Monday at the Corona Theatre was an evening of excess and of showing off. It answered the question “What if heavy metal was just solos?” Staring into the sea of balding and greying heads, I realized I was in the minority of people under forty.
Starting off the night was Ethan Weissman’s Mass Extinction Event from Purchase, New York, wasting no time and cutting straight to the intricate yet groovy riffs. The band had just released their debut album The Human Error last week and Ethan Weissman was very excited to tell everyone in the room. Unfortunately, nobody thought to turn on the one microphone onstage since the performance was completely instrumental, forcing Weissman to holler his announcements while the tech people backstage ran around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Just like Weissman before him, Tony MacAlpine is a wizard of the axe. I imagine whenever he isn’t playing, MacAlpine keeps his hands in glass cases (à la Skwisgaar Skwigelf in Metalocalypse) because a single cut on his finger would be a liability. Then again, MacAlpine has been shredding since the ‘80s, he’d still be able to rip a wicked solo with broken fingers. Not only has he mastered the guitar, but MacAlpine is a classically trained pianist. At one point he was hammering on the keyboard with one hand while hammering on the fretboard of his guitar with his other hand like it was no big deal. His backing band is just as happy to be there since the music is challenging and stimulating enough that their talents aren’t wasted.
As if our faces weren’t melted off enough from all the blistering guitar solos, it was time to bring on Sons of Apollo, a supergroup consisting of drummer extraordinaire Mike Portnoy and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (both formerly of Dream Theatre. Sherinian also played in Planet X with Tony MacAlpine), Billy Sheehan on bass (who has played with Niacin and David Lee Roth, to name a few), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (who played guitar for Chinese Democracy-era Guns n’ Roses), and vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (who briefly sang for Journey and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra). I could name so many more projects this quintet has been involved with, but you get the idea—they’re high in demand!
When it comes to their instruments, too much ain’t enough for Sons of Apollo. You know those guitars that are, like, double guitars?! You best believe Bumblefoot was rocking out on one of those. Not to be outdone, Sheehan’s bass guitar also had two necks. Portnoy’s drum set up had every cymbal necessary, including a giant gong on the side. In addition to Sherinian’s multi-tier keyboard, he also required an organ and a separate keyboard to wheel to the front of the stage for his solos.
Soto has an angelic voice that reached every corner of the massive room, though his between-song banter could use some work. He addressed the audience with a rather tasteless joke: “It’s great to be here at the Coronavirus Theatre! I hear it goes well with Lyme disease.” Luckily, that was his only attempt at humour. The rest of his speeches were more complimentary or sentimental. The band paid tribute to the late great Neil Peart by playing a snippet of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” a walk in the park for a drummer like Portnoy. Introducing their mournful track “Desolate July,” Soto said the song was written after the passing of the band’s mutual friend and fellow musician David Z, though he also decided to tack on a dedication to Kobe Bryant.
I knew Sons of Apollo would be playing for a while—it is prog rock after all—but I wasn’t expecting them to play for two whole hours. At some point, I was straining to stay standing, though realized too late that I could have been sitting up in the mezzanine the whole time. Hell, even the band members needed to take breaks once and a while; Soto would walk offstage during long instrumental segments. Solos from Sherinian and Sheehan gave the rest of the band a chance to go backstage and rest their legs. Just as it seemed like things were going to wrap up, Soto announced “You’re the loudest city we’ve played yet! You deserve an encore!” Aw, that’s probably what you tell all the cities. Tony MacAlpine came back onstage to join them in a cover of “Burn” by Deep Purple. I’m not sure if it was planned or not, but someone threw a rubber chicken onstage, so Bumblefoot picked it up and picked his guitar with it.
While I’m not the biggest Dream Theatre fan, and didn’t feel the need to hang on every note that was played, I can’t deny the immense talent of these musicians. They have earned the right to tour the world, calling themselves demigods.
Written by Chris Aitkens
Photography by Nicolas Racine
*edited by Mike Milito