It's mid-September, 1997, and a capacity crowd at New York City's Irving Plaza is lit with anticipation for the evening's headliner, Life of Agony. It's the band's first city appearance since the release of Soul Searching Sun weeks earlier, and the album is already generating a buzz, making musical strides their previous two albums only hinted at. With first single "Weeds" just starting to pick up at radio, the vibe was good, and fans and industry insiders were expecting big things for the Brooklyn, NY quartet. No one knew it would be the last time frontman Keith Caputo would perform with Life Of Agony. He quit the next day.
Three months later, in Sacramento, CA, Life of Agony take the stage on their first night of touring in support of Megadeth. At the helm? It'll suffice to say, anyone familiar with the upshots from the New York hard core scene had to be shaking their head in disbelief. Whitfield Crane, California to a tee and the former frontman of wise-ass, pop-rock punkers Ugly Kid Joe, was set to kick off the next era of Life of Agony. "I'd never seen Ugly Kid Joe, but from what people told me before he came down and tried out, it was pretty scary," laughs LOA bass player Alan Robert, quick to add, "but it's all good now."
To fans of LOA's first two albums, River Runs Red and Ugly, and anyone who'd ever heard Ugly Kid's rambunctious "Everything About You" or sappy cover of "Cat's in the Cradle," that couldn't possibly be the case. Even myself, a fan of Life of Agony with an appreciation for Ugly Kid Joe, thought it was going to be the end of the road for a band that bleed abrasive and mesmerizing into a succinct, smooth, sonically disturbing machine. Soul Searching Sun was ambitious, and one of the year's best heavy releases, teaming frantically paced and crunching fretwork with surprisingly low-key vocals. You don't just change singers. Especially when your first single is climbing the rock radio charts with unprecedented stealth.
Which brings us back to Whitfield Crane, the new voice of Life of Agony. Contrary to gut instincts, he fit the band like a glove. So much so, that they now perform older material that Caputo, whose stage presence had evolved from crazed to cowering, refused to perform live. Whit has energy, Whit has punch, and when placed in the context of LOA, Whit's brazen California glow and attitude brought the band to new heights.
"That's the way Keith was like more in the beginning," explains Robert, "he was real energetic, running around and going into the crowds. Then he got mellow. We've been hungry to get that energy back. Not to put Keith down, he's doing his own thing [a band called Absolute Bloom, currently playing out in the NY-NJ-CT area], but we really wanted that energy back."
They got it back ten-fold with Whit. "It was funny, it was exciting, we were against the odds," Robert adds. "No one thought we would pull it off, but we did. When you're faced with a situation like your singer leaving when your album comes out, all you're really thinking is, 'Wow, do I have to get a real job now?' We were really fortunate to come back like this, it's like a new beginning for us, there's so much potential. In a way, it's a rebirth of the band. Now we're becoming tighter and tighter with every show, and being that Whit is so new to us, and we're new to him, we're growing with him."
And there's nothing more challenging than growing up in the public eye. Life of Agony played their first show with Crane in front of thousands, and remained on the Megadeth tour through May, when they took a few weeks off before heading out for dates with Sevendust and labelmates Coal Chamber before joining OZZFest in July. "We've come back from so much, and on this Megadeth tour, I think we've gone over better than we ever have in the States," the bass player continues.
The real test? Their New York homecoming with Whitfield, less than six months after the fateful September night, but this time, in front of twice as many fans. Recalls Robert, "That show was very nerve-wracking before we went on, we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know if we'd get up there and have fruit thrown at us or what, but we got up there and ripped it up. It was great, and the fans were really receptive."
And if you know New Yorkers, you know that says a lot. "We've really come full-circle," says Robert. "We had our backs up against a wall and we've come back stronger than ever. With fire."