What’s to like?
“Looking down from Olympus on a world of doubt and fear”, the Sons Of Apollo are coming to a town near you, bringing a sense of excitement and entertainment to a genre of metal that all too often takes itself too seriously.
The low down
I almost let this band slip me by, having gradually parted ways with all things Dream Theater-related over the last few years. So I’m not quite sure what prompted me to impulse buy a ticket for Sons of Apollo as soon as they announced a Glasgow date on their extensive tour this year.
But once I’d bought the ticket, I had to buy the Psychotic Symphony album as the majority of the set would revolve around it. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it right from the off.
The music had all the drive, energy and heaviness that I enjoy in metal, and a terrific singer to boot. So often with prog-metal bands, the singer can be the weakest link, with lyrics and vocals thrown in as an afterthought once all the soloing is done, but on this album, Jeff Scott Soto more than holds his own against the other heavyweights in the band. Not only that, but the album had plenty of room for songs AND showmanship.
So how did this translate into the Glasgow gig?
The band have been touring heavily so I expected the set to be tight, and with the song-list not really varying across gigs, I wondered if this would be just another club night for the band. But the thing that struck me right through the show was how much they were into giving us our money’s worth. Nothing was perfunctory or half-assed, and judging by the wide grins on all five members’ faces, they really seemed to appreciate playing to this Glasgow audience. Certainly the crowd’s frequent roars of approval were way louder than I’ve heard in that venue for some time.
But the other great thing was seeing how much the band enjoyed playing as a together. Chemistry is something you can’t hide when you’re upfront with a club sized audience, and the Sons Of Apollo had it in spades. All the little moves between them, the eye contact, the fist bumps mid-song without barely missing a beat. It was very much a night for Team Apollo.
The opening tape with Van Halen’s Intruder was a cool choice, hammering out over an audience dazzled by white lights and building up the atmosphere, before suddenly plunging us into total darkness and the opening keyboards of God Of The Sun rang out. Hell, they even used dry ice jets at intervals! How prog is that these days?
The setlist was dominated by the Psychotic Symphony album, but the running order was shuffled around to keep it interesting, and with a peppering of solo spots and Dream Theater covers, the band almost made it to the two hour mark. And boy did the time fly.
There is a real energy and dynamism to the music these guys whip up, and watching Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Billy Sheehan tool up with their double-neck guitars was a real treat, and a great photo opportunity for those nearer the stage. Not being a player myself, I wouldn’t have fully appreciated what they were playing, but just watching their hands fly across four guitar necks was a real rush. And same with Soto as frontman – he knew when to project his voice, when to interact with the audience or his team mates, and when to dial it down to let the instruments do the talking.
Derek Sherinian was pretty much tied to his keyboard rig, but he showed some cool moves during his solo spot, when he played one of his keyboards back to front, with a note perfect rendition of Eddie Van Halen’s classic Eruption guitar solo.
As for Portnoy, it was great to see him playing again the genre of music that he’s most associated with, and I wonder if the calibre of his team mates has made him raise his own game? His playing was spot on, but without the showboating we’ve become used to, and I enjoyed his contribution a lot.
Normally, solo spots have me heading to the bar, but these guys are so good at what they do, that I happily stood and watched as they each took their spot. Maybe it was just as well that Sheehan was up first, as he quickly realised that his bass levels were too loud, drowning out the early numbers beforehand. Once the sound guy dialled it down a notch everything sounded a bit easier on the ears, but these guys were loud!
Of all the solo moments, it was perhaps Soto’s that impressed the most. I knew there was going to be a cover version of Queen’s Prophet’s Song, but didn’t realise that it was just Soto and a microphone, performing the multi vocal section on his own with some delays to build up the layers. Even Queen never managed that back in the day.
If you’re planning to catch these guys live, and already have the Psychotic Symphony album, then that’s pretty much what you can expect to hear. But the real fun is watching the band play it before your eyes, and bring an excitement that you can’t get from listening to it at home.
There’s no steadfast concentration and introverted seriousness on offer from this band – the emphasis is on giving you a show to enjoy and taking you along for the ride. So much so, that Soto kicked off the encore by singing from the mixing desk and then working his way through the crowd back to join the others onstage.
And let’s face it – things don’t get much more fun than the band offering a brief interlude by playing the Pink Panther theme, and the crowd gamely singing along!
The longer term future for the Sons Of Apollo is unclear, no doubt due to external commitments rather than musical differences, but it would be a shame if this team didn’t go the distance because they are clearly enjoying the moment, and Psychotic Symphony is an excellent album.
I’m certainly glad I doubled down on the album and the show in case this turns out to be a one-off.
God of the Sun, Signs of the Time, Divine Addiction, Just Let Me Breathe (Dream Theater cover), Labyrinth, Bass Solo (Billy Sheehan), Lost in Oblivion, The Prophet’s Song and Save Me (Queen covers) (Vocal solo by Jeff Scott Soto), (Queen cover), Alive, The Pink Panther Theme (Henry Mancini cover), Opus Maximus, Keyboard Solo (Derek Sherinian), Lines in the Sand (Dream Theater cover)
Guitar Solo (Ron Thal), And the Cradle Will Rock…(Van Halen cover), Coming Home