Sons of Apollo @ Town Ballroom, Buffalo on February 16th, 2018
Everyone is probably in agreement that the term ‘supergroup’ is thrown around far too much in musical spheres today but given the prestige of the acts that the members of progressive metallers Sons of Apollo come from, it feels justifiable using this never-dusty marketing term. The band formed only last year with alumni from the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Journey, David Lee Roth, Dream Theater, Black Country Communion, Yngwie Malmsteen, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Mr. Big and many more. The members themselves are Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Jeff Scott Soto, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Derek Sherinian.
With such highly respected names, it’s surprising to learn that Sons of Apollo intends to be a full-time endeavour rather than a side project. No time was wasted with debut album Psychotic Symphony released last year and this winter tour is their maiden trip on the road. The prog metal and hard rock faithful of Buffalo occupy the Town Ballroom tonight, curious as to what to expect from the band’s debut show here.
The members strut out one-by-one to an intro tape playing Van Halen’s “Intruder” and a hefty volley of applause. No time is wasted as they delve into opening number “God of the Sun”. The keyboard stylings of Derek Sherinian colour the music with an Eastern touch. Vocalist Jeff Scott Soto has a broad and powerful voice, mirroring his energetic and experienced stage presence. Ron Thal’s guitar and Billy Sheehan’s bass are both sporting two necks, a sign of the musical capabilities to follow. As one can expect from the aforementioned bands’ former members, this variety of prog metal showcases a distinct hard rock influence, with song structures particularly accessible and the level of heartless technical wankery frequently associated with this subgenre eschewed for memorable melodies, classic rock-style emotion and rocking groove.
Stomping dynamics heard in “Sign of the Time” communicate themselves appropriately in a live environment, while the somewhat classic sounding “Divine Addiction” modernizes itself with those near Eastern-keyboard flourishes. Watching Thal’s fingers dance on his fretboard effortlessly and Sheehan’s thunderous bass pulling off acrobatics is a treat. The first surprise of the night though is a cover of Dream Theater’s “Just Let Me Breathe”. This song is from one of Dream Theater’s lesser known releases – Falling into Infinity – logical considering Sherinian and drummer Mike Portnoy both performed on it. However, despite fantastic execution, it appears lost on the majority of the audience. A metalized hybrid of Queen’s “The Prophet’s Song” and “Save Me” rallies the venue better, as does a quick rendition of “The Pink Panther Theme”.
An unusual bass solo from Buffalo native Sheehan and a flamboyant one from Sherinian behind his five keyboards illustrate the talent of Sons of Apollo further. Psychotic Symphony enjoys a full airing tonight with the most impressive number being the lengthy “Opus Maximus”, featuring modern Dream Theater sounds, bass wizardry and typical Bumblefoot guitar skills. One of the most intriguing features of this album is that Portnoy’s technical ability is scaled down compared to other prog efforts he has been involved in, allowing the other instruments to take a more focal position.
Sherinian’s solo segues into the Dream Theater epic “Lines in the Sand”, encouraging a passionate response from the many Dream Theater fans in attendance. This electrifying way to conclude the night sees the band vacate the stage. But it’s clear that there’s more to come. The quintet return for a cover of Van Halen’s “And the Cradle Will Rock…”. Soto’s voice sounds magnificent, unaffected by being 52 years old and putting many younger singers to shame. The American supergroup bids the crowd farewell with one of their first singles “Coming Home”, a boisterous and catchy rocker. This was an unbridled rock and roll experience, without gimmicks, controversy or an eagerness to be loved. It’s still early days for Sons of Apollo but it’s fascinating seeing how classic influences will shape their take on prog metal.
Photos by Peter Han.