As the show beings, Claudio stands alone in a single spotlight with an acoustic guitar, fingerpicking the lonely isolated notes of ‘Ghost’ off the new album. The crowd is still calm, with sparse whistles and distant COHEEED!’s punctuating the sonata like-melody. We all know what we are in store for, we all know how heavy this shit is going to get and I believe everyone in the crowd – like me – is using this time and this song to build our energy, to conserve.
Our conservation efforts did not bode well as the band rolled right into ‘In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth:3’and did not let up after that. That song sounds heavy as fuck live. Their set list was a blend of classics and new songs; but because Coheed is not a band that douche-ifies as they get older [aka the Coldplay effect, previously known as the U2 effect], the crowd never had a chance to rest as all the new shit is just as beastly. The mosh pit swirled, growing in size like a snowball of arms, elbows and men with bangs rolling down a mountain gaining momentum until critical mass was reached when the band ended their encore with ‘Welcome Home’. At this point, the entire General Admission floor was smashing around at full speed into each other. If you were trying to escape melee, your only safe harbor was the balcony seats. At a single point in the song I counted 8 simultaneous crowd surfers getting tossed around like beach balls, it looked like fucking Chinese acrobats or something. I watched the lead singer of I The Mighty get straight tombstone on his head and immediately stand up, gave double devil horns and get hoisted onto the crowed again. The lights were fully on as well so you could see every grimy detail of the mayhem that was occurring. It was the most fun I have had in a long time and I rarely have fun at rock concerts anymore.
If I am going to pay 10 bucks for a Bud Light, deal with everyone's BO and have sore fucking calves tomorrow, then your music better make me lose my mind at some point. Unlike an EDM show, you can’t really dance at a rock concert, and the crowd rarely feels like we are on the same wavelength together like when there is an explosive drop at Drum n Bass show. Add that to the fact that most modern rock bands can’t play their instruments. So you end up spending an hour listening to songs sound exactly as they do on the album except with horrible sound quality and watch some dude strum the same fucking power chords as every other rock song ever written and some drummer play the same boring 4/4 beat. This is you must see Coheed live, to remember what rock was and could be. If you are a fan of their music, then I shouldn’t have to explain how good these guys are at playing their instruments. Claudio’s high tenor, almost feminine voice, hitting impossible notes with such precision and passion all the while furiously playing a blazing speed riff as the drummer duck-faces his way through a monstrous beat is a rare sight in rock today. Rarely does a band have two guitarists and both of them are shredding different, complicated lines that harmonize with each other. Trust me, at your next shitboy rock concert pay attention to the guys with guitars, both dudes are probably strumming the same thing as each other with so much distortion you can’t tell how bad they are until one of them plays a sleepy ass 8 note per bar guitar solo and the other one grabs the mic with both hands during the slowdown. God I hate that shit.
Last fall, Coheed and Cambria released their first album in 15 years that did not take place in another galaxy. Instead of the usual setting of Heaven’s Fence [78 planets connected but a mysterious energy]; The Color Before the Sun takes place in a cramped brownstone in Brooklyn, New York.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, all of Coheed and Cambria’s previous records were all concept albums related to The Amory Wars, a comic book series written by Claudio Sanchez. The 7 albums tell the story of the Kilgannon family’s struggle to save the universe from a galactic Archmage by protecting the Keywork. Yes you read all of that correctly and yes it is as awesome as it sounds. So when you hear Claudio’s screech command ‘MAN YOUR BATTLE STAAAATIONS’, Claudio is actually singing about battle stations...like in space….like with lasers and shit. Of course, as with all good science fiction, we are allowed to extrapolate and personalize any metaphors that feel meaningful to us. It takes the mundane but very real human themes and pressure tests those ideas using impossible scenarios. Claudio uses the context of an intergalactic war to examine very earthly ideas like family, sacrifice, and responsibility. ‘What does duty mean when the universe is at stake and you're the only one who can save it?’ is very similar at its root to ‘what does duty mean when it's Monday morning and I am about to call off from work because I stayed up until 3am watching Daredevil on Netflix? Or what does duty mean when you know it's finally time to be a Father?
Coheed, like so few others, is a band that has an entire catalog of very good consistent albums. If you are a fan of any of their work chances are you must be a fan of all of it. I do not dislike a single one of their songs, I love most of them and others are true classics, with a sound that evolves yet is most certainly still Coheed and Cambria. This 8th album is no different,it still sounds very much like a Coheed and Cambria with its heavy riffs, progressive song structure and complex vocals. You can still hear the Megadeth-ian, 70’s prog rock influences, but it feels entirely different because the lyrics and themes are Claudio’s first person telling of his own life rather than a 3rd person space saga. He writes about the claustrophobia of moving from the wide open spaces of upstate New York countryside to a cramped Brooklyn apartment [Islands]. He writes a song for the newborn son he had yet to meet [‘Atlas’]. He writes a song about identity and the struggle of accepting all the different shades of which we are [‘Colors’]. He writes about the lingering doubt that we could have done things differently, maybe better [‘Eraser’]. He writes a love song to his wife [‘From Here to Mars’].
Walking home on this breezy, quiet San Francisco night, I am forced to draw a lot of parallels here to life in my 30’s. This band has gotten older and wiser. They have stopped fantasizing about grandiose themes as they begin to realize these earthly issues of growing up because you have to and questioning if there was a better way to get this point seem heavy enough and can feel as important as saving the universe. Life has thrust change and growth upon on us. Change can be unrelenting, inevitable, exciting and terrifying, yet, on this evening, as the crowd erupted, as Coheed and Cambria and I thrashed, raised our fists in the air, and banged our fucking heads just like we’ve always done. I realize that not everything has to change….and even though I am older, I will always be me.