November 26, 2022 Five Finger Death Punch - Concert Review
Venue: Simmons Bank Arena
City: Little Rock, AR
Author: Ashley Franke
After 33 months, or a few months shy of three years, my mom and I were finally ready to attend another indoor arena concert. This was the night. I was so ready, for so many reasons. I was burnt out at work, I felt like my life was on repeat, doing the same exact thing day in and day out, and now I had a four-day break for Thanksgiving, so why not go and enjoy some loud music? That sounds like a great holiday celebration to me!
Tonight, we were going to see Five Finger Death Punch, or FFDP for short, accompanied by Brantley Gilbert and Cork Marks. FFDP is a Las Vegas rock band that captured my heart in high school and hasn’t let go since. They are my favorite band and I had seen them three times prior to this. When I heard they were coming to town again, I was going come hell or highwater. I had already missed a few other shows throughout the year, but dammit, I was not going to miss this one too.
The evening was foggy and cool, with just enough drizzle to ruin our hair, but again, this was not going to stop us. We pulled up into the parking lot, paid, and waited a few minutes in the car to see if the line by the VIP door was moving yet and to wait out the rain. Of course, by the time we were ready, it was raining slightly harder, so we put on our rain gear and walked to the door. The line was about ten people deep and I stood in line with my rain poncho on, looking like a blue ghost. Thankfully, the man in front of me, who I later found out was named Paul, kindly shared his umbrella. We exchanged a few words about our love for FFDP and he also mentioned he was a Maggot, or a fan of the band Slipknot. We went inside the doors after a few minutes and dried off as best as possible. We went to check in at the table and the woman said we had to go upstairs to check in instead. I’m guessing other people had mentioned the VIP email saying one thing because she was very adamant repeating, “I know what the email said, but we’re doing things differently.” So, a very nice security guard walked us to the elevator and up to the second check in table. Again, we waited in another line, but not for too long. After about ten to fifteen minutes, we were able to get our laminated VIP badges, which always give me an extra boost of excitement because typically it means we’re about to meet the band. Unfortunately, this was not the case tonight. Tonight, was strictly early access into the venue and first pick at the merch table, of which we got two shirts. Another FFDP shirt to add to my collection, of which I have about five already, and a Cork Marks shirt.
After shopping, the VIP got to go to their seats or go stand in the pit early. Two kind police officers escorted us to the elevator and onto the floor. One of the moments I never get tired of is stepping through the doorways onto the floor and having the entire arena surround you. It always amazes me. Anyway, we were walking to our typical spot, which is outside the main barrier and along the wall where the seats start. We do this for safety reasons, plus it has awesome benefits when artists come off the stage and through the audience. So, we were asking about our typical spot, but the security guards motioned to a slightly different setup. Right next to the main barrier was a smaller box made up of two barriers at a 90-degree angle. The arena had made a barrier “suite” for wheelchair users! Or more specifically, a suite for my mom and I. We had a front row seat on the right side of the stage with the bonuses of being safe from moshing and us not blocking the walkway for security and artists. It was great! I felt like we had a luxury suite, but with front row views.
We were finally in our spot, we had our earplugs in, and we were now ready to rock! As I mentioned before, the lineup was Cory Marks, Brantley Gilbert, and Five Finger Death Punch. For those who know these artists, it’s a very odd lineup. For those who don’t know, Cory and Brantley are modern country bands and FFDP is a hard rock band. I am not a country fan by any means, so it was very strange choice in my opinion, but in a weird way, it worked, and I actually enjoyed most of the songs.
First up was Cory Marks. A newer artist to the country scene mostly known for his two songs, “Outlaws and Outsiders” and “Blame It on the Double” of which both songs feature rock artists including FFDP front man Ivan Moody and ex-guitarist, Jason Hook, among others. Cory and his band didn’t have too many stage props, such as steam columns or pyro, but they did have two huge tires on the stage for those flashy rockstar moments, where the band members stand on a platform and strike a pose, and a projected screen on the back curtain for farther away viewers to get a better glimpse of the stage up close. This did come in handy for me personally because I couldn’t see much of the left side of the stage, where Cory spent most of the performance. He did, however, come over to our side of the stage a few times and I was able to get a couple shots. Though I only knew two songs and the ones I kind of knew from listening to my dedicated Spotify playlist once beforehand, I did enjoy the show that Cory and his band put on for us.
Up next was Brantley Gilbert, and man, do these guys know how to throw down. Firstly, they had more stage props. They too shared the tires Cory used, but they also had their keyboard and drum set raised up on smaller versions of 18-wheeler flatbeds with working taillights. Along with that, the flatbeds also had six exhaust pipes that doubled as pyro columns. If that doesn’t scream country, I don’t know what does. In addition to all that, there were also a few steam columns and another projector screen on the back curtain. I’ve never been to a country show before this, so it was quite the spectacle and it made me chuckle.
Before the show, I only knew one song with Brantley and it’s not even his song. It’s “Blue on Black” by FFDP featuring Brantley among others. Brantley did sing this during the show and Ivan did make a guest appearance. I’m really surprised Ivan didn’t come out to sing with Cory during “Outlaws and Outsiders,” but I’m glad he sang “Blue on Black.”
During the set, the screen on the curtain switched between still images to set the mood of the song, live feed from multiple cameras near the stage, and what I’m assuming was clips from some of their music videos. This was both cool and fun, but a bit distracting. With today’s screenaholics, it’s hard not to watch the music video instead of the actual concert. It did add some of that “country flair” though with scenes of woods, small town throwdowns, and running from the local sheriff.
