set change, Three Days Grace took the stage. This is a co-headlining tour and the band's first concert with new vocalist Matt Walst, replacing Adam Gontier who left the band after being in it for 20 years. Walst is not new to performing as he was playing in My Darkest Days (known for their single "Porn Star Dancing") until he was tapped by his brother (Three Days Grace's bassist) Brad to join Three Days Grace. For a first gig, in front of thousands of people, I accept Matt Walst as the band's new vocalist. I am not sure if he was trying to make "Chalk Outline" his own song, but he added his personal texture to the chorus, hitting a note higher than Gontier sang. It made the song his and since this was the set opener, it set the tone for the rest of the night.
Three Days Grace played a long set, capturing all of the songs that get played on the radio. After "Chalk Outline," they jumped into "Just Like You". There's something not quite right about the band. They look like they need a hairstylist as they all have really bad haircuts, especially bassist Brad Walst. His brother Matt needs some attention as well as drummer Neil Sanderson. Their musicianship and showmanship was better than I expected. Guitarist Barry Stock does need to move around more often instead of planting his feet together and doing an odd swivel with his upper body. The band had fire shoot up in the air at different points in the show, but not too much. "Long Way Home" got a warm reaction from the crowd as did "Home."
At one point, Sanderson launched into a duet with keyboardist / back up vocalist Dani Rosenoer. He started playing with timpani mallets on his cymbals before moving into a pulsating rhythm on the toms. Then, after throwing away his timpani mallets, he gave his drums the beating of a lifetime. The material Three Days Grace play is never going to rival the musical intricacies of Rush or Dream Theater or Yes - that's not their gig. Sanderson plays ambidextrously, alternately playing the beat with his right hand or left hand. His drum solo included playing a pattern with his hands on the snare and then duplicating that pattern with his bass drum. I liked what I heard.
Perhaps the highlight of the set was when they launched into "I Hate Every Thing About You." The crowd roared when they began that song. They followed that up with "Animal" and "Never Too Late." They then brought out a guest vocalist who helped them sing a cover of Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff". The guys next to me asked me if that was a new song. After the guest vocalist left, they launched into "Riot" as their set closer.
Overall, Three Days Grace plays their material well in an arena. I think Matt Walst established himself as a good replacement for Gontier. I only really noticed one time when he seemed to be looking at something he didn't understand or expect in the set list and could be seen talking to guitarist Stock. It could have been a conversation about the hot girls in the audience - obviously I don't know - but that seemed to be the only minor hiccup for a vocalist that had to learn 15 songs between December 21, 2012, and February 1, 2013 (1 month, 1 week, 4 days).
After putting up a large tapestry between the crowd and the stage, the crew for Shine Down went to work, quickly tearing down the Three Days Grace stage set and putting up a slightly more elaborate stage for Shine Down. When the tapestry did get pulled down, the first song was "Enemies." Only drummer Barry Kerch was on the stage while vocalist Brent Smith, guitarist Zach Myers and bassist Eric Bass were on a stage towards the back of the arena, near the soundboard. It set the mood for the concert.
Without a doubt, Shine Down is a headlining act. I can say this because I've seen them transition from opening act status at Memphis in May 2004 to middle band in 2008 to now last band of the night in 2013. The transition has included a makeover. Vocalist Smith wore dress slacks, nice shirt, vest, and tie, and a good haircut. Kerch, Myers and Bass also looked sharp. Usually, I don't care what a band looks like, but I mention it because it looked like the band got involved with a producer or some sort of makeover person and gave them a makeover. It was such a contrast to how Three Days Grace present themselves that it needs to be mentioned. Smith, for his part, looks really good. It's well-documented that he has lost 70 pounds and has been on a workout regime. Good for him and I hope he continues to take care of himself on the road.
They played all the radio hits you would expect, including "Follow You Down" and "If You Only Knew." Since the first time I saw them, they have always covered Lynard Skynard's "Simple Man." Myers and Smith walked back to the soundboard stage, Myers with an acoustic guitar. He started playing riffs from various songs, including the Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels." The entire arena sang. Smith then said, "That's too sentimental for tonight." Myers started Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" before Smith said, "What do you think this is, karaoke?" And then, Myers started "Simple Man." During an instrumental interlude between the verses, Smith and Myers walked back to the main stage and finished the song on the main stage. I'm not a real fan of that song, but I liked that they did something different with it.
Back on the main stage, Smith told the crowd, "One more, for the road." Their last song was "Bully" and on their video screen, a video from Amanda Todd, the teenager who committed suicide in October 2012, was played. The band didn't preach about bullying or say anything about the video, which made its impact that much stronger. Todd's video is available on youtube.com and it is worth watching.
Here are my predictions for these three bands:
- POD will win over more fans.
- Vocalist Matt Walst will continue to establish himself as *the* vocalist for Three Days Grace
- Shine Down will continue to put on an entertaining show with their showmanship
The ride home from the arena was uneventful, weather-wise. Joe Winters was spot-on.
I crawled into bed at 1 AM, still smiling when I thought about the three bands I had just witnessed.