Date / Venue: Wednesday November 21st, 2018 - The Powerstation, Auckland
The weather is dark and grey, as the fans devoted enough to buy the meet and greet tickets huddle in the rain outside The Powerstation’s equally grey façade. I’ve brought Aslan, my eight year old son as Skillet is his favourite band and it’s an all ages gig.
The under-aged portion of events is very carefully segregated from where the adults are allowed to drink alcohol. It’s then that I notice that he’s not the youngest there by a long shot. There are plenty of kids from just shy of getting their 18+ card to babies being toted around in front packs. It reminds me of the concerts when I was the kid and parents just carted their offspring around any old where.
I’m a bit jealous of the grown-ups downstairs who get to line up along the stage. I’m really going to miss the mosh. The Powerstation is an odd venue to talk about numbers, because even packed to the gills it can look empty. The mezzanine floor lines the walls up top, creating a big, high-ceilinged open area in the middle that gives the illusion of space. It looks around half full, but we are early to arrive and there are more and more people filtering in.
The mood is relaxed more than anticipatory. I see a few crosses, worn casually, and rather less of the scruffy long haired look one often gets at a hard rock concert. Also absent are the t-shirts of other bands, and not just upstairs in the kid’s section. Some are wearing the Skillet merch shirts though; it’s clear who everyone is waiting to see.
It’s a friendly crowd and polite too. The audience seems more suited to Christmas in the Park than a heavy rock concert. There are those who have followed Skillet for longer than other fans have been alive and there’s an extreme diversity in age if not ethnicity. At some point my son asks me ‘Why are there no black people here?’ I have no answer for him, but I too have noticed that we are as homogenous as milk.
The lights go down and up, and the concert starts bang on time with Armed in Advance taking the stage. They are massively heavy to start. The Powerstation is quirky in that it vibrates with a decent amount of bass frequency, and this band is certainly providing that. There are some alarmed looks from the mums around, but those of us who have been here before shrug it off.
Armed in Advance is a trio based in Auckland, with J.P. Carroll on lead and guitars. I’ve heard he’s full on, but tonight seems more laid back. There are some strobe lights, but not much in the way of visual effects at this stage. The bass player Hugh Hokopaura is full of energy, and on a couple of the songs hits a groove that owes a little something to Flea, he’s funky, while Daniel Purchase on drums is solid and interesting. Their heaviness strays into metal at times.
Carroll starts a clap along, and while there’s some audience interaction, and ad libbing on the fly when his guitar needs tuning, the crowd aren’t giving much away. The band are tight and technically proficient, their skill apparent. J.P. never hits a wrong note. There’s maybe a little too much shoe gazing, as aside from a bit of head nodding, the audience fail to commit to a proper mosh, perhaps saving their energy for the main event.
The Coridian set starts moody and ambient, full of reverb then suddenly plunges into full on high energy noise, with the lead singer, Dity Maharaj, jumping around the stage. This is clear cut heavy rock, optimistic and animated. They have the prowess and the vibe and make good use of the stage with Dity really giving it his all. In fact they’re all jumping around, save the drummer, Kris Raven, who clearly has a limited ability to move around while owning the percussion section. I like what he’s up to; he’s versatile and lightening quick when he wants to be. There are lots of large theatrical movements which make full use of the kit.
In fact the whole band understands that performance is a part of the gig. Dity introduces Pride, a song about the evils of social media, but asks the crowd to look them up on Facebook and give them a like, the joke lands and as one we all crack up. He’s got us on side.
Nick Raven on bass is every bit as enthusiastic as Hugh Hokopaura was, but next to the antics of his band mates looks more economical in his movements. He’s got a Foos sound at times, and he and Dity do the obligatory head bang together, interacting first with each other, then with the audience.
Completing the triad of Raven brothers is Mike Raven on guitar. He too knows how to rock a crowd, amp up the hype with the singer, and generally master the stage. He can strike a convincing hero pose and thrash with the best of them.
They are all comfortable on stage, and know that the job of support is to get the audience rarked up for the main act. Dity does this well, ‘Who’s up next?’ he demands, and we all shout ‘Skillet. He’s still leaping around and doesn’t let up.
They create melodic, reverberating soundscapes, at times beautiful and interesting, and other times pure rock that would be perfectly at home in an arena. They deserve a lot of radio play. At the end of their set they take a picture with the audience in the background. I’ve noticed that this crowd aren’t big on throwing up their goats. This makes sense being that the main acts are Christian rock and the goats are a nod to the horns of Satan. There’s some alternate hand signalling going on in the form of fists and a deal that looks like goats, but has the thumb stuck out. But now Coridian is taking the picture and making the forbidden gesture, most of the audience is on board.
The alternate goats is not the only difference between this and the usual concert. Everyone is so patient and friendly. It’s nice, but kind of weird. I can’t see anyone drunk. There’s no waft of pot smoke at any time during the proceedings and no one is trying to look cool, or aggressive or tough. No fights break out, or even threaten to. There’s plenty of tattoos and multi-coloured hair, just no gory devil worshipping t-shirt art. I mean, I’m wearing a skull necklace, but they’re cartoon-like and hardly evil at all.
