6th March 2008
All live pics and review by HannTu
I missed Symphony X the last time they came around to London, where they opened for Dream Theater in Wembley. I’ve always considered Symphony X the far superior band, as one of my friends rather kindly put it, Dream Theater are “a collection of music teachers trying to fit together their music lessons to make a song”. Not to mention Dream Theater’s live performance which contains about as much charisma as a par-boiled potato. Anyway, Michael Romeo was one of my idols when I first started playing guitar, and their particular brand of neo-classical metal appealed to me at a time when I was into Jason Becker and Yngwie Malmsteen. Tonight promised much, especially when they were touring in support of their latest album, the superlative PARADISE LOST.
The recent illness of frontwoman Simone meant that the band had to cancel tours in Colombia and Mexico, as well as the gigs in Nottingham and Leeds. I spoke to their guitarist Ad Sluijter earlier in the day, and he left me in no doubt that the band was just as keen as their fans to get back out on the road and play the shows. He explained that while they could do the odd one-off show here and there, it was too risky to Simone’s health to do a sustained tour.
If you didn’t know that she had been ill, you couldn’t have told from the way Simone performed yesterday. There were a couple of moments when it seemed her voice faded, and she did frequently leave the stage when she was not singing, but overall, she matched her singing performance on the CD. She also commanded attention when she was onstage, headbanging and windmilling furiously with her hair swirling in the wind. With her winning smile and charming personality, I doubt there was a single male (or female, for that matter) who hadn’t fallen completely in love with her by the end of the evening. For “Fools of Damnation”, a slightly Arabic-tinged crooner, she incited the ladies in attendance to “move their hips”, and boy, she led by example.
Mark Jansen’s growls were perfectly suited to the music, giving it that light-dark balance, and when Simone was off the stage he was the one responsible for getting the crowd worked up. Keyboardist Coen Janssen was equally extrovert, spinning around on his rotating keyboard platform, and bassist Yves Huts pretty much controlled centre stage with his left handed bass. Ad was the quietest, he stuck to his side of the stage for most of the performance, but he looked pretty damn happy to be up there. And of course, their new drummer Arien van Weesenbeek got the loudest cheer I’ve ever heard for a drummer – the former God Dethroned guy brought some added aggression to the new album THE DIVINE CONSPIRACY, and to the stage show as well.
Being the only opener, they had an hour to show their stuff off, and they left most fans really happy. They really plugged their new album, with most of the setlist coming from THE DIVINE CONSPIRACY. They closed with the 9+ minute epic “Consign to Oblivion”, and left to resounding cheers. Hopefully they do complete the Symphony X tour in the US, and then go on to Mexico and Colombia and give them a great show!
Menace of Vanity
Chasing the Dragon
Cry for the Moon
Fool of Damnation
Consign to Oblivion
Apparently, according to a fan who went to the Dream Theater/Symphony X show in Wembley last year, a goodly proportion of the fans left before Dream Theater came on stage, despite the fact that they must have paid well over £40 for tickets. I’m really glad that Symphony X decided to return to headline, and so were the fans, as they filled out the Astoria in anticipation of a good show. Don’t ask me how they managed to turn “Symphony X” into a decent chant, but they did.
As the lights dimmed and “Oculus ex Inferni” played over the PA, you could feel the ground shaking as the boys in the balcony did their bit to welcome Symphony X to London. “Set The World on Fire” has a great sing-along chorus that got the crowd (including myself in the photo pit) singing. Russell Allen is a magnetic frontman. His voice may be average, but there’s no denying he makes up for it in energy and sheer joy at performing. He’s got a slightly camp walk on stage, and I can tell you it’s pretty funny to see a man with a beer gut leading the crowd in jumping. Michael Romeo, what can I say. The guy is a god. With his marvellously fluid legato style of leadwork, his tight alternate-picked riffing and a dazzling array of two handed tapping, sweep picking and pinch harmonics – he absolutely ripped on the guitar.
One major complaint yesterday was that neither Michael nor bassist Mike LePond had wireless transmitters on their guitars. It meant that they were confined to their respective sides of the stage, and as the evening wore on, the crowd sort of migrated to Romeo’s side, as I did as well. But no matter, LePond led us into “Domination”, a fast rip-roaring track that the crowd ate up. “Paradise Lost” was introduced as a ballad, with Russell Allen saying “Come on, you know the words. What about you up there (pointing to the balcony)? London rocks!” before launching whole-heartedly into it. A few lighters and a sea of raised hands at the emotional chorus, which Allen let the crowd sing. Awesome.
During “Through the Looking Glass”, Russell Allen broke up proceedings a few times to engage in a bit of banter with the crowd, getting a raucous cheer as he held a long solo note. After a bit of the old “Say yeah” game, he pronounced himself satisfied, “Now that’s what London’s all about!” He then went on a bit, raising his hand, saying “Here is the power”, then asked, rather rhetorically, “Shall I unleash THE POWER?” This was a running gag that went on through the evening.
“Smoke and Mirrors” got another good dose of crowd “whoa-ing”, and conducting the “whoa whoa” parts was the man Mr Allen himself. This featured an awesome duel between Romeo and keyboardist Michael Pinnella (three Michaels in a band?). One of my favourite Symphony X songs, “Sea of Lies” got a rocking treatment; the main riff absolutely blows my mind every time I hear it. The strangely Malmsteen-esque intro of “Revelation” from PARADISE LOST was next, which got the crowd singing along again. They sure do know how to write a catchy chorus that everyone can join in to. All throughout, Mr Allen showed his considerate side, calling for bottles of water to be thrown to him from the wings, opening then tossing them into the audience. On a side note, he might consider an alternate career as a circus juggler, the way he handled the mike and two or three bottles at one go!
Russell’s singing on “Paradise Regained” was absolutely superb. In those two or three verses he sang was the performance of the night, and that’s not hyperbole either. After this, they left the stage, and the cheering and whistles for an encore were deafening. Up in the balcony and all around me, people were stamping on the wooden boards, building up to crescendo after crescendo of noise, swelling, ebbing and reverberating around the venue.
They returned to a wall of noise, which they quelled by playing a few minutes of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. Russell, who was wearing a Led Zep shirt stopped the song by saying “Now I feel like I’m in England” and went straight into “Eve of Seduction” off PARADISE LOST. Russell then bellowed “Are you not entertained???” After “Out of the Ashes”, they closed with “Of Sins and Shadows”, the perennial favourite.
Before the tour started, Symphony X asked fans to vote on their dream setlist by listing the top 5 songs off every album. Although the final setlist was heavily skewed towards PARADISE LOST, I don’t think any of the audience had cause for complaint. The songs were marvellously played with verve and virtuosity from all five guys, and while Romeo and Pinnella dazzled us with their flying fingers, Russell Allen had us eating from his (power) hand the moment he crooned that first note. Yes, Russell, we are entertained.
Oculus ex Inferni (Intro)
Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies)
The Serpent’s Kiss
Through The Looking Glass (Pts.1-3)
Inferno (Unleash The Fire)
Smoke and Mirrors
Sea of Lies
The Divine Wings of Tragedy Part VII – Paradise Regained
Immigrant Song (excerpt)
Eve of Seduction
Out Of The Ashes
Of Sins and Shadows
More SYMPHONY X