BY JESS BECK | Go Venue Magazine
This show was kind of a special deal to me – and I know I say that about every show I shoot, but this one was a little different. You see, Skillet was the first concert I ever saw when I was about 12 or 13. They had just released “Alien Youth” and a small band of about 50 of us had shown up to see them play a small venue in Lincoln, NE. A then-beardless John Cooper displayed an incredible amount of passion at that show, and when he set touched down at the Sokol Auditorium in Omaha, NE on 02/07/20 he was no different – although the production value (as well as his beard) had grown tremendously. Playing with Ledger and From Ashes to New, it was, for a mostly Christian act, one hell of a show.
Ledger took the stage first to thunderous applause from the crowd, and it was awesome to see Jen Ledger in a different role as a front woman rather than behind a drum kit for this performance. Her voice is a masterful balance between clean and a little peppery, and comes across with incredible power when heard live. Their most notable tracts of the night were “Warrior” and “Iconic” where Jen got the audience involved in a sing along, and the band held the audience captive for the duration of their set. I had the chance to catch up with guitarist Luke Andrews – who, by the way, puts on an incredible show himself – after the set and he’s a super chill dude who dubbed me, “The Viking Photographer!” which was super fun. I’m very excited to see where this project goes in the future.
From Ashes to New took the stage next, and what an electric performance these guys put on! You always think that when a band comes to town sporting a rap/rock vibe that it’s going to be as bad as what we all remember Limp Bizkit being. But these guys are playing with a vendetta to change that. They’ve been putting up HUGE numbers on Spotify, with their single “Through It All” garnering almost 30 million streams at the time this is being written, and it shows in their performance. Vocalists Danny Case and Matt Brandyberry bounced around the stage like human pinballs, and you could tell how excited they were to be there for the crowd. And that’s important to me. It’s never fun to go to a show where the band acts like the audience is there for them, and that’s not at all what these guys did. They exercised masterful control of the audience, having them crouch low during some songs, and having them jump off their feet for others – and the crowd willingly obliged. Their music is accessible, relatable, and powerful, breathing new life into the nu metal scene that’s so desperately needed.
After an extended intermission between change-ups, it was time for Skillet (which, when I saw them 20 years ago, Cooper explained that they chose the name “Skillet” because they always rotate out members, kind of like putting everything together in a skillet, but in the end, it all works together.) They blistered the crowd with an impressive 18 song set list (including the encore) and played with enough energy for all three bands combined. You’d never guess it from how they perform, but Skillet – most notably John and his wife Korey Cooper have been playing together for 20 years, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. Opening their set with “Feel Invincible” from their 2017 album Unleashed, the audience, they played hit after hit, with the infamous CO2 arm canons coming out on the track “You Ain’t Ready” which, I was told by a fan, was a welcome blast of cool air in the packed auditorium.
Keeping to their Christian roots, Cooper wasn’t shy about discussing his personal beliefs from the stage, stating openly that their song “Hero” was about his belief in God. And I’d like to note – while I’m not religious myself, I always appreciate the bravado of a man who can look out into a sea of mixed company and say with confidence, “This is what I believe. You don’t have to believe it, but this is what this song is really about.” Skillet slowed down a bit during the end of their set list to play an acoustic version of “Be Thou My Vision” before picking right back up with “Comatose” and their smash it “Monster” which was featured on WWE Smackdown video games after its release. They finished out the night with “The Resistance” and after playing for nearly two full hours, bid the audience a fond farewell, telling them how much they were loved and appreciated for coming out to see them. And that’s one thing I love about Skillet. Cooper seems just as hungry and humble as he did when I first met him 20 years ago as a kid. John and his outfit are some of the most genuine human beings in the industry, and I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do next.
Special thanks to the staff at the Sokol Auditorium. They kept the patrons happy, security was top-notch and made sure that everyone had an incredible time. This is truly a special venue with a unique feel, and I personally can’t wait to get back out to another show here!