Tumbling through a thick rush of black clothing adorned with proud “Still A Freak” proclamations, Ball Arena was overrun Tuesday night by the impenetrable mass that is the Korn fanbase. Though it was far from the show we expected (and left our necks still aching), every bit of Korn and Evanescence’s stop in Denver felt intentionally triumphant. It was nothing if not a helluva way to kick off a tour.
Opening act Jeris Johnson opened the show, taking command of the venue like a drunk frat boy who had stolen the microphone and fought his way onto the stage with a broad sword — then refused to abandon his post. Amongst a sea of diehard metal fans, Johnson’s performance felt like a parody, complete with a stagnant crowd that indicated tension from the cloying, highly-curated performance. Proclaiming this to be only his second tour ever, the vast majority of Johnson’s set sampled within his own genre — Slayer, 3 Doors Down, Papa Roach and even the name of the evening, Korn. To be fair, metal resides in such a set, saturated recipe that it is hard for any but the cream of the crop to rise above the wash of conformity. And familiar hits did rile the crowd enough for the headliners to go about their bidding.
And even as an artist with little prior touring experience, he succeeded in achieving his goal as opener — Johnson’s music mashed together new lyrics with fan favorites, guaranteeing that concertgoers who had never heard of him could sing along throughout the duration of the set.
Rolling right along through the ear-pounding night, Evanescence took the stage. Or, more accurately, descended upon the arena with equal parts intimidation and grace. Amy Lee’s iconic, siren vocals — which led the charge — tend to seep into skin cells, even after nearly 20 years of touring. Her vocal chords have the unique ability to elate the heart of anyone listening as the sustained notes wash over you. The return to metal and hardcore music has been a beautiful renaissance — it really wasn’t “just a phase.” The band performed with a learned precision. Immaculately sharp, syncopated drum beats were Lee’s only sonic rival, vying for attention even as the most operatic metal voice in recent history commanded attention. Racing around the state with relentless energy, the band took advantage of the three-tiered setup, rarely pausing for a breath before charging onward into the next track.
Classic songs like “Call Me When You’re Sober” and “Bring Me To Life” excited grown men to thrash about in uncontainable excitement as the feeling of something both propelling your body and leaving it took hold — the only cure for which is pumping limbs and sore necks. Evanescence’s glorious presence on stage made every song feel like a grand finale moment. However, even though it elicited cheers and applause from the crowd, the performance failed to lift much of the audience from their seats or affect them to move beyond their rhythmic head banging. Despite the relatively tame demeanor of onlookers, a few die-hard fans in the audience couldn’t help themselves from filming nearly the entire set (So, if you didn’t have a ticket, don’t worry, it’ll probably make it onto YouTube).
At times, it feels wrong seeing a metal show in an arena — hardcore music, especially in a live setting, acts like a threat to its listeners, thrashing at you while the crowd thrashes back. It is near impossible to capture that level of intimacy in a venue as large as Ball. But when the bands are as big as Korn and Evanescence, only a capacity of 20,000 could contain their raucous fans. And last night, despite the comically full rows and spacial challenges, the audience got close. While we waited for Korn, two separate groups in the pit began building cup snakes, capturing the attention of the arena as we all watched the precarious towers of cups grow. Everyone erupted into cheers when the two halves of the snake finally made their way through the crowd and joined together in a highly-anticipated union. And even as the cup snake eventually met its death somewhere in the pit, fans kept themselves entertained throughout the set change — the wave circulated around the arena as fans kept themselves entertained in the mind-numbing wait.
After anxiously watching a literal wall of metal bars being built at the front of the stage, a wash of hair and fists rushed forward upon the first downbeats of “Rotting In Vain” as if to meet the caged wall imprisoning the quintessential hardcore showmen. The mosh pit quickly ripped itself open like an angry wound that refused to heal, leaving a healthy number of moshers dancing violently in the midst of the pit throughout the duration of the set, only slowing down to half speed with a tempo change, like moshing in slow motion. The pit became a living entity for over an hour, writhing in on itself — flesh and spit and nail polish-adorned hand gestures piercing through the chaos. Crowd-surfing broke loose by the third song as a true, brick-and-mortar rock show took its first breaths.
Jonathon Davis’ animalistic gargling incites a frenzied excitement into the system and has since the ’90s. Tuesday night, his cracked vocals and demonic ramblings lit up an estranged Catholic girl’s spirit while simultaneously provoking a packed arena. Korn’s bold drum lines — making an alluring use of 4/4 time — fueled the fire, igniting the lead guitar’s signature wailing into action. Korn operates with the confidence of gods. And their fan base bows down, singing along to every word, even carrying prompted a cappella moments to their climax. The masters of tension and release in their music, guitarists James “Munky” Shaffer and Brian “Head” Welch bowed to their own chord progressions, headbanging so hard their heads nearly met the stage floor.
The iconic metal group has always been polarizing. But Korn doesn’t care about trying to impress anyone. They don’t need to. Korn pioneered nu metal, making themselves an internationally recognized name. They’ve been doing things their own way, whether people like it or not, for a very long time. The beauty of Korn’s oftentimes disturbing music lies in its inherent and impressive groove — it’s not your typical driving-chords-all-the-time-every-
Though the encore is usually a consolation prize for being a good crowd, where the headliner has to play their obligatory hits, Korn’s thrown bone was just as enticingly epic as the rest of the show. Davis marched back on stage for a bagpipe soliloquy, commanding attention as he flaunted his new instrument and challenged the audience to elevate the evening’s energy even higher — and once the identifiably nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics of “Shoots and Ladders” fought their way out of the speakers, the crowd popped off. Then, “Freak On A Leash” saw Lee return to the stage for one last bout of madness and harmonization with Davis.
The last, deafening plunge of screams from the crowd wrapped the show up like a cozy blanket, ushering everyone home with pleas from both headliners to get home safe. Whatever happened in the pit stayed in the pit. It was time to rest.