‘Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony’ by Sons Of Apollo

It’s not every day that a rock band plays a concert with a full-blown symphony.  There was Deep Purple, who played with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969; Metallica, who played with the San Francisco Symphony in 1999; and now Sons Of Apollo, who are set to release Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony at the end of this month, recorded while they were on tour last year in Bulgaria.  While I know there are others I’m missing, I’m here to speak with you about the last of these epic endeavors.

Recorded on a beautiful September evening before a thrilled Bulgarian audience at Plovdiv’s Roman Amphitheatre, Sons Of Apollo pulled together a special set.  The first part largely mirrored the set list they had been performing throughout the tour, based firmly around their debut album, Psychotic Symphony, which I witnessed and spoke about here.  The second part, joined by the Plovdiv Symphony Orchestra and Choir – lovingly nicknamed the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony for this night – consisted of a set of cover songs tailored by Portnoy to both the band’s musical tastes, as well as to take full advantage of the symphony’s presence.  More than once I had goosebumps along my neck from how everything fell into place just right.  Running the gamut from Queen to Ozzy Osbourne, there’s a great deal at which to marvel.

 

Being able to not only hear what’s going on, but to see the chemistry and synchronized efforts of this band, really convinces me that getting one of the releases which include the blu-ray or DVD are the way to go.  Being able to see how well Sherinian’s keystrokes fall in line with Sheehan’s tremendously heavy bass notes help me understand how the group were able to create some of the remarkable lows on their debut album.  It’s all the little things that really add up here, such as Soto holding Bumblefoot’s guitar while the latter plays it in lap-steel fashion, or Bumblefoot playing Portnoy’s symbols with the headstock of his guitar, or watching Sherinian perform Van Halen’s “Eruption” guitar solo while making his way around the keyboard – all these little touches really add to the experience.  And the mix is beautifully balanced, allowing each instrument to come across clearly and boldly.

Of course, there is a version which contains the 3-CD collection as well, including a few songs – Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” – that aren’t part of the video releases due to being unable to secure clearance.  While I’ve been typing this, I’ll admit to having gotten lost in their rendition of of the latter.  Portnoy and Soto do a great job alternating vocals duties, Sherinian and Sheehan provide swelling accompaniment alongside the symphony, and Bumblefoot’s guitar solo just goes on and on, building in waves of emotion.  I think this is the seventh time the song has played on repeat.  I would have loved to see their expressions.

Some might find it weird, or even presumptuous, that a band with only one album under its belt would opt for not only a live album as its second release, but one with a symphony orchestra at that.  Perhaps it’s the nature of this band that makes it work so well; five extremely talented individuals, each with a storied history to draw on.  This isn’t their first, or even second, rodeo, and they certainly don’t seem to be slowing down now.  Their original works are inspired and precise, and they have a hell of a lot of fun regardless of the tune they’re playing, to the point that it’s infectious.  I’d highly suggest everyone check this release out; I know I’d already have pre-ordered it if my wife hadn’t wanted gift ideas.

 

To pre-order Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony in its various formats, click here.

For more on Sons Of Apollo, visit:
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Sons Of Apollo at the Howard Theatre

It’s not every day that you get to witness a powerhouse band quite as talented as Sons Of Apollo.  While this may sound like hero worship, you can hardly ignore the wealth of experience and musical ability possessed by these five men.  And while I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two of the five perform with previous bands, I knew that I had to make my way to the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C. to catch their final North American tour date.  And that’s just what I did on May 20th, 2018, where I got to see Portnoy, Sherinian, Sheehan, Thal, and Soto combine forces to wow an energetic group of fans.

Sifting: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Unlike most shows I see, all of the bands I saw that night were on tour together, and thus had developed not only a bond, but had the benefit of solidifying their light show.  If it’s one thing a photographer likes, it’s a band with a great lighting technician!  And what a great job that person did, highlighting the explosive antics of the Venezuelan-born, L.A.-based hard rock band, Sifting.  I was impressed from the opening chord, as frontman Eduardo O Gil bounced around with endless energy, and guitarist Richard Garcia shredded up and down the fretboard in his own, more solemn, manner.  Bassist, Wins Jarquin, and drummer, Joey Aguirre, exuded enthusiasm the entire set, and managed to hold things down while staying light on their feet.

 

Felix Martin: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Two Venezuelan-born, L.A.-based bands on the same North American tour?!  What are the odds?  Felix Martin and his band are a unique bunch.  Felix plays a double fretboard guitar, combined to become a single 14- or 16-string guitar (he has two versions) somewhat resembling a chapman stick.  The band deals out instrumental music that ranges from songs that sound piano-esque, to funky slap-bass, to incredible heavy technical guitar tunes.  The music reminds me a bit of Scale The Summit and The Fine Constant, two other acts I had the pleasure of seeing last year, and I’d highly recommend checking all of these bands out if any of this peaks your interest.  I was honestly a little surprised at their musical pairing at this concert based on their style of music, but everyone loved what they heard, which is the important part.  I don’t suppose it hurt that most of Sons Of Apollo emerged from the green room during the last song, dancing around the stage like men possessed, showing just how much fun this bunch had together on the road.

 

Sons Of Apollo: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Spotify

Psychotic Symphony was one of my top albums of 2017.  That isn’t something that often happens for me with debut albums, regardless of how seasoned the musicians.  But whereas other supergroups stun the headlines with their names and then deliver merely ‘okay’ records, Sons Of Apollo got together and knocked it out of the park.  I was beyond stoked to see this material live, and I was not disappointed.  I will warn you, however, that the best place might not be right up front.  I spent the first half of their set in the second row, first shooting photos around peoples’ heads and then enjoying the show, but the best audio was to be found further back, where the bass notes of low-end maestro, Billy Sheehan, began to allow other instruments to join him on more equal footing.  But I neither fault Sheehan nor the sound tech for this; Sheehan’s power is simply too much to be contained, which is probably why he had his own 5+ minute bass solo before the show was even half over – they just had to wear him down!

In addition to the entire album, we also were treated to some covers, including Dream Theater, Queen, and Van Halen.  As could be expected, the Dream Theater material was pulled from the Falling Into Infinity days that Portnoy and Sherinian shared.  Meanwhile, Soto’s solo portion resulted in Freddie Mercury-inspired audience participation that fed into “The Prophet’s Song,” followed by a duet with Bumblefoot for a rendition of “Save Me,” which flowed beautifully into their own song, “Alive.”

While I felt the attendance was a little lacking (thanks to it being a Sunday night, immediately following a Nationals baseball game), Jeff Scott Soto reminded us throughout the night that we were “small, but mighty.”  There was so much excitement emanating from the crowd that I didn’t even realize that we weren’t a full theater until I left my spot in the front to join my wife back by the soundboard.  To Sons Of Apollo’s credit – Soto’s comment aside – never once did they give me any doubt that they were playing to anything less than a full house.  That’s the kind of showmen they are: giving 100% regardless of there are 100 or 10,000 fans.  They’re beginning their European tour in June, so now is the time to pick up the album, Psychotic Symphony, crank it, and then prepare for when these five musical marvels reach your neck of the woods.

Review: ‘Psychotic Symphony’ by Sons Of Apollo

When I heard that Portnoy, Sherinian, Sheehan, Soto, and Thal were coming together to present us Sons Of Apollo, this is not what I expected.  This is far from a disparaging comment.  It’s simply that, after having experienced a number of these talented individuals’ recent super group collaborations, such as The Winery Dogs and Art Of Anarchy, I envisioned another unique permutation of hard rock.  Even when considering the shared prog rock background of Portnoy and Sherinian, I wasn’t aware of anyone else here exploring that road before.  But ultimately, it wasn’t the style which surprised me, which I always imagined could (and does) contain elements of both; rather, I wasn’t prepared for how ambitious Psychotic Symphony, out October 20, would turn out to be.

This debut LP is book-ended by two immense tracks, both clocking in at 10+ minutes long.  It was evident to me immediately, upon seeing this, that I was about to descend into a garden of ear-ly delights.  Opening with “God Of The Sun,” largely written by Sherinian, we traverse a multi-part epic which skirts Eastern Mediterranean motifs, slamming us with meaty riffs, lifting us to the sky with heavenly synths, and gliding us along on the wings of Soto’s vocal melodies.  Moving on to the second track: “Coming Home” is a truly rockin’ number with great vocal harmonies and basslines that carve out valleys wherever they travel, courtesy Sheehan’s double neck Yamaha.  It also features a bridge section which feels like it’s taking a number right out of The Who’s playbook.   By the time we arrive at track three, “Sign Of The Times,” you might feel like you need to catch your breath, yet it features the heaviest riffs I’ve ever heard come out of Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal’s guitar, and a solo segment that serves as one of the only moments where I might confuse this band for Portnoy and Sherinian’s old stomping grounds, Dream Theater.  Frankly, the difficulty in reviewing this album stems from my inability to skip any tune without feeling I’ve done it a disservice.  Even harder to stop here, considering that the next track, “Labyrinth,” is a nine-minute behemoth, and one of my favorites.

No one doubts the virtuosity of these five men.  But to take five seasoned music veterans and put them together, expecting a synergistic surprise, may simply result in disappointment for the listener.  In this case, however, I’m extremely happy to say that these fellas have truly produced greater than the sum of their parts.  And that is the ambition I mentioned earlier.  One need only listen to Psychotic Symphony to realize it is a truly unique and provocative experience, created with such thought and care that it’s obvious all involved consider Sons Of Apollo to be more than simply a pit-stop on the road of their musical careers.  This is a band, and I can only hope it chooses to stick around long enough to grace us with another release.

 
Order Psychotic Symphony.

For more on Sons Of Apollo, visit:
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