When the concert is by a metal band and the opening song is titled “Shepherd of Fire,” you can pretty much count on the pyro coming early — and coming big. Even longtime metalheads, however, would not have expected how many explosions, flaming plumes and other fiery effects that Avenged Sevenfold offered at the beginning, end and near-entirety of its Target Center concert Monday.
Performing behind its second consecutive Billboard chart-topping album (“Hail to the King”), the California hard-rock quintet returned to the Minneapolis arena as one of the few metal bands of the past decade big enough to fill such a place. The quintet is working its way to headlining several of the biggest metal fests in the country this year — and it brought along a bigger, more metallic stage production to match.
With a giant castle backdrop, towering skeletons and the aforementioned pyromaniacal array of torching devices, Avenged Sevenfold’s latest visual spectacle could be recycled after the tour for a staging of “He-Man: The Musical.” To really light up the nearly 10,000 fans early in the set, the flamethrowers onstage even moved to the rhythms of “Hail to the King” in an elegantly choreographed fire dance reminiscent of the water-fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
The whole shebang would have been laughable in a Spinal-Tap-does-Stonehenge sort of way, but — much like their heroes in the similarly showy metal act Iron Maiden — A7X’s music was seriously butt-kicking enough for most of the 100-minute performance that it never took a back seat to the skull and bones.
After “Shepherds of Fire” and “Hail to the King” — both so-so tunes from the band’s latest, not greatest album — the band had fans bellowing along during the older favorite “Doing Time.” Other massive sing- and fist-pump-along moments came mid-show with “Nightmare,” which came off like a hybrid of Queensrÿche and Megadeth, and again at show’s end with “This Means War” and the Guns N’ Roses-flavored encore finale “A Little Piece of Heaven.”
A different kind of powerful moment came when frontman M. Shadows dedicated one of the older tunes, “Fiction,” to the band’s former drummer, Jimmy “the Rev” Sullivan, who died of an overdose in 2009. Said Shadows, “It’s hard enough losing your best friend since the second grade. It’s even harder to come out every night to play music that reminds you of him.”
On the lighter side, a film crew came out near the end of the evening to tape a video of A7X accepting a trophy “live” on the Revolver Golden Gods Awards — which will be taking place Wednesday in Los Angeles. At least the rest of Monday’s concert wasn’t only about putting on a show.
The second of two opening bands, Hellyeah managed to get the crowd fired up without so much as a Bic lighter for a prop. Drummer Vinnie Paul — a hero to metal heads from his days in Pantera — instilled his usual hint of gritty Texas boogie into even the band’s hardest-thrashing songs, including the new epic “Demons in the Dirt.” The quintet closed its set on a rowdy, high note with its eponymous, Motörhead-flavored anthem “Hellyeah,” a tribute to the good bad-boy life that generated a truly hellacious mosh pit on the arena floor.
See A7X’s set list and more photos at startribune.com/music