Gig reviewing should be relatively easy. After all anyone can tell you what happened, what songs were played, what the lights were like. That’s easy. For me though it’s more than just that. I find myself invested in the music. I let it take me places. For me, music is increadibly personal and the Newcastle gig reflects this for me. For that reason I’m going to let you into my life a bit. If you want the review part, skip the first few paragraphs. I don’t mind.
I suffer with anxiety and depression, have done for years. Sometimes it really interrupts my life. I often use music as a form of medication, live music as that warm, enveloping hug that we sometimes need in life.
I’d had a few bad days mentally leading up to Friday and I just wasn’t feeling “it“ whatever “it” is. I was supposed to be at a different gig that night and had made the call not to go. My mood was low, my focus was off, my anxiety was messing with me. I headed to work, annoyed with myself. A friend sent me a message that put me in a quandary. “We’ve got a spare ticket for Coheed and Cambria if you change your mind”.
The music of C&C is hard to define. Part Prog, Part Metal, Part Hardcore, Part Emo. There’s a certain magic in it that draws you in, lifts you and entices you without you being to properly explain it. Their albums are conceptual, telling the complex story of ‘The Amory Wars’. In this the characters of Coheed and Cambria fight against the Supreme Tri-Mage Wilhelm Ryan and are killed. Later, the couple’s son Claudio sets up in opposition against the tyrannical regime that killed his family. The albums tell only part of the story. The rest is narrated through a series of comics and graphic novels that expand on the Heaven’s Fence universe. You don’t need to buy into that part though to further your enjoyment of their music. It creates a further layer to it to explore and enjoy.
Fuck it, I was in.
I met my friend and her party along in a pub from the academy. I’d nearly bailed a couple of times on my way there but I managed through clenched teeth at times. A quick drink, some catch up chat and we were off up the road.
We’d managed to miss the start of CHON, the chosen venue tour support. I noticed photographer (you’ll sometimes see his work here and a few other sites, as well as over on his page G’s Gig Shots) and integral part of the local music scene, Gordon Armstrong, as I went in. I gave him a quick hug hello and swapped a couple of words. “These guys are really cool” he said to me before I had to dash to catch up with my friends. And they were. These guys were tight, building up complex instrumental Jazz jams. Excellent musicianship kept everything in place, not allowing the music to drift away from it’s core too much. Instrumental bands can work really well (you just have to look at Mogwai’s most excellent catalogue as confirmation for that) but sometimes it can descent into something a litttle too self indulgent. CHON worked well to hold everything together without your attention drifting too far or sending you off into musical induced coma. The four or five songs I saw had me happy. I don’t know how a full headline show would be like but I’m interested in finding out. More please.
Coheed and Cambria are currently travelling around Europe promoting their excellent new album “Vaxis - Act 1: The Unheavenly Creatures” (to give it it’s full title), which returns the band back into The Amory Wars concept after briefly passing over it on the previous album. A bare looking stage is starkly lit as the opening intro of ‘Prologue’ comes over the pa, allowing the audience to start feeling the tension rise before the band come to the stage, a lost art on so many bands these days, before the ringing few notes of “The Dark Sentencer” fill the hall as blinding lights flood the stage turning the band into dark shapes, something sinister before there’s a change and the lights swim around the band, giving them definition and form as the song kicks in. Claudio Sanchez, guitarist, vocalist and creator of the band’s music and concept, is a tower of hair at the centre of the stage. To his right is Travis Stever, the band’s other guitarist and next long standing member. They’re backed rhythmically by Josh Eppard on drums and relative new guy (a mere 6 years) Zach Cooper on bass duties. They’re tight, allowing the music to flex it’s muscle and carry the crowd into a euphoria. New albums are normally used as excuses now to tour (unless your Metallica) and are often suffered by the audience so they can hear that favourite classics. Not here. “The Dark Sentencer” is greeted like an old returning favourite, something that reflects well on the relationship between band and audience.
From there we’re treated to a couple of older cuts, something normally reserved for the middle of the set when there’s new material to plug but placing ‘Here We Are Juggernaut’ and ‘Devil In New Jersey’ (from “Year Of The Black Rainbow” and “The Second Stage Turbine Blade” respectively) so early on works increadibly well. This are swiftly followed up with the title tracks of the albums “Unheavenly Creatures” and “In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3”. The band play tight, but occasionally fall foul of the Academy’s echoey acoustics, a shame but not really noticeable in the great scheme of things, especially as you find yourself being drawn deeper into the band’s music.
And what sweet music it is. I can’t help but start letting myself soak in it. It starts with my head slowly nodding in time to the rhythm, then I find myself swaying. Before too long I’m dancing along to it, eyes closed and lost in hypnotic loops and uplifting music. For a band that is classed as Progressive, their creative output is accessible and catchy. The entire audience are singing along from the start, like some communal church that carries us all up.
Claudio and the band opt to not speak much between songs, instead relying on a series of pre recorded links that tie into the songs and the album’s they’re from. It gives the feeling of a real sense of grandiosity to the night. The lights cut though the auditorium with ease; reds, yellows and whites burn through the darkness, illuminating the entire room and occasionally drowning the band out to a point where they’re occasionally just shadows.
The set is well balanced. Four songs out of the fourteen strong set list are aired from their new album, C&C adding an epic sounding ‘The Gutter’ as well as an equally majestic ‘Old Flames’ that closes the main portion of the set, as Claudio prowls the stage with it’s a microphone clenched in his hand while his guitar tech plays a necessary second guitar on the song (he admits this lets him focus on just providing just the vocals on this and another song in the set as they can be tough to sing with the extra weight of the guitar pulling at him).
After what feels like a short time the night is drawing to it’s conclusion. Sanchez dons a trademark double neck guitar for the a crushing ‘Welcome Home’ that sees the band acknowledge how much the song and the album, the succinctly titled “Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness”, brought them to the attention of so many people. Then with some smiles and arms raised in victory, the band are gone. We the audience stand, wide grins on our faces. There’s a real feeling of satisfaction from us all and something more. A shared bond connects us all, a feeling of elation and shared connectivity with us all that we don’t need to talk about, something unspoken. Hugs are shared, wide eyes gleaming. My brain feels at peace. Before it was laced with anxiety and panic but now there’s a quiet euphoria.
I say my goodbyes, swapping hugs with friends old and new. The streets outside the Academy are wet with an Autumn downpour. I head home, calm and happy. Some bands put on great shows, some find a way of pushing beyond that, creating something special and unique. Coheed and Cambria transcend what passes as a 'normal' gig, creating instead a church of song and community that raises and heals you. Before the show I liked Coheed and Cambria, but after that night I now consider myself a full blown acolyte. Welcome home.
Coheed And Cambria - https://www.facebook.com/coheedandcambria/
CHON - https://www.facebook.com/musicofchon/
Review - Scott Hamilton
Photos - Friswell Photography (Manchester Academy 13.10.2018)