A Concert Review of Coheed and Cambria

Last Tuesday, I finally realized my dream of finally bearing witness to a live performance of my favorite band, Coheed and Cambria. As any of my (most likely exasperated) friends will tell you, I breathe Coheed. I’m the kind of person who will, without a shred of irony, proclaim my allegiance to the Children of the Fence, the extremely devoted fanbase that Claudio Sanchez and company have cultivated in their fifteen-plus years of making music. I have a Keywork sticker on the back window of my car, and I get visibly giddy when a stranger recognizes the symbol. I’ve been kicking around the idea of getting a Coheed and Cambria tattoo for a few years now. I was really excited, is what I’m saying.

The opening bands were, in a word, disappointing. Silver Snakes kicked the evening off with their brand of djent-influenced progressive rock, and they were probably one of the more underwhelming bands that I’ve seen recently. Having been recently signed to Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez’s record label, Evil Ink Records, it only makes sense for them to be the opening band. However, I found them to be rather bland, with the highlights of their set coming when they seemed to improvise and work each member’s personality into their sound. The next band to play was I The Mighty, and I was much more receptive to their show than I had initially anticipated. I’ve listened to all three of I The Mighty’s previous LP’s and I have to say that they never really impressed me, striking me as a bit of a bridge band between the realms of pop-punk and prog that didn’t do enough to stand out from the other million bands with that sound. However, their live show was surprisingly good, and I think the sheer explosive energy and technical proficiency of each member, in particular bass player and backup vocalist Chris Hinkley, was to thank for how much I ended up enjoying their performance. I The Mighty effectively inspired me to revisit their discography, which in retrospect I would highly recommend to anyone looking for some lively, upbeat prog in the spirit of Thank You Scientist (also on Evil Ink Records) or Hands Like Houses.

Surprisingly, the most disappointing performance of the night came from New York hardcore legends Glassjaw. I was looking forward to seeing these guys, mostly because of their pedigree as one of the foremost bands of the underground post-hardcore scene of the early 2000s. Unfortunately, they failed to engage with their audience – another area where I The Mighty, and later Coheed, excelled – and showcased an excess of polish and a glossy, refined tone that clashed badly with the ostensibly harsh, garage-punk sound that made them famous. Ultimately, Glassjaw succeeded in making a hardcore show completely boring, a feat which my previous experience seeing other groups in this same niche, namely Terror, led me to believe was impossible.

Where two of their openers fell short, Coheed and Cambria absolutely killed. As my girlfriend will happily attest, I proceeded to hyperventilate and flap my arms like the excited little child I am as soon as I saw the band walk out from the side of the stage. The lights went down, and they opened their set with the title track from their second album, “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” – I knew almost immediately this wasn’t going to be a show I would be walking away from anything other than exhausted. Claudio Sanchez, band leader and possessor of a mane to rival Troy Polamalu, was nothing short of incredible as far as his vocal performance went. His live vocal range is unrivaled, and no singer I’ve seen to date has the kind of emotional depth that Sanchez can display on stage. Even when singing lyrics based on the high-concept science-fiction comic books he himself wrote, Sanchez makes his patently insane story and characters not only come to life in his music, he does so while conveying a kind of heartfelt authenticity and earnestness seldom seen in the modern progressive rock canon.

It is perhaps unfair to claim that all of Coheed’s music is rooted in science-fiction; their newest album, The Color Before the Sun, is the band’s first to stray from their fifteen-year streak of concept albums, and while it did not initially strike me as being an instant classic, the deeply personal tracks were some of the best that the band performed that night, even outshining their fan favorites like “A Favor House Atlantic” or “Here We Are Juggernaut.” My absolute favorite track they performed was without a doubt “Atlas,” a love letter to fatherhood that Claudio penned last year in response to the birth of his first child, who he named Atlas, because he’s awesome.

The rest of the band played their parts with precision and a level of personality that I have rarely seen from bands of their magnitude; lead guitarist Travis Stever’s technically sophisticated, high speed playing style perfectly compliments Sanchez’s wild, wah-wah heavy technique in a way that gives Coheed complete ownership over their particular brand of progressive pop-punk. Stever and Sanchez have been making music together since the late 1990s, and it shows in the amount of cohesion and effortlessness that is apparent in the back-and-forth guitar duels common in the solos of Coheed and Cambria’s earlier albums. Original drummer Josh Eppard, who returned to the band from a two-album hiatus in 2011, was energetic, perfectly in time, and just a joy to behold behind the kit. I hate seeing a band go up on stage and play music without looking like they genuinely enjoy themselves, and Eppard is a fantastic reminder of how much fun it should be; playing music is his job, but just going by the look on his face throughout the entire set, there’s nowhere he would rather be. The relative newcomer to the band is Zach Cooper, the bassist who replaced original member Mic Todd in 2011, and I have had to accept the fact that I will always be at odds with the greater Coheed fandom on the subject of who held down the low end best. Cooper may not be as technically impressive as Todd, but in terms of consistency and sheer groove, Cooper is the superior musician. In terms of his live performance, Cooper brings an entirely new dynamic to Coheed, and I took notice of his heightened sense of harmony and keen ability to compliment Sanchez with his back-up vocals and “lead bass” approach to playing his instrument.

While the band’s sound and performances were nothing short of incredible from the opening to the final encore (“Welcome Home,” keeping with tradition), the biggest disappointment of Coheed’s set came, unfortunately, from the setlist itself. I understand that this current tour is intended to promote The Color Before the Sun, and I support that endeavor, but I also feel secure in saying that the more diehard fans in the audience would have preferred less exclusivity and prioritization on songs from the new album. Don’t get me wrong, the band’s newest LP is fantastic, and the fact that they included some deeper cuts like “Peace to the Mountain,” probably the standout performance of the band’s entire set (and the song being performed in the video being included with this article), was certainly appreciated judging by the fact that almost every person I could see in the crowd was singing along to every word. The quality of The Color Before the Sun notwithstanding, it would be remiss of me to say a near-complete lack of tracks from the band’s most important and formative releases was not a significant letdown. I was looking forward to seeing performances of tracks from the band’s first three releases, namely Second Stage Turbine Blade and the extravagantly-named Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, but the band neglected to include any tracks from the former and only one from the latter, the afore-mentioned “Welcome Home,” which has the distinction of being the band’s biggest hit.

Besides the setlist and its lack of representation for earlier releases, the thing that not only disappointed, but infuriated me was the conduct of the audience itself. I realize this is in no way the band’s fault – Coheed didn’t encourage the crowd’s behavior at all – but I have personally never seen a crowd act more disrespectfully toward other fans that are there for the same reason, to see a performance by a band that we all love enough to pay forty dollars to see. While the conduct of the crowd is not the band’s doing, I feel it is important to address as it may influence someone else’s decision to attend a show themselves, and I must say, I really hope that this particular group of fans was the exception rather than the rule. Drunken fights, grandstanding and posturing by bodybuilding dude-bros, a complete lack of respect for audience members who were rather pointedly not moshing, and the perceived need to push and shove through pockets of the crowd that were simply standing and enjoying the show all combined to make this one of the most aggravating groups of fans I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with, and that makes me sad due to the fact that I’m one of them. Poor behavior by one person can, unfortunately, affect the perception of a whole community, and if anyone that also attended this show took away a rather detractory attitude toward our community, I would like to assure them that they are definitely not alone. I legitimately saw a man in excess of six and a half feet tall push his way to the front of the pit, through groups of people having conversations and taking pictures, all the while claiming that he was working security for the venue. If that doesn’t paint a picture, I don’t know what will.

Judging solely on the performances of the main attraction, I would absolutely recommend that anyone invested in this particular niche of the music universe see Coheed and Cambria live at least once. Even if their unconventional blend of Rush and At the Drive-In doesn’t fit your usual tastes, I guarantee you’ll find some enjoyment in the unadulterated energy and force behind the instrumentation and vocals on display in their live show. The light show and lasers were brilliant, and it all came together to form a spectacle that I can only claim to have seen a handful of times, and always by bands far more seasoned and weathered than Coheed. Even better, my girlfriend and I were asked to complete a survey upon entering the venue, and a few days after the show I received an email informing me that I had won two tickets to any non-sold-out show at Stage AE; now we’re going to see mewithYou and Teen Suicide open for Say Anything in a few months for free. I defy you to find a better way to conclude the story of seeing your favorite band for the first time.

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