The rock show started early on Sunday, January 14 at Van Andel Arena. A trio of the world’s leading modern rock acts headlined by Avenged Sevenfold started with a bang courtesy of Welsh heavy metal band Bullet For My Valentine. No strangers to the spotlight themselves, the group lead the crowd through a 45-minute set brimming with fan favorites and certified hits. The nearly sold-out arena cheered as the group stood in front of 4 large banners, each one adorned with a separate initial from the group’s name in bold white letters. It was everything a modern rock show is expected to be and nothing less, complete with a brief exit in order to achieve what may be a first-ever opening act demand for an encore. The standing room only floor gave in, but those in the stands resisted, if only out of confusion.

“That was great,” one young teen exclaims. No older than fifteen, they stood next to their father in matching BFMV shirts. Not shirts being sold that night, but those that told you this was their tradition. A later conversation revealed it to be their second outing. It was officially a tradition, though neither claimed to have considered it such prior.

A twenty-minute intermission allowed for the largely filled arena to be viewed in its entirety. The crowd, mostly tucked well inside the 24-36 demographic with a few outliers for family outings and aging metalheads hungry for a good show, was dressed in the signature black shirt wardrobe one would expect. They drank $9 beers and made jokes about how they’re happy they’re not claustrophobic while standing in the crowded hallways of the arena awaiting the restrooms, usually while attempting to check one or more social media feeds. Those efforts were fruitless, however, as 10,000 people in one arena make communication with the outside world difficult.

Breaking Benjamin took the stage at precisely 7:30 PM and began an hour-long set whose only flaw was the lack of strong stage production. Compared to beautiful light work of the opener and numerous gigantic LED screens the headliner would use to create a trip to their time and space the fog bursts and harsh red lighting made the members of Breaking Benjamin disappear while standing center stage. If the crowd on the floor gave a damn you couldn’t tell, as they greeted the band with rapturous applause.

Sets rarely peak with instrumental covers, but something in the room changed when Breaking Benjamin took a brief mid-set detour to perform the “Imperial March” from Star Wars with vocalist Benjamin Burnley adding to the percussion. This transitioned into a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that no one in the room saw the room coming. The local media man nearby perhaps put it best when, just as the classic riff began, he raised his beer into the sky shouting with a big belly laugh of glee, “no f*cking way — is this happening!”

Mosh pits were formed. Small, but vicious they created poorly drawn circles on the packed arena floor as the band transitioned into a drum solo that eventually ended the chaos by drawing everyone’s attention to the stage. The band had twenty minutes to kill, but how? “Nothing but the hits from here,” the same old man said, his beer now long gone. He was right.

In the thirty minutes before Avenged Sevenfold took the stage two robotic eyes looked over the audience. Breaking Benjamin’s production was rolled away and the stage was left largely bare.

“Back in Black” boomed through the room before the lights fell. The crowd sang along to every single word, with many abandoning whatever conversation they were in to participate. When the final moments finally played out the room went dark just long enough for the members of Avenged Sevenfold to slowly fill the stage. The stage was essentially empty, providing the band with hundreds of square feet to roam while performing the opening notes of “The Stage” as a series of oversized LED screens flashed imagery from music videos and deep space renderings for all to see.

“I expected there to be more,” one man drunkenly said to another standing beside him. “For these prices, I expected there to be some crazy sh*t on stage.”

“Just you wait,” the man beside him replied, trying his best to be polite. “You’ll understand soon.”

The second man wasn’t lying, but it’s unclear if the first man ever understood why. Avenged Sevenfold never added to their empty stage, but they did more than deliver on the promise of an arena-ready rock show by performing at the top of their game. For the better part of two-hours, the group worked through a catalog that spanned the entirety of their nearly two-decade-long career with a combination of certified hits, deep cuts, and bonafide fan favorites. Not a single era was left untouched, including material from the group’s seminal 2003 album, Waking The Fallen.

Conversation with the crowd was light, but the band did check in from time to time to ensure everyone was still with them. The first time came nearly twenty-minutes into their set, which for a band like Avenged Sevenfold is three full songs. “How are you doing, Grand Rapids?” The crowd screamed so loud small children covered their ears. “That’s what we like to hear!”

The crowd hung on every line, and the band returned their devotion with precision.Frontman M. Shadows would often extend his microphone so the chorus of those singing in the crowd would fill the room, and in those moments the night became something special. In those moments all doubt rock and roll was anything less than the most powerful force on the planet were wiped from the mind. When everyone was singing along it didn’t matter who you were, where you were from, or what brought you there that night. The only thing that mattered in those moments was the music, and to feel the combined energy of ten-thousand people connected with the same piece of art was something not one person in attendance will ever forget.

Long live rock and roll. Long live Avenged Sevenfold.

Bullet For My Valentine:

Breaking Benjamin:

Avenged Sevenfold: