Twenty or so minutes into his band’s first ever performance at Madison Square Garden, M. Shadows decides to cast light upon magic. Avenged Sevenfold, he explains, almost didn’t make their appointment at the “world’s most famous arena” on account of cancelled flights and other travel snafus. As if this weren’t quite enough, the singer’s admission that their very presence onstage is attributable entirely to the genius of their road crew ensuring the show goes on begs numerous questions. Here’s two of them: is the often-muddy sound attributable to the acoustics of an ageing arena, or has half of the backline gone missing in transit? And is the decision to light the musicians so dimly (and almost never from above) the result of an art-house aesthetic, or is this the best the riggers could do with only limited equipment?
Either way, Avenged Sevenfold at Madison Square Garden is not quite the triumph it ought to have been. And, for sure, it’s not a fitting showcase for the Orange County quintet’s brand new album. Because as well as being the band’s best and most ambitious LP, Life Is But A Dream…, unveiled at the start of the month, is perhaps the most inventive and fearless creation of its kind released this century. Certainly, as a statement of intent from one of the world’s most popular loud bands, its qualities are such that it is neither idealistic nor optimistic to envisage its 11 songs being performed in their entirety, front to back, by music-makers who must surely know they have created something truly special. Instead of this, though, New York gets half the LP smattered (overwhelmingly and confusingly) at the front and back of the set. Worse still, the vocals for night’s opening two songs – Game Over and Mattel – are lost to a PA that sounds as if it’s been salvaged from the Staten Island Ferry. “Turn your fucking mic up!” screams an exasperated audience member near the front of the stage. And so say all of us…
The evening comes up short elsewhere too. For a band with eight studio albums to their name – and who are happy to smash into the three-figure price-range for the better seats in the house – an evening comprising 16-songs proper seems like scant reward indeed. After taking to the stage at 21:25, Avenged Sevenfold are done for the night by 11pm. And while it goes without saying that much of what lies in-between is superior fare – the pairing of Unholy Confessions and A Little Piece Of Heaven especially so – the nagging notion that the band onstage aren’t wholly comfortable in this kind of space, at least not tonight, continues to tug at the sleeve. Those who enjoy being in the proximity of master-craftsmen likely enjoy watching drummer Brooks Wackerman and guitarist Synyster Gates tear through time-signatures and styles as if genre, too, was but a dream. But as the houselights cast their sickly yellow upon a dispersing crowd that seems a touch confused by the overall experience, one wonders whether it would really have killed them to have played an encore.
Of course, by headlining Madison Square Garden, Avenged Sevenfold have realised a dream peculiar to almost every serious rock band. For such a notable achievement, allowances can be made. As the ugliest large venue in the New York area, not to mention one of the oldest of its kind in the country, it is often overlooked that a night at “the world’s most famous arena” these days tends to be a happier experience for those holding guitars than for those bearing tickets. On other nights, though, when the traffic flows both ways, there is disappointment enough to be felt by all.
Avenged Sevenfold Madison Square Garden 2023 setlist
1. Game Over
4. Hail To The King
5. We Love You
6. Buried Alive
7. The Stage
8. So Far Away
11. Bat Country
12. Unholy Confessions