The only hint of dissent Friday night at Rupp Arena between Avenged Sevenfold and its very vocal audience of 6,500 came when M. Shadows, the generously tattooed frontman for the California neo-metal band, admitted he had slipped into town a day early and caught Thursday's Rupp show by the country-pop brigade Rascal Flatts.
The confession drew a pronounced round of jeers — more for Rascal Flatts than for Shadows' one-night defection to the country ranks. But the performance mood was well in place before the singer offered his less-than-glowing appraisal of the Flatts trio.
Headlining a four-act, 4½ -hour rock package parade dubbed the Nightmare After Christmas, Avenged Sevenfold — A7X, to its fans — opened its 75-minute set with a hanging. Seriously.
As the music box-style intro to the show-opening Nightmare (the title tune to A7X's fifth and newest album) commenced, a stuntman (well, let's hope it was a stuntman) stood atop the light rigging perched over a stage made to resemble a graveyard. After slipping a makeshift noose around his neck, he leapt into the air and was left, literally, hanging as A7X let loose with Nightmare's near operatic mix of banshee vocals, pop-metal melodies and twin guitar leads. Around this dark carnival shot enough flames and pyrotechnics to put the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to shame.
Musically, the song was like vintage Queensrÿche. Visually, it was like Alice Cooper — only a lot creepier.
Luckily, though, the bulk of A7X's set played with metal-tinged arena rock convention. Much of the multi-act bill did, for that matter. Only the Minnesota band New Medicine, which kicked off the evening while rush hour traffic outside Rupp was still at a boil, worked itself into a stylistic corner with generic metal and post-grunge grooves.
For A7X's part, it cooled the heated guitar makeup behind Danger Line down to the sleek strains of a piano, whistling and a lone military snare. Later, So Far Away, dubbed by Shadows as "our saddest song," was offered as eulogy for founding A7X drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, who died in 2009 at age 28.
Des Moines, Iowa, rockers Stone Sour preceded A7X with a set that nicely shifted from the ensemble metal crunch of Hell & Consequences to the solo acoustic Bother. The latter was a showcase for vocalist Corey Taylor. Both Taylor and Stone Sour's fleet-fingered guitarist Jim Root double as members of the masked metal troupe Slipknot. But Friday night, aside from Taylor dubbing himself the "metal Doogie Howser," they balanced the kind of meaty metal grind Slipknot is known for with a generous pop accessibility that is very much Stone Sour's creation.
The surprise of the night was the bill's second band, the Los Angeles rap and rock troupe Hollywood Undead. Operating with a novel musical makeup centered around four vocalists and two drummers, the band injected generous doses of pop harmony into a wild stylistic mix that resulted in such inventive hybrid tunes as Hear Me Now. Despite the Gothic sounding name, Hollywood Undead offered the evening's craftiest pop crossover possibilities.