The music itself was fun too. Mostly upbeat, let’s have a party kind of music. Compared to Cory’s drums, Brantley’s drums were so much louder. I could feel it in my core and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. At some point during the show, things slowed down a bit and Brantley gave a nice speech about how servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans are the real heroes compared to Marvel movies and similar media. They then played “One Hell of An Anthem” with stained glass windows projected on the screen and the two guitarists playing flag-decorated guitars. It was a nice gesture to thank those who are currently servicing, those who have served, and those who gave their lives for their country.
At another point during Brantley’s set, he sang “Son of the Dirty South,” which features Jelly Roll, but as he couldn’t be there to voice his parts, Brantley’s security guard came on stage. Brantley referred to him as “his little brother even though he’s huge” and proceeded to call him “Big Southern Jimmy.” I’m not 100% sure if this is the correct name because the name was a bit hard to hear, but regardless, he sang, or rapped I should say, pretty well. It’s a catchy song if I do say so myself, mixing country and rap into a clever song about being raised in the South.
Lastly, at some point during the show, Brantley came down the front aisle between the stage and the barrier and shook just about every hand possible. My mom and I were the last ones he saw, and he gave me a kind smile and a pat on the arm.
Having never seen these guys before, I would probably see them again. They’re just a good ol’ fashioned country hype up the party band and they have some really fun songs. My new favorite by them is “Rolex on a Redneck” which is funny to me because never would I have thought I would say I liked a song with the word “redneck” in the name.
Brantley’s set had ended a now it was time for the headliner. It was finally time for my all-time favorite band and the reason I was here: Five Finger Death Punch! The main curtains was blocking the stage from view, like the wrapping paper standing between you and your most anticipated gift. You know you can’t wait any longer, you just want to rip into it, or in this case pull the curtain down. But much like Christmas, it’s the anticipation that’s the fun part, but not the best part. Not even close. The intro song started up in the darkness. The slow and moody intro named “F8” starts off quiet and builds until… It stops abruptly as the curtain drops and the oh, so familiar “Inside Out” is being played as the band makes their entrance. In the background, there’s a huge sideways infinity shaped snake while eating its tail suspended in the air with an orange glowing eye. On either side of the snake, there’s two faux stone columns also suspended in the air. The snake looms over the stage as the band plays their opening song.
“Inside Out” ends and Ivan says hello to the audience. Everybody cheers and they go right into their next song, “Wash It All Away.” Having seen these guys three times and having almost 50 of their songs, I knew every single song and I sang every one of them. They say music heals the soul, but going to a show where you know every song? That’s therapy in the best possible way.
Most of the show, I was watching their bass player Chris Kael, who looks menacing with his bald head and beard dreads that look like Cthulhu’s tentacles, but he’s a teddy bear with a great sense of humor. At one point during the show, I got the classic Chris look with his tongue hanging out while he gives you crazy eyes.
Next to him was Zoltan Bathory, who is the rhythm guitarist. This badass served his country of Hungary and is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He has very long dreads on his head that he usually windmills as he plays, but for most of the show, he had them tied up. That is until they eventually fell and then he did windmill his hair a few times, which is always amazing to watch.
Within the past two years, FFDP has gotten a new drummer and lead guitarist, Charlie Engen and Andy James respectively. I hadn’t seen these two in person yet, but man did they shred. They did not miss a beat or a note. They were and are both incredible additions to the band. Charlie, who joined first, looks like your pretty average kid, but put him behind some drums and watch him turn into a drumming god. This kid has amazing talent and he got to really show off about halfway through the set during a drum solo. Andy James, or AJ, is the newest member of the band, but you wouldn’t know it. AJ’s sound meshes so well with the others’ that you would think he’s been with them for years.
Lastly, you have Ivan Moody, who along with Zoltan, are there two founding members of the band. Ivan has had some major ups and downs in his life, struggling with substance abuse and quite literally coming back from the dead. He has been sober for 5 years now and I can honestly say, this was the best I’d ever seen him. Last time I saw him, he had a cast on his foot, so he couldn’t jump around and do all the typical rockstar stuff on stage. But thankfully, tonight he didn’t have any casts on, so he could move around freely, and that he did. He was jumping, running from side to side, and just having a good time. He was smiling and hugging on his band members and looked the happiest I’d ever seen him. His happiness was truly infectious and made me that much more excited to be there.
During the show, Ivan changed clothes four or five times switching from a black tee to a black and white version of the American flag hoodie to a top hat and cane for “Welcome to the Circus” along with two more top changes. At the end of “Circus,” he gave some lucky fans his hat and cane.
With his American flag hoodie, Ivan held up a regular American flag and gave a similar speech about military men and women as Brantley. At the end of the song, Ivan and the band signed the flag and gave it to a veteran.
Without a doubt, this was an incredible show, but the really special moment came afterwards. When they finished their set, the guys started tossing guitar picks and drumsticks like Mardi Gras beads at a parade. I ended up with quite the collection of both, but there was one more thing I received as well. Towards the end of the “after show,” Ivan was still signing t-shirts and other things and I wanted to have one more glance with him to say goodbye. We locked eyes and almost immediately, he took of his long, red sleeve shirt, signed it, and gave it to me. Not only did I receive a shirt that he was just wearing, I also got to see him shirtless! What a night! It’s always a bonus to see your ultimate crush shirtless.
Needless to say, this was an amazing and different show. Mixing the genres was a fun twist and it opened my mind, and I’m sure other people’s minds to new genres. In the end, you couldn’t really tell which fan was there for which band and that’s what I love about music these days. The genres are starting to bleed together like paint and create new colors along the way. I would definitely go to another mixed genre show as long as I know at least one of the bands.
As Brent Smith of Shinedown says, “Until next time.” So, here’s to the next FFDP show, whenever and wherever it might be.