Avenged Sevenfold’s return to Hershey was much over due and as result the show was easily one of the most anticipated of the month for Pennsylvania fans on the band. The last time the band was in the state was just prior to the release of Hail to the King last year when the band closed out Musikfest 2013. Since then they have had a proper headlining tour supporting that album, been announced as the headliner of this summer’s Mayhem Festival and are out on the road now on The Shepherd of Fire tour to hit some cities they missed on their last run. This tour is aptly named with the first track off Hail to the King, an album that has seen the band rise to a new level of success and fame since it’s release. A few critics had some sour stuff to say following the release of the album but honestly who cares? The fans loved it, the band was very proud of their release and that spoke for itself when the album charted at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This tour however was less about supporting the album release and more about diving into some of the deep tracks on the album, mixing them into the setlist and giving fans a show worth talking about. Prior to their taking the stage “Back in Black” was played at a roaring level through the Hershey Giant Center as a black curtain with a white “A7X” and matching imagery was raised to cover the incredible stage set up going in the background. The venue was packed, only a handful of seats were unaccounted for and the floor was full of fans who kept pressing closer to the barricade in anticipation.When the house lights flickered of we all knew it was time and the curtain dropped to real a smokey castle shimmering in the mist of crimson and navy lighting. Synyster Gates was the first to emerge on the stage with his signature guitar and he prowled his way across the dimly lit stage to the center riser where he played the opening riffs of the song the tour was named for, “Shepherd of Fire,” as the stage behind him begin to burn as the pyro came alive.
M Shadows roared as he began to sing what a 14 song setlist full of surprises, both in terms of selection and events. The sheer amount of pyro that they brought with them was integrated seamlessly with the music and never seemed to be out of place or off cue. But with pyro comes heat and it wasn’t long until the arena was reaching a warm enough temperature for everyone to be soaking wet from sweat as they moshed about through out the night. The 2nd song came quick and they pulled out the longtime fan favorite “Critical Acclaim” to keep the action rolling, though they did tone the pyro presence on this song slightly. Zacky Vengeance and Johnny Christ ran from side to side of the stage only stopping to give some fans (or photographers) some attention before moving onto their next destination, all the while playing the songs flawlessly and without very much strain. Though when it comes to guitar no one makes it seem as effortless as Synyster Gates does, his nonchalant handling of the guitar makes me truly envious of his guitar talent. Not once did he look like he was doing battle with his instrument to hit a tricky note or trying to catch his breathe from moving around, it was just calm, cool and collected all the time. His confident little smirks at the end of each solo was all the crowd needed to see to burst into roaring applause quiet honestly.
The fans in the crowd row were what I like to call dedicated; by this I mean these are the fans that have supported this band from day one and probably have been waiting for this show for months. One fan actually had a pretty great tattoo of the band’s bat logo on his chest which M Shadows would point out before dedicating the third song to all the fans up front and everyone in the building as he welcomed them into their “f**ked up family”. “Welcome to the Family” has long been one of Avenged Sevenfold’s strongest track and it held up to this status live. M Shadows vocals were on point, not only this song but all night long. He doesn’t hit quite the same range has he does in the studio but that really worked to his advantage most of the time because it gave a raw energy back to some songs that sounded more polished as studio tracks. There was plenty of conversation between him in the crowd as the night progressed and things kept on a great pace only getting more exciting as the night progress.
By the fourth song, “Hail to the King,” the pyro had kicked back into full swing, the lights had gone through about 1000 dramatic changes and a huge skeleton king on a throne had made in appearance on stage. When I say huge I mean about 30 feet tall, did I mention there was pyro as well? Every band has one song that really hits home for fans for a multitude of reasons and Avenged Sevenfold’s is without a doubt, “Fiction.” Before the song started Shadows talked about the last time they were their the late James Sullivan (The Rev) was still among them and everyone knew that next song that would be played would be an emotional one. Shadows voice is showcased masterfully on this song, not to mention the rest of the band on the instrumental track. The lighters were out and fans remembered the talented drummer who was lost far too early in his life. This was among the few slower moments of the night because Avenged Sevenfold picked the pace back up and ran through the rest of the setlist was a special surprise before their encore.
For “Unholy Confessions” they brought a fan out on guitar to play. He was known only as “Steve from Philly” by his introduction but he did a great job on the track and Synster Gates sat the song out only getting up from where he was sitting a few times to provide back up vocals. Any band that does something this special for a fan gets a lot of respect in my book and the crowd gave them and “Steve from Philly” a roaring applause as the band walked off to prepare for their encore which would feature the songs “This Means War” and “A Little Piece of Heaven.”
Full Setlist for the May 8th, 2014 Show at the Hershey Giant Center :
Shepherd of Fire
Welcome to the Family
Hail to the King
(with “Stevie from Philly” on guitar)
This Means War
A Little Piece of Heaven
As a whole the night was perfect metal show; the stage set up was legendary, the performance in terms of quality was spot on and had next to no flaws, the pyro was scorching and every fan left satisfied. I am excited to see what Avenged Sevenfold brings on the road with them for Mayhem Fest. It is safe to say that they will change the setlist up a bit for sure and probably work in some more pyro and theatrics since they will be in outdoor venues. Only time will tell, this band is at the highest point of their career right now and I don’t think there is anywhere left for them to go but up. Time and time again they have shown they have the chops to be the best in the business and that has paid off building their reputation and their fan base to the size it is now. The Shepherd of Fire tour will be long remembered in Hershey and all of Pennsylvania and could easily be one of the best tours to hit the area this year. The bar has been raised, can anyone top it?
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