Breaking Benjamin @ Iron City, Birmingham, AL, 5-8-2017

Iron City. For much of my life it meant a beer. Now it’s a concert venue. This was my first concert in this small hall and I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. Iron City holds about 1300 for a concert. The building is from 1929 when it was used by the auto industry. The exterior retains some vintage flair but the inside is modern. I suppose there’s not a bad seat in the house … if you are upstairs in the high roller section where there are seats. From my preferred vantage point in the pit, you stand. But Iron City did it right. The center of the pit is sunken with the perimeter being raised a bit. So even short people and Randy Newman can enjoy the visuals from afar. Also the bar is in the back (relative to the stage) and it’s open 360 degrees so you can see the stage even if you are in line. Then there are the video monitors throughout, except for the loo (management, take note).

Breaking Benjamin is from the little town of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA. I have friends from there. None are members of this band. If you watch the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, then you know that Jimmy McGill (later to be Saul Goodman) had the nickname Slipping Jimmy. Why? Because Jimmy ran a scam where he feigned slipping, thus extorting victims to pay for his “injury”. Once upon a time some guy named Benjamin Burnley was in a band. He borrowed a microphone and proceeded to break it. From that point forward he was dubbed Breaking Benjamin. Hence the name of the band according to rock music legend. Mr. Burnley has the last laugh however, for he is the only remaining member of the band in this touring version. Blame Shallow Bay.

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The opening act was Red. This was not some random decision. Red and Breaking Benjamin are connected. Red was loud. Very loud. They were so loud that noise complaints were coming in from Nyle DiMarco’s house. Now for the connection : Red is from Nashville, and a founding member was guitarist Jasen Rauch. Rauch was a co-writer on Breaking Benjamin’s Dear Agony. So after the shit storm known as Shallow Bay, Burnley was the last man standing. You can research the story behind Shallow Bay if you wish. It’s all about testosterone and power. Rauch’s talents were enlisted in the formation of the new version of BB and he is a welcome addition. Rauch uses a guitar synthesizer to produce those signature sweeping orchestrals. Therefore, there is no pre-recorded nonsense in a BB live show. Red played alt metal fare for about 40 minutes and the crowd at Iron City loved it.

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The current members of BB are

  • Benjamin Burnley – lead vocals, rhythm guitar (1999–present)
  • Jasen Rauch – lead guitar, strings, programming (2014–present)
  • Keith Wallen – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2014–present)
  • Aaron Bruch – bass, backing vocals (2014–present)
  • Shaun Foist – drums, percussion, programming (2014–present

Only a handful of bands are able to bring me to tears with their lyrics. Staind comes to mind. Another is Breaking Benjamin. I think it’s the combination of thoughtful chord progression and personal, meaningful lyrics. I wasn’t always a BB fan and I have my friend Gene to thank for the introduction (check out his review of Bryan Ferry on this blogsite). Twelve years ago Gene asked if I wanted to see Breaking Benjamin at the Masquerade in Atlanta. I knew a few BB tunes getting airplay and I’ve always enjoyed the Masquerade, if not for the music, for the vibe of the venue. If you’ve been there you know what I mean – a thyroid storm of the postmodern apocalypse.  The opening acts were the Exies and Silvertide. I became an instant Breaking Benjamin fan and downloaded their two available releases the next day while waiting for my hearing to return.

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So on a balmy spring evening in Alabama with a very diverse crowd, Breaking Benjamin transported all of us to the same musical place for an hour-and-a-half. I can’t remember attending a concert where everyone there knew all the lyrics to every song. I looked around the pit to confirm it. BB fans are righteously serious. BB opened with the commercial fave “So Cold” and sampled every release with a well planned set list. Midway, the band gave a nod to headbanger heroes from the generation before with a metal montage. It featured songs from Nirvana, Metallica, Rage, Tool, Pantera and even props to Darth Vader. We enjoyed. The last two songs were “I Will Not Bow” and “The Diary of Jane”. Both crowd pleasers, and a fitting end to another fine concert performance by (IMHO) an underrated band.

Years ago a friend criticized me for liking AC/DC. He said every release sounds like every other one. I told him “But I like that sound”. Same thing for BB. Music critics pan BB for having the same sound, but what if we like that sound?  I must add that Dark Before Dawn (2015) is a marked departure, especially in the vocals department. Bruch and Wallen offer more layers of vocals than before, and the backing vocals and harmonies are evident in the live show too. But the bones of BB are still there – the rich sweeping overlaid guitars interrupted by the crunch of power chords and growling vocals.

I am looking forward to more shows at Iron City. I have a ticket for Dispatch already and I’m sure there will be many more. Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.

George Ford

 

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