Skillet left the confines of lockdown, isolation and going stir crazy to light up a stage near Austin, Texas, for two nights in a row this past month. It had all the trappings of a rock and roll show – a really hard and heavy rock show:
Giant stage? Check.
Big PA? Check.
Larger-than-life video screens? Check.
Portable fog cannons for each arm of the frontman? Check.
Social distancing for the audience? Check.
What exactly were those last two items? Welcome to live music in 2020. The H-E-B Center in Cedar Park used its large parking lot to set up a concert at the drive-in as part of its Tailgate Series. Tickets were steep, but they gave your entire vehicle entrance, so if you could fit 8 people in your car, so be it. The parking lot had several rows of rectangles painted on the pavement and three major sections roped off: VIP, front and back. If you were not in the front few rows (think a car-length and a half between rows), then you were looking on as if you were, say, mid-floor in an arena. There were two giant video screens on either side of the stage, so if you were half a dozen car rows back, then you were pretty much watching a loud, outdoor concert on the screens.
If you were not comfortable being outdoors around other people (way more than six feet apart), you could also sit in your car and tune in the concert via an FM radio signal. I posted a short video of how clean the sound mix was from the radio on my Facebook page.
Colton Dixon, an Atlantic Records labelmate of Skillet’s, opened the show all by himself. He manned a pair of keyboards, a sampler, an iPad and an iMac. I’d never heard him before, so I did a crash course on his music with my handy-dandy YouTube app to make sure I wasn’t going to be stuck listening to some country music for half an hour.
His tunes were melodic, electronic pop and his voice is great. It certainly works in today’s music world. He introduced one of his songs by declaring that, “The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy.” He announced the birth of twins just seven weeks ago prior to another song and shared how he needed his own words from the song “Miracle,” which talks about looking for the miracle in the little things.
He played a nice staccato loop and then started playing piano on top of it for a while. He sang of being a wanderer, and then he grabbed his wireless mic and started wandering around the stage away from his keyboards.
At another point, he was accompanied on guitar by Skillet’s Seth Morrison. Overall, he did a good job of entertaining and warming up the crowd with just his voice and digital sounds.
During the break between sets, it was very ironic to hear Bush’s song, “Machinehead” over the PA, as John Cooper’s voice sounds similar to Gavin Rossdale. Then the King’s X song, “Dogman,” came on and it was apparent that Skillet was about to take the stage.
Skillet took the stage with “Feel Invincible” and put out full-on energy for the next 90 minutes or so. They sounded great from the get-go and used their spaces on stage very well – with hydraulic risers and lots of movement and lights galore.
They went straight into “Not Gonna Die,” and then into “You Ain’t Ready,” shouting, “Stand up! You ain’t ready for me.” They caught their breath, said hello to the audience and settled in for a good night of rock and roll.
Frontman John Cooper said he loved Texas and then explained how he always had to sing some AC/DC whenever he was here, due to their lyrics in “Thunderstruck.” And sure enough, he laid into his best Brian Johnson imitation and graveled out, “Went through to Texas, yeah Texas, and we had some fun.”
I was impressed that he was able to scratch out those lines and not hurt his vocal chords.
Then they launched into “Whispers in the Dark,” which starts off slow and light and then builds with some great chiming notes and rocks with passion.
John seemed happy to announce that the WWE had decided to use their song, “Legendary,” for the second year in a row. The song rocked.
It was cool to see the band utilize the cello to enhance the keyboards and create massive, ethereal sounds. Tate Olsen looks the part of a Viking as he marches around stage, riding high on the risers and jamming opposite guitarist Seth Morrison.
Drummer Jen Ledger, as any Skillet fan knows, adds lots of vocals and counter-vocals to John’s lead vocals. She also gets out from behind the drums to sing in front of the stage every once in a while. She’s an amazing drummer that keeps time well and sings strong and loud.
Guitarist Seth Morrison jams with attitude and precision. He faced off with John several times, trading licks and seemingly enjoying a riff battle with wide grins.
John’s wife, Korey, holds down both keyboards and guitars of her own. She might be the busiest member of the band, but that would be a close competition since the entire band works hard the whole night.
Skillet rolled through their hits without seeming to rush or ever getting out of the groove which is their comfort zone. It must be nice to have a large cache of hit songs – “Awake and Alive,” “Save Me,” “Hero,” “Savior,” “Victorious,” “Comatose,” “Monster” and “Rebirthing.”
At one point late in the show, as Korey was jamming away with a fast rhythm, John approached his wife and planted what seemed like a surprise big kiss on her lips that lasted for a great romantic moment. The smile on her face looked like it revealed that it was impromptu and unexpected.
Another moment earlier, John donned some handheld smoking cannons and fired fog at high speed toward the audience. Visually and sonically, Skillet brought a high-energy rock show that’s on par with any band.
After a full set, they left the stage and the audience had a moment to catch its breath. I think the Austin area was overjoyed to have great live music back. They returned for an encore with “The Resistance” and then it was back to the new normal.
Thanks for reminding us how great a live show can be, Skillet. I hope you enjoy the 40+ photo gallery below.