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.

 
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Live Review: The Winery Dogs, Variety Playhouse

The Winery Dogs

Standing room only.

That phrase sums up the success that is The Winery Dogs. Their first ever show in Atlanta, touring on their first CD as a band, and the room is packed to the friggin’ gills.

The band – Richie Kotzen on guitar and vocals, Billy Sheehan on bass and backing vocals, and Mike Portnoy on drums and backing vocals – breezed through all of the songs from their debut, self-titled CD The Winery Dogs, and threw in a few surprises to keep things interesting. Set opener “Elevate,” along with “Criminal” and “We Are One” got the night off to a rocking start, with the musicians exchanging smiles under the colorful stage lighting.

The Winery Dogs

One of the things that’s noticeable about The Winery Dogs’ music is just how complex the song writing and arrangements are at times, yet they wrap it all into sing-able, punchy, hook-laden songs with memorable choruses. “One More Time,” “Time Machine” and “Damaged” are fine examples of this musical philosophy.

“Six Feet Deeper” got the room moving as the band took an extended musical breakdown, throwing in a portion of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.”

The uptempo song “The Other Side” was a lead-in to Billy Sheehan’s jaw-dropping bass solo. The level of musicianship on display was other-worldly, and served as a crash-course in advanced bass guitar technique: blazing fast finger-picking runs, harmonics and pinch harmonics, sweep picking and some very intricate two handed tapping. Excuse my language, but holy sh*t can that guy play the hell out of a bass guitar! He eventually began a rhythmic tapping passage that smoothly transitioned into the pretty intro to “You Saved Me.”

The Winery Dogs

The band took a short break while Richie Kotzen performed an acoustic version of “Doin’ What The Devil Says To Do,” a song from his 2006 solo album Into The Black.

Ok, let’s talk about Richie Kotzen for a second. How this man isn’t more widely known for his solo work is beyond me. He’s a three-headed musical monster…he sings with soul, he’s an accomplished pianist and his guitar work (which is what originally put him on the map) is tasteful, technical and varied in style. He can play anything, and he surprisingly does it all with only his fingers. He doesn’t use a traditional guitar pick or thumb/fingerpicks.

The Winery Dogs

The stellar “I’m No Angel” and “The Dying” helped wind down the set, while closer “Desire” saw the band breakin’ out the “funk,” quoting both Parliment’s “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” and Sly Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher,” with bassist Sheehan and drummer Portnoy hilariously adding the infamous “boom shakka-lakka-lakka(s)” from the original. Who says serious musicians can’t have a little fun?

The band’s encore began with the R&B influenced “Regret,” once again showcasing Kotzen’s soul-filled vocals and piano chops. He eventually abandoned the piano to stand and loose on his Telecaster. Speaking of letting loose, that sums up the final song of the night, the Billy Sheehan-penned “Shy Boy,” which gained popularity during Sheehan’s days performing with David Lee Roth. Sheehan and Kotzen effortlessly matched the intricate “shredding” passages that Steve Vai and Sheehan infused into the David Lee Roth version.

If you have yet to see The Winery Dogs perform live, I highly recommend it. But be sure to get your tickets early, or the only “standing room” you’re going to enjoy is outside of the venue.

 

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