Skillet is completely unapologetic about being Christian rock and roll and I have no issue with that. I’d prefer that everyone was up for being who they really are to the greatest degree possible. Let’s face it, musicians get their inspiration from lots of places and no one rolls their eyes when the inspiration comes from love, or drugs, so why not God?
There’s movement on stage, Skillet’s gear is being set up and people are starting to look interested. 9.24pm and everything is running like clock-work. I guess that’s what happens when rock and roll doesn’t get wasted.
The stage lights dim, then flash at the audience. Jen Ledger, the drummer, walks on stage and the whole venue erupts. Then Korey Cooper, keyboard and guitar. The volume increases. Seth Morrison, guitar and John Cooper, the bass playing singer arrive and the noise has peaked out. They immediately launch into an anthem, Feel Invincible. Everyone knows the words and sings along. Skillet is on stage, and they are the band who everyone has come to see.
John looks the part with his tattoos, ripped skinny jeans and sleeveless hoodie. He’s smashing it on the bass and is every inch the frontman, with epic vocals. This man has incredible chops.
He’s not the only one. Jen on drums is like a machine. Though she doesn’t lose the beat for a second she joins in harmonies with amazing high notes always pitch perfect. The bass and the treble create a beautiful layer of sound that’s hard to believe considering both are also immaculate on their instruments.
Korey’s guitar is energy plus. She’s like a tiny thrasher and her voice too is ethereal. All the while she’s doing the bouncy Euro mosh, in her big boots with her purple hair flailing wildly. She’s got more attitude than her petite frame can contain, the vibe is almost punk.
The second song is another anthem, heavy af. Whispers in the Dark is a proper metal, hard rock song, all fists are up and Korey and Seth swap positions on the stage, with her moving left towards the keyboard that she’ll prove to be brilliant on also.
John counts down to a jumping mosh for Sick of It. I remember him telling me during the interview that this was about school shootings, and there’s a strange disparity between that concept and the joyful throwing up of fists that the beat induces. Then he takes the opportunity to talk about the meanings, what are people sick of? Loneliness, abuse, addiction, and asks us to hold up our hands and let it all go.
Rise has us all singing along and again highlights Jen’s talent on drums. It’s clear why the band have been twice nominated for Emmys.
Lions is a little slower, still hard and heavy. Seth is masterful on the guitar breaking out a sweet technical solo on Back from the Dead. Later on playing Undefeated he’ll put that guitar through its paces. Slow, fast, slow and twist it almost sideways till it’s being tortured in purgatory but sounding incredible. The audience love it.
Meanwhile, a few songs back Awake and Alive opens with a cello which is sweet, and dare I say, heavenly. Jen is off the drums and up front singing, her high, perfect notes dancing with the strings. Then she’s back on the kit and bashing out a heavy beat while the Tate Olsen, the cellist carts the giant instrument around the stage like it’s a freaking guitar. He stays for Not Gonna Die.
Korey is like an atom, a little thing full of almost unfathomable potential energy, but with more capacity for fun and less for destruction.
John takes a moment to talk to the crowd about the divisiveness in American politics, the anger and the racism. He loves that rock and roll brings people together, and it doesn’t matter about the colour of their skin or what country they come from. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and no less true for being somewhat ironic at a gig almost entirely populated by white people. This too is where he talks about the guy who never lets him down. The people are on board and expecting this. When John expresses his love for Jesus Christ there’s a wave of ecstatic excitement near palpable in the room. The drums kick in, Hero has begun.
The mood is that of a huge arena concert filled with worshipping fans. Cooper explained in the interview that he is a vessel for God, so there’s a feeling that it is both God and Cooper/Skillet being celebrated here. But I think of other concerts I’ve seen, ones with no religious overtones, yet still, the crowd assigned the musicians on stage with divine properties, worshipping them just as enthusiastically.
John’s epic voice, Jen’s machine-like timing, Korey’s insane energy and talent, and Seth’s face-melting solos. Each member of the band is stunning in their own right, but together they are better than the sum of their parts.
Finally it is the song Aslan has waited all night for. The Monster hit that the entire audience knows by heart. It creates a massive head-banging mosh, all fists in the air. John himself throws up the actual goats and the audience responds in kind.
Hot on the heels of that success comes Rebirthing. Korey is kicking and jumping, right up to the last song. The cello is there, rocking out like it’s always part of a heavy banger. There’s no way the hungry fans are going to let them get away without an encore. A growl has entered John’s voice, the last country, the last gig of the tour, the last song and you can tell he’s going to sing until his throat bleeds. As one the crowd bays for more, chanting encore, the clapping in unison getting faster and faster until the band deign to return.
The Resistance is the final song of the night. Elated that Skillet has retaken the stage, the screams echo around the venue. We throw our all into it, everyone rocking out and belting out the lyrics. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this one, I’m hardly one to believe without cause. But after hearing the evidence. I’m converted.
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