Bitter wind and cold temperatures didn’t stop Breaking Benjamin fans from lining up early outside the House of Blues on Euclid Avenue Saturday night.
They’re a loyal fan base – not one person I met all night was only seeing the band for the first time – and the winter chill did little to curb their excitement.
Photography by Corey Vondrak
Opening band Wilson warmed up the crowd with metal-edged rock reminiscent of AC/DC. An AC/DC cover later confirmed this. They rolled through original tracks, including “Right To Rise”, a driving rock anthem that genuinely expressed the frustration, but also the hope, of being from Detroit. The set also included a Rage Against The Machine cover, “Sleep Now In The Fire”, a bit of nostalgia snuck in for a crowd that spanned more than just one generation of rock fans.
Benjamin Burnley and the second full incarnation of his band have come full circle, and not by way of a comeback but as a new chapter in a continuing story, opening strong with one of their oldest hits, “So Cold”. Burnley’s vocals are as powerful live as they are on record – he visibly sings from his gut. Burnley was joined in vocals on several of the next tracks by guitarist Jasen Rauch, who has contributed to the forward movement of the band with his songwriting and backing up Burnley.
The band rolled through a well-designed set list mixing their heavier tracks with slower, more melodic songs without losing the audience, including “Breath”, “I Will Not Bow”, their first hit, “Polyamorous”, and the gorgeous “Ashes of Eden” from their last album, 2015’s aptly titled, Dark Before Dawn. Burnley regularly engaged in conversation with the audience, sharing antidotes of the band’s life and his opinions on everything from what he sees as the “pretentious rock star” persona – “I gotta wait in line at the fucking grocery store, too” – to the dedication of service by U.S. troops and civil servants, both statements getting encouraging responses from the crowd.
Burnley genuinely appreciates his audience and seems very clear on the fact that they are why Breaking Benjamin has made such a solid return to the music scene since the beginning of the decade when Burnley’s illnesses, the dissolution of the original line-up and subsequent lawsuits muddied the water on if BB would ever exist again. He’s comfortable with them, rolling off an accidental belch into the mic, laughing with his band-mates and later leaning forward into the crowd with a furrowed brow and serious look stating he will “never stop playing places like this ‘cause I can see every fucking face in this crowd.”
Breaking Benjamin appeals to both metal and standard rock fans, but the heavy melodic tracks are what work best for them, primarily because of how well-suited they are to Burnley’s vocals. Despite the moody, emotional lyrics and dark, fluid melodies, they have all seen and experienced enough to know to not take themselves too seriously, a mindset that bodes well for their music and delivers their message without alienating audiences. I overheard one crowd member muse at the beginning of “Ashes of Eden”, “Do you know how many times I got drunk to this song?” Permanent connection established.