AFI Dredges Up Nostalgia in Tattooed Fans Careening Toward Middle Age

Davey Havok, lead singer of AFI, belts it out at the Gothic Theatre on January 28, 2017.
Aaron Thackeray
Davey Havok, lead singer of AFI, belts it out at the Gothic Theatre on January 28, 2017.
The verdict is in: AFI is still punk; its fans, maybe not so much. They look like grown-up lost boys, once punk kids, now bankers. Under their buttoned-up appearance, they have tattoos, ritual markings in time, defining life stages and their undying love of AFI.

Tickets, starting at a moderate $29, sold out fast. The resale price shot up to $160. From the time fans started lining up outside the Gothic Theatre, at 1 p.m. on Saturday, January 28, to when they swayed back and forth, hypnotized by lead singer Davey Havok, they talked about the high-school memories AFI evoked, shows from years ago and how many of the band's tattoos they have branded on their skin.

"I have three AFI tattoos," said one audience member.

"I have six AFI tattoos," gloats another.

The person with the most: nine.

But however much Denver's loyal fans had grown up and gotten their shit together, adulthood hasn't killed their love of the music. People waxed about the last time they saw the band live: headlining the Fillmore Auditorium in 2006 or Riot Fest, four years ago. This show at the Gothic may be the smallest venue the band has played in this decade.

While the Gothic isn't exactly a tiny venue, the sweaty crowds made it intimate and special from the jump. The opening act, Cali-born Souvenirs, played earnestly to an already packed room, at 8 p.m. For the members of the second band, Denver's Chain Gang of 1974, sharing the bill with their idols in AFI was monumental. Although the band struggled at times to build on the energy that had seemingly already peaked for the night's headliner, Chain Gang of 1974 delivered each song with force. Still, the group's talent may have been lost on those in the audience who couldn't stop singing AFI songs to themselves.

This was AFI's first headlining tour since 2009. The musicians ran through a tight set list, well worth the grueling wait. Instead of trying out new material, bandmembers catered to fans needing to bask in nostalgia. They played like not a day had passed since 2002. The musicians, now older, still seemed young, brash and intense, fueled by youthful gusto.

Havok brought that gusto in force. He has refined his stage presence to a science, his voice as astonishing as it was back when Fuse TV reigned supreme. For some, this show dredged up long-forgotten high-school drama and teen angst, but it transcended that: Havok tapped into the darkness lurking deep in our souls.
I've never seen Havok flaunt more energy on stage: He was sexual, jumping in the air and doing kicks off the drum stand. His hair, shorter now, still flipped well to the screams and sweat of his admirers, and to the heavy bass.

"Denver fucking Colorado, you are so fucking fantastic," he said, as he caught his breath. "You're fantastic, and I say that from the bottom of my heart."

By song six, my friends and I had already sung our way through two years of high school, hundreds of nights nursing heartache with AFI as the soundtrack.

"The Leaving Song Part Two" was delivered perfectly. The energy remained high with "Love Like Winter." Havok nearly brought the house to tears with "6 to 8." Screams from the crowd filled every pocket of the room.

Then the musicians slowed it down; Havok turned sentimental, singing "Leaving Song Part One."

The band appeared to have the most fun playing "Days of the Phoenix," then shredded into "Snow Cats," which was followed by the first finale, the unforgettable "Miss Murder." During an encore, the bandmates brought out two songs that encompass both sides of AFI, present and past: a more recent ballad, "I Hope You Suffer," and finally, the classic emo song "Silver and Cold." Now older, the bandmembers had matured enough to make the song's painful lyrics all the more meaningful.

The performance was intoxicating. It's a sure bet that many fans added to their tattoos afterward.