Photos and review by Ken Jones
I recently experienced the hat trick of my favorite addictions. In one night, music, photography and comic book love affairs all came together to give me one of the best nights in my life. I got to photograph one of my favorite bands, Coheed and Cambria at XL Live in Harrisburg.
On the last night of its Great Destroyer tour, Coheed delivered a lesson in excellence of musicianship. Mostly focusing on songs celebrating its debut album, “The Second Stage Turbine Blade’s,” release two decades ago, Coheed managed to still give us a taste of its entire career during the band’s blistering set.
We only had to endure a 15-minute set change after the opening act, Sheer Mag, closed its classic rock-influenced set that was greatly appreciated by this heavy-rocking, prog metal-loving crowd. The house lights dimmed again. The crowd went nuts, knowing this was signalling the imminent approach of Coheed and Cambria, the legendary prog-metal band hitting the stage.
The lights started firing in random patterns that lit up the backdrop, which was an immense image of the forthcoming album, “Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind,” which will be released May 27. A subsequent tour begins shortly after on July 12 in Miami, with a one-off, warmup show on April 24 in Phoenix Arizona.
Smoke, incredible lighting and a backing intro track whipped the crowd into a frenzy as the silhouettes of the band took the stage. The slow, opening notes of “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” came forth from lead singer, co-lead guitarist and band leader Claudio Sanchez’s guitar. The lights exploded as the entire band joined in the heavy-hitting track that is just a small part of the epic story line that has followed the band through the majority of its career. For those of you who don’t know, Coheed and Cambria have taken the idea of a concept album to an entirely new level. Its entire catalog of albums, minus one (“The Color Before The Sun”), is a soundtrack to an ongoing work based on Sanchez’s graphic novels, The Amory Wars. Most bands I’ve seen wait awhile into the set for a crowd participation song, but this song has multiple parts where the awestruck crowd sang along with the chorus, ending with a longer singalong of “oh’s.”
Without hesitation, Coheed went from the blistering opener to one of its more “pop”-friendly songs, “You Got Spirit, Kid.” This track comes from the only album, so far, that hasn’t been related to the epic concept of The Amory Wars. C&C refuse to be pigeonholed into a “sound.” While there are so many bands that fit into a genre or category, it’s hard to put Coheed into any particular box. True fans of the band embrace this style of a “non-style” and can go from exuberant head-banging, to dancing to melodic numbers, to swaying to incredible ballads.
Switching it right back to the heavier sound, it began the title track, “No World for Tomorrow,” from the 2007 release “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow.” This signaled the beginning of the end for my three songs in the photo pit. While I would have loved to shoot the entire show, I also wanted to join the crowd in enjoying this unbelievable performance from such a group of virtuosos at their respective instruments. I left the pit so happy to have seen them from such a close proximity and hopefully capturing some great shots of one of my favorite bands. While I’ve always been aware of this band since I saw a video of “Blood Red Summer” in 2004 on the Fuse video channel, I was never the obsessive fan I am now. For that, I have to thank a co-worker that has played them every day for the last year and really turned me on to such an amazing band. He also got me the tickets to this show that he was unfortunately not able to attend due to the COVID-19 virus. I can’t thank you enough, Sam, and it killed me that you weren’t there to enjoy this incredible spectacle.
Claudio stopped to talk to the crowd for a few minutes and explained how this year was also the 20th anniversary of the debut album, “The Second Stage Turbine Blade” and that it was going to honor that with three songs in a row from that amazing debut. The crowd went nuts again as Coheed ripped into this trio of songs with “Junesong Provision,” then “Devil in Jersey City” and wrapping it up with “Everything Evil.” You could sense the pride the band exuded in these performances, along with the opening track. With Josh Eppard being back behind the drum kit since 2011, there was a palpable comraderie among Josh, Travis Stever (co-lead guitar) and Claudio as they performed these blistering tracks to the massive enjoyment of the crowd. The addition of Zack Cooper on bass in 2012 solidified the definitive lineup of Coheed and Cambria to this day.
Throughout the show, the band mixed up the rest of its discography, including three tracks from the forthcoming release, “Vaxis – Act II: A Window of the Waking Mind.” Earlier in the set, the band performed the massively heavy track “Shoulders,” which was released in July of ’21 as a single, followed by the beautiful, heavy ballad, “Rise, Naianasha (Cut The Cord),” which includes the line about The Great Destroyer where the name of this tour comes from. Finally, it included the new hit single, “Liar’s Club,” during the encore, which I’ll discuss later.
Other highlights of the show included the crowd favorite “A Favor House Atlantic,” “The Gutter,” “The Suffering,” “The Afterman,” “Here We Are Juggernaut” and “The End Complete III: The End Complete.” Every song had the crowd more pumped than the previous song. The time had come to close out the show with the very Pink Floyd-ish “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut.” This track is where the band really blew our minds with their musicianship. Trying to put this into words is really escaping me. The not-so-subtle nods to Pink Floyd combined with its unique sound made this old man so very happy to hear. I can’t tell you how awesome this part of the show was for me. The crowd at XL Live agreed wholeheartedly.
A well-deserved short break was taken, and Coheed returned to offer us an incredible encore of two songs. First, it delighted us with its latest single, the hit track from the upcoming album, “Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind, The Liar’s Club.” While the band has dabbled in pop territory in the past, this song may be the killer crossover hit it needs to bring it into a bigger audience that it definitely deserves. It’s got an incredible hook and still is a mildly heavy song that captures the band’s unique sound. I can see it as a song that gains tons of new fans and has casual fans really jumping on this 20-year-plus juggernaut of a career. I cannot fathom how a band this incredible isn’t playing to massive arena-size crowds on the daily. They deserve it. I think Coheed is only rivaled in the heavy prog world by bands like Rush and Tool.
Finally, the song everyone knows and was waiting for was about to begin. As Claudio stepped side-stage for a minute to grab his famous white Epiphone G-1275 Custom Double Neck, the crowd went berserk knowing that “Welcome Home” was about to begin. The well-known intro began, and the frenzied crowd reacted to every Dimebag squeal with wild abandon. Claudio allowed the crowd to sing some of the opening lyrics before taking over with his uniquely beautiful vocal stylings that I feel are unmatched in rock. The end came too quickly as the show came in at just under 90 minutes. Personally, I would LOVE a three-hour set where Coheed performs even more of its classic songs from the Amory Wars storyline. If it EVER does another cruise show, where it performs its entire catalog, I will definitely be there. The show still left me satiated, as this was my first Coheed and Cambria show, but I know there will be more in my lifetime. I’m very sorry that I got on board the juggernaut so late, so if you’re just coming on board as well, I hope you enjoyed this review and the photos that accompany it. My best advice is to catch the band on the upcoming tour for “Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind.” Many shows are already sold out, so get on that. Thanks for reading.