Everyone loves a good singalong, especially when the person leading it is Davey Havok. AFI's appearance at the Long Beach Arena in September of 2006 is chronicled on I Heard a Voice, which could well be an abbreviation for a longer title, something like, "I heard a voice -- or rather, several thousand voices singing as one." There is indeed plenty of audience participation that takes place on the album, but cheers, chants, and a chorus of fans lend themselves well to AFI's performance, enhancing the experience rather than diminishing it. Call it AFI with the Long Beach/Southern California Concert Chorus, if you will.
The set list for the concert focuses mainly on songs from AFI's more recent releases, Decemberunderground and Sing the Sorrow, which on the surface would account for the crowd's enthusiasm. But it quickly becomes apparent that the fans in attendance for this show weren't just there to hear the radio-ready "Miss Murder" (though they get a rousing version of the song at the end of the show). Everyone seems to know the words to all the songs -- not only the simple choruses like, "Hey!" or "Oh!" but verses, cues, even the tones in which all of these elements are delivered. Havok not only recognizes this, he revels in it along with the fans, allowing plenty of interludes during his vocal duties in which the audience takes over. This, in addition to the occasional spoken word aside, makes for a warm, engaging and fun interplay between the people on-stage and the ones in the seats -- and the crowd is actually pretty good. That said, they won't be replacing Havok any time soon; he's certainly no slouch on this album, and delivers a performance that is earnest, theatrical, and ultimately cathartic. In other words, his vocals translate just as well live as they do in the studio.
The same can't be said for all of the songs themselves, particularly several from Decemberunderground, which lose some of their magic and polish in a concert setting. It's not the fault of anyone in the band, by any means, who perform with their typical fire and enthusiasm. It's more a device of Decemberunderground's production and effects -- the songs just sound fuller on a studio release. Those who hoped for bigger, louder, arena versions of, say, "The Missing Frame" may be disappointed, but it's no reason to disregard the entire album. On the other side of the coin, however, there are times when the band seems to stick a bit too closely to the studio versions of their songs by way of minimal (if any) variations on the original sounds and themes from their previous discs. It's technically sound and makes the pieces instantly recognizable (perhaps an intentional nod to newer fans), but it cuts down a bit on the spontaneity and excitement factor that is supposed to mark a live show.
Things do start to ratchet up a bit toward the end of the disc (starting with "Death of Seasons") as AFI approaches the home stretch and loosens up a bit. After some call and response with the crowd, the band brings things to a close with a version of "Miss Murder" that is looser but no less intense than the original. What makes it work is the audience, who follows Havok's every word and roars in approval with the song's completion. Their inclusion from beginning to end shows that more than anything, I Heard a Voice is a gift to the fans, who AFI thanks repeatedly throughout the disc, an acknowledgement that they are the ones that fuel the band's fire inside.
© Katherine Fulton /TiVo