Ah, that iconic Bakersfield Sound—Buck Owens’s trademark twang, Merle Haggard’s lived-in lyrics, Korn’s boom na da noom na nanema. The latter’s signature brand of nu metal hit Xcel Energy Center in full force on Friday night, proving why they’re still filling arenas after more than 25 years as a band.
Full disclosure: I am what you might call a Freak on a Leash. I was a huge Korn fan up until around 2005ish, and their 1994 self-titled album is still in heavy rotation. Last summer my wife and I hosted a nine-course dinner showcasing corn—every course was aptly named after a Korn song or reference. I even printed menus. It was nice. It was dumb. It was delicious.
But it had been 16 years since I'd seen Korn live and in that time, they've released seven albums, none of which I’ve heard. With that massive, unfamiliar catalog in mind, I approached Friday’s show with cautious optimism that they would at least play a few old favorites that I knew.
Friends, that caution was all for naught.
With the exception of three songs off their 2019 release, The Nothing, Korn’s entire 16-song setlist consisted of pre-2006 nostalgia-evoking nu metal classics. Korn clearly know what people expect to hear at a Korn show and deliver without compromise.
They kicked things off with the 2002 banger “Here to Stay”—Grammy-winning banger I might add. The song’s 10-second guitar intro exploded as the floor-to-ceiling curtain blocking the crowd’s view of the stage dropped, revealing singer Jonathan Davis, guitarists Head and Munky, bassist Fieldy, drummer Ray Luzier, and a touring keyboard guy. Accompanying the band onstage were large, mirrored cubes that moved around, upon which lights and other visuals were projected. The effect bordered on some sort of sci-fi film. It was neat.
We were off.
The next hour was a full-fledged masterclass on how to take command of an arena full of “outcasts” and “freaks” and offer them a sense of belonging and community—something the band has rightfully taken a lot of pride in throughout their long career. By the time the first pre-chorus rolled around, that inclusion was already apparent.
“This state is elevating as the hurt turns into hating. Anticipating…” The band cut out while Davis motioned to the crowd and thousands of voices finished: “...all the fucked up feelings again.” Audience involvement was the theme of the night with Davis’s ability to amp up the crowd among the best I’ve ever seen from a vocalist.
As the final note of “Here to Stay” rang out, Luzier began working his cymbals extra hard. I knew this could only mean one thing: “Blind,” the opening track off that classic self-titled album, was up next. My suspicions were confirmed as Luzier settled into the song’s intro and the shit-eating grin I was already flashing grew three sizes.
The intro built.
And then, the moment all 13,000 or so of us were waiting for finally came:
“ARE YOU REAADDYYYY?!”
The place went berserk, an energy carried right through from “Blind” into “Clown,” another track from the self-titled album. After a little crowd banter to check how we were all feeling (“I SAID HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU ALL FEELING?”), they blasted through the three aforementioned “new” songs. While I haven’t kept up to date on Korn in more recent years, I have to say, these three songs were pretty damn good. All three were immediately recognizable as Korn songs.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Duh, dumbass. You were at a Korn show. Of course the Korn songs sound like Korn songs.” But what I mean by that is that they carried all the characteristics you’d expect: bone-rattling bass tone, heavy as hell guitars, funk-inspired drum grooves, and Jonathan Davis’s signature blend of strained, pain-laden melodies and visceral growling.
As the last of the three new songs wrapped up, the whole band briefly exited. The crowd’s cheers continued and Davis returned alone with his bagpipes in tow. Let’s face it: If you’ve been at a Korn show and didn’t hear bagpipes, you were probably actually just at a Coal Chamber show. I should also note that in addition to holding bagpipes, Davis was also wearing different pants. Wardrobe changes are important, even in nu metal.
Jonathan Davis’s bagpipes (coincidentally the name of my tortellini en brodo dish at the Corn/Korn dinner) signaled one thing: “Shoots and Ladders.” The whine of the pipes gave way to the heaviest nursery rhyme the world has ever heard along with the evening’s first taste of Davis’s scatting. The ending transitioned seamlessly into a snippet of Metallica’s “One,” which was, objectively, very fucking cool.
In high school, Jonathan Davis was an artsy kid who wore eyeliner and listened to a lot of new wave. Despite all of that being none of their goddamn business, the jocks in his school used his quirks against him. They tormented him daily, spread rumors, and in general made his life a living hell. Thirty years later, the pain of that bullying was on full display as Korn worked their way through “Faget,” also from the certified double platinum self-titled album.
They closed out the main set with “Freak on a Leash.” From the first note, the place erupted. We were finally about to fully experience the nu metal scat we all know and love. Davis’s scatting is obviously one of the key elements that sets Korn apart. It’s also unfortunately one of the things that makes them the butt of a lot of jokes. Hell, I made a joke about it in the first line of this review and I’m a fan. That being said, it’s cool as hell. His ability to go from singing melodies right into an aggressive scat pattern with a few other odd sounds mixed in is seriously impressive and downright surreal to experience in person.
The scatting ended, the band walked off stage, and the lights went dark. The roar of the crowd steadily persisted for a couple minutes until the band returned to play four more songs. Davis had once again pulled off a wardrobe change. This time he cast aside pants entirely in favor of the long, flowing kilt for which he’s become known.
As they finished up the first song of the encore (“4U”), there was a brief moment of silence before Davis went into the band’s scat masterpiece “Twist.” The song was the only track they played off Life Is Peachy (the name of my wife’s peach cobbler dessert course from the Corn/Korn dinner). Clocking in at just under a minute, it’s almost entirely scatting which, as we’ve already discussed, is cool as hell.
After “Twist” came “Coming Undone” with an interlude of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” thrown right in the middle of it—unexpected but perfectly executed. Closing out the encore was “Falling Away From Me,” a fitting end to a set full of emotion and energy. As the final few notes hit, so too did the confetti cannons shooting massive streamers into the crowd, reminiscent of The Nothing album artwork.
The band once again exited the stage with the crowd cheering unrelentingly. They returned once more, sans instruments. We’d reached the Free Stuff Encore. For about five minutes, each member threw everything from drumsticks to set lists to guitar picks to fans on the floor. Davis even tossed his sweat-soaked Monster Energy wristbands. Oprah doesn’t have shit on Korn when it comes to giving out free stuff.
Here to Stay
You’ll Never Find Me
Can You Hear Me
Shoots and Ladders (with Metallica “One” outro)
Got the Life
Make Me Bad
Freak on a Leash
Coming Undone (with Queen “We Will Rock You” interlude)
Falling Away From Me
Opening acts: The first opener, Bones UK, hail from, you guessed it, the U.K. This was their first arena tour, something I never would’ve guessed had they not explicitly said it. The three-piece appeared extremely at home on the Xcel stage and singer/guitarist Rosie Bones commanded the crowd like a seasoned pro. Their industrial-tinged sound consists of guitarist Carmen Vandenberg’s grimey, bluesy riffs set against drummer Heavy’s funk-inspired grooves with Bones’ charismatic, sultry vocals weaving throughout. In a feat that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around, Bones UK somehow sound hornier than Nine Inch Nails. I expect we’re all going to “get boned” (their words, not mine) by this band frequently in the near future.
Next up, was Breaking Benjamin—or “Breaking Benj'' as I heard most fans call them. This was by far the most delicious part of the evening as we enjoyed a nice appetizer sampler and a coupletwotree Michelob Golden Lights at one of the Xcel’s many fine pubs. I did hear part of that “So Cold'' song in passing. It was fine, though admittedly not my thing. That being said, this band is clearly a lot of people’s thing. There were just about as many Breaking Benjamin shirts in the crowd as Korn shirts, and I overheard a few people say that they’ve seen the band four, five, six, even eight times.
Overheard in the crowd: ”Oh my god, that's the guy from Stainds!” (a Bud Lite superfan pointing at a very random passerby who was most certainly not “the guy from Stainds”).
The crowd: For whatever reason, people are often quick to form an ill-informed judgement about music fans who fall outside the mainstream. If you’re one of those people, not only are you kind of a dick, but you’re also probably very wrong in your assumptions. Being part of the crowd on Friday night, I saw kindness. I saw complete strangers striking up conversations with one another and connecting on a personal level (in Minnesota, no less!). I also saw a fan base spanning several generations from Gen Z up to Boomers singing along to every word of a band whose lyrics relate to them in one way or another.