Breaking Benjamin sparks embers with a fiery performance in Madison
Throughout music history, few bands and acts have been able maintain a level of consistent success as well as Breaking Benjamin has. Enduring its own share of struggles, founder/lead vocalist Ben Burnley has reorganized, assembling a new incarnation of the legendary hard rock group. Now a five-piece well-oiled machine, many fans, critics and even Burnley himself feel the band is heavier and more complete than in the past.
With their headlining performance at The Sylvee last Monday in mind, I can only attest that this perception of the band’s current state is correct: Breaking Benjamin is simply the best it has ever been.
On tour with fellow veteran acts Skillet and Underoath, the audience was taken back in time with a collection of classic songs blended with each of the band’s best current hits. Between all three main acts, there are songs and albums dating back to the mid-90s.
The opening act was a newer rock band called Fight the Fury, which is Skillet vocalist and bassist John Cooper’s side project. Properly stoking the fire for the evening with a short but sweet set, I was impressed with the band’s presence on stage and whole performance.
Then came a personal favorite of mine from my years in high school: Underoath. Rising to prominence with the post-hardcore/screamo craze of the early 2000s, they haven’t lost a step or sound any different.
Their set was highlighted by the playing of “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door." A heavy throwback to 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety, the live performance was as aggressive as the growling vocals and grinding guitar lines which dominate most of the song.
Following this was Skillet — a band I haven’t had the chance to listen to enough in the past, but one that made a strong impression. Not lost on me is the strong fanbase which follows Skillet, and they were present in thralls at this show.
Often employing a cellist or violinist to accompany their more traditional hard rock sound, they have been described as a Christian Rock band with a symphonic metal attribute. While proudly proclaiming their faith on stage at one point, there really isn’t anything to their performance which could be unwelcoming to those of any other religion.
The performance of their 2009 hit “Hero” is testament to their Christian background, with religious undertones spread throughout the lyrics. Yet it comes across as simply a solid rock song for anyone to jam out to. Everyone can love and warm to the concept of a hero to society.
Finally came the band that this writer had been waiting to see live since I first bought their album Saturate way back in 2002.
Breaking Benjamin came out behind a large white curtain, covering the whole Sylvee stage and keeping their elaborate, pyrotechnic display hidden from the audience until just the last moment before the heavy drop in the opening seconds of their current hit “Red Cold River” from last year’s Ember. According to their Facebook page, this was The Sylvee’s first pyrotechnic act to date, and it was a powerful display to say the least.
Performing at least one song from each of the band’s six studio albums, Breaking Benjamin also played their hit single “Blow Me Away," which Ben Burnley wrote specifically for the legendary classic video game “Halo 2."
Surprising everyone in the crowd with a brief recess from their own material, they also performed small portions from a collection of classic rock anthems, such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
Two of my personal favorites, “Polyamorous” and “So Cold" instantly set me back to my adolescence and teenage years, bringing the entire crowd to an uproar, all shouting the lyrics to each song back at the band in a powerful display of unity between performers and concertgoers.
“Tourniquet” — the third single off Ember — as well as “Failure” from 2015’s Dark Before Dawn were the perfect choices to allow newer fans of the band to shine and steal the spotlight. For a veteran follower like myself, these songs are a welcome and natural progression from their earlier works, signaling a very promising future for a band that is now two decades old.
I’ve been to a few shows at The Sylvee over this past year with each and everyone of them providing a thrilling and powerful performance. But this one may have been the best yet. In an age where hip-hop and rap has taken its well-deserved, hard-earned place at the top of music charts, bands like Skillet, Underoath, Fight the Fury and Breaking Benjamin provide hard rock fans the chance to keep the good times rolling.
The future looks bright for these veterans of the game.
John Everman is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter