By MetalGeorge Pacheco; Fates Warning 2010 photo by Alex Solca
This was one of the hottest shows in recent memory. No, I mean, it was literally sweltering inside of the Webster Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut; the site of Fates Warning’s triumphant headlining hometown show, celebrating the almost-twentieth anniversary of their legendary Parallels opus.
Only Iron Maiden’s Dickinsonian-reunion tour stop at the Orpheum in Boston back in 1999 could possibly compare to how uncomfortably warm the Webster was on this muggy, humid pre-Summer night. With no air conditioning to speak of, the promoters of the show were forced to resort to opening both ends of the venue, placing security at either side to make sure no sneaky concert-goers attempted to weasel their way inside to catch this once-in-a-lifetime performance.
Luckily for my compatriots and I, our trip was planned just such so that our dinner and driving led us to the Webster’s doors a mere twenty minutes prior to Fates hitting the stage, thus enabling us to miss a gaggle of pay-to-play acts (around ten!), attempting to ply their wares at the Webster’s makeshift second stage (which conveniently DID feature AC…oh, the humanity!).
Immediately upon our arrival, we were struck aghast by the bloody heat smacking us in the face, somehow meshed with the smell of sweat and overpriced beer. Unimpeded, we began our way to pick out a primo vantage point from which to watch the stage. It was here where we were made aware (via a couple of friendly concert-goers) that John Arch, Fates Warning’s original singer, was actually in attendance on this evening.
Sure as anything, all we had to do was check out the circle of fanboy obsessives circling this short, unassuming gent in a baseball cap over by the merch table. It was indeed Mr. Arch, and my hopes fluttered to the sweat-steamed Webster ceiling for the chance that Arch’s presence might indeed foretell the inclusion of some classic Fates jams within the night’s anniversary set. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Rather, the band’s set took an undeniable dive after the glorious opening salvo of Parallels in its entirety.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however, because the legit glory of this part of the set cannot be glossed over. While it’s to be expected that guitarist/band leader Jim Matheos and drummer Mark Zonder be on the very top of their enviable instrumental talents, the real surprise was how much bassist Joe DiBiase and guitarist Frank Aresti leant to the night’s proceedings. DiBiase’s fills were texturally amazing and on point, while Aresti’s lead work was surprisingly numerous, and rivaled even Matheos’ in execution and aesthetic. It was as if they former Fates members hadn’t missed a beat, working in clockwork unison with the entire band in delivering a flawless musical rendition of the Parallels opus.
I wish the same could be said of vocalist Ray Alder, but the sad truth is that the man has seen better days. While Alder didn’t sound particularly off at first (this was to come later), the singer sadly doesn’t even attempt to hit his famed high notes of yore, instead relying on crowd participation and band backups to hide the damage alcohol and cigarettes have done to his once-pristine voice.
Ray was a true entertainer, however, leading the band with a warm, high-energy level of engagement with an appreciative audience, who seemed to turn a blind eye to the fact that Alder’s performance took a severe dip after the Parallels cycle was completed.
Indeed, the setlist was fairly unimpressive after this point, relying too much on recent Fates output, and not enough on the earlier, more traditional years which made them famous within the underground community. While 1994’s Inside Out is a decent effort overall, the inclusion of three tracks (“Pale Fire”, “Face the Fear” and “Monument”) was a bit much. Meanwhile, songs from Disconnected and X (“One” and “Another Perfect Day”) fell flat when compared to the compendium of classic jams Fates could’ve easily pulled from their collective hats, if the band—or rather Alder, who in no way, shape or form, could’ve handled the Arch-material, anyway—had chosen to give it the ol’ college try.
Fates Warning went out on a high note, however, in ending their set with “Through Different Eyes”, taken from 1989’s Perfect Symmetry. Though this was probably the only point in the set which mirrored the awesomeness of Parallels, the feeling of true disappointment never really set, and the audience—ourselves including—left the Webster Theatre on this night feeling fairly satisfied that we’d just witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime engagement.
You had to have been